Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach - America's Marketing Motivator

Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker &
Executive Presentation Coach
Let's Talk. 860-371-8801 or Email me
Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach - America's Marketing Motivator
Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach - America's Marketing Motivator

Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker &
Executive Presentation Coach
Let's Talk. 860-371-8801 or Email me
Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach - America's Marketing Motivator
Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach
Kathy McAfee, Professional Speaker & Executive Presentation Coach
Let's Talk. 860-371-8801 or Email me

Ageless Conversations

Is it true what they say about every generation criticizing the one that follows?

If so, how can we prevent ageism from creeping into our thoughts and polluting our relationships? What can we do to foster and engage in more ageless conversations in our workplaces and beyond?

I ask these questions because I recently had an unpleasant experience while attending a virtual networking group. I’ve been processing the experience over the last few days and felt compelled to write a blog about it. If nothing else, but to get it out of my system.

To set the context: I attended a very informative, interactive and professionally moderated webinar on entrepreneurship. They shared ideas and recommendations for accessing capital in order to grow your business. They discussed the importance of having a business plan and knowing how to talk about your business to bankers and other financiers. I was taking notes!

After the formal event was concluded, they invited the participants to hang around and do some networking. Their web platform (which was very cool) allowed people to select one of six networking rooms to virtually walk in on. I decided to hang around for this post-event networking so that I could meet some of the other people attending the virtual event. “What the heck,” I thought to myself. “I could meet some interesting new people, expand and diversify my network. And it might just be fun.”

It started out okay. There didn’t seem to be a facilitator or structure or ground rules. Just 6 strangers put into a virtual room to figure it out. We started off with an easy ice-breaker, “Where are you calling in from today?” Then we graduated to “What was your big takeaway from today’s panel discussion?” After that, things started going south.

One participant began to heavily complain about millennials. Apparently based on his experience with his five adult children (who apparently failed to launch), he felt justified in trash-talking the entire generation. We tried to reason with him and offer other perspectives, but he would have none of it. He dug into his age bias and continued to generalize and condemn young professionals. His commentary and behavior were so unsavory that I felt compelled to intervene and redirect the conversation.

I could feel my heart rate increase. I thought about “leaving” the virtual room to get away. But something held me there – the need to say something, to be candid, to call out unjust bias. I mustered the social and intellectual courage I needed to say what needed to be said. With a calm and collected voice, I said to him, “I have to be candid with you; this conversation has become unproductive and a bit offensive. I think we should change the topic.”

And then instantly, he signed off. His picture and name left the screen. Poof. He was gone.

It was a surprise, but a welcome one. I was relieved. I think we all were. We dusted ourselves off, and without disparaging him in his absence, we pivoted to a completely new topic. The networking conversation got much more interesting and professional from that point forward. By the end of the conversation, I found myself in conversations with professionals from the country of Panama, Madrid/Spain and Houston/Texas. From then on, it was really interesting and fun to be part of this virtual group networking conversation.

What did I learn from this experience?

Generalizing can be dangerous. It promotes faulty thinking and can lead to bias, stereotypes and discrimination.

Being negative is not good. While we all have the need to vent from time to time, you have to be careful when and with whom you do this with. Complaining and/or speaking poorly of other people has a boomerang effect – it will reflect poorly on your personal brand. (Note: It would be a fair criticism of me, as the writer of this blog post, to say that I am being negative, and that I am complaining about others those complain. Kind of ironic?)

Being candid is important. Don’t let fear of rejection, social embarrassment or intimidating bullies stop you from saying what needs to be said. Being frank, open and sincere in your communication and expression will help you reclaim your voice and authenticity.

Don’t contribute to ageism. Criticizing young people makes you look and sound old. Stop doing this. Change your mindset.

We all have to get along. We are living and working in a multi-generational society. At present, the five generations in the workplace include:

  • Traditionalists – born 1927–to-1945
  • Baby Boomers – born 1946-to-1964
  • Generation X – born 1965-to-1980
  • Millennials – born 1981-to-2000
  • Generation Z – born 2001-to-2020

And of course, there’s this realization….

Every generation criticizes the one that follows

This experience made me curious about why it is that the older generations seem to berate the younger generations. Was this just a one-off experience of mine? Is this a trend? Or is this a historical norm?

I found an informative article on the Wall Street Journal website entitled “Why the Old Look Down on the Young” by Alison Gopnik (posted Dec 5, 2019). Based on a recent research study, the article suggests that “the younger generation isn’t getting worse; older people just like to think they are.”

A research paper that appeared in the Science Advances journal (you can download the full research paper) has some delightful and surprising findings. Authors John Protzko and Jonathan Schooler of the University of California at Santa Barbara summarize their findings with the term, “kids these days” illusion.

Here are a few insights from the study and the WSJ article:

  • Old folks who are complaining were once on the receiving end of the same complaints themselves.
  • Older people weren’t responding to objective facts about the young, instead they were making subjective comparisons in which they themselves came off best.
  • Older folks compare those young people to their own memories of what they were like at the same age. Only those memories are unreliable.
  • When we complain about the next generation, we’re actually comparing them to an idealized version of our own past, obscured by the flattering fog of memory.


When it comes to getting along, both young and old need to keep an open mind and heart, maintain a positive attitude and a good sense of humor.  Let’s all strive to have more “ageless conversations.”

These quotes might help put us in a good frame of mind:

“It’s the times. Young people these days. No respect for their elders. The way they throw rocks at our houses. We used to throw rocks. Yeah, but we did it respectively.” ~ Chris Willrich, science fiction writer/author

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ~ Mark Twain

“Wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. Sometimes age just shows up all by itself.” ~ Tom Wilson

“Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.” ~ Helen Hayes

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” ~ Henry Ford

“There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” ~ Sophia Loren

“The youth is the hope of our future.” ~ Jose Rizal

“That’s where the future lies, in the youth of today.” ~ Willie Stargell




13 Responses to “Ageless Conversations”

  1. Kyle DeLong

    When I saw this title, I was expecting this article to discuss how the younger generation(s) judge, condemn, and challenge the old (I meant to say experienced).

    Why don’t we (I am now 60) just get out of the way and let us do the job the way it should be done. I recall when my son entered the workforce at 21 right after college where he told me that if this were his company he would “not hire anyone older than 30”. The young have all the latest tools, ambition, energy, and direct applicable knowledge that the old can’t possibly compete with. The old (> 30?) should just retire and move out of the way.

    All the comments you posted were spot on and directly applicable to this topic from either position. Honestly, it would have been much harder for me to confront the “one participant” if she/he were young without sounding defensive or demeaning. Looking at our society and the craziness that we have all experienced over the past (year, 4 years, etc.) it is often hard for me to defend what I (or my peers) have done to muster a position of superiority.

    In contrast, I honestly am seeing a lot of positive change from the younger generations. Of course there are concerns like every other 60 or 21 year has seen through time along with the essential “ageless conversations”.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. Love your work. Thank you,

    p.s. – My son is now 34. We recently laughed/discussed his statements. As you can imagine, his tone has changed significantly now that he is being… “experienced”.

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      Kyle, thank you for your thoughtful and compelling response. I agree with you that ageism works both ways…and it turns out it has been at play seamingly “always.” I’m so glad that you and your son were able to circle back and have a productive conversation, an ageless conversation.

  2. Nancy Anton

    Great read. When I was young we never had these blogs. If you wanted to say something you wrote a letter. Ah. The good old days

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      Nancy, I personally know that you have a lot to say about ageism, especially when it comes to interviewing and the job market. You and I recently gave a virtual presentation on the topic of networking to job seekers through Rotary.Works. When asked if ageism still exists in the market, you replied, “Of course, there has been age discrimination in the job market in the past. But I think that age discrimination is sparked most often by the candidate who says things that date them. ‘Back in the day…’or ‘I have over 30 years of experience…’ or ‘We used to do it this way.’ Your advice about the importance of having a great attitude, regardless of your age, is inspiring and so relevant!

  3. Chris Amorosino

    Kathy, I love how you often take a common experience and find insights and lessons in it. You’re a good model for how we all should be. The learning is always in front of us. We just have to be open and looking for the lessons. Thanks for the post.

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      Thanks Chris.Lessons are all around us. If we are open to it, we can continue to evolve and become more self-aware (hence my comment about the irony of me complaining about someone complaining).

  4. Bob Weggel

    How can some of us Traditionalists consider themselves superior to Millennials or Generation Z, when among them are brilliant, self-sacrificing idealists such as Greta Thunberg?

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      I agree with you Bob. I admire Greta Thunberg. She is fearless, mission-driven, relentless, and a powerful speaker (having overcome a stuttering problems as a young girl). We need more leaders like Greta to save us from ourselves.

  5. Kelly Kennedy

    Thank you for this post, Kathy! Ageism in the workplace is a challenge. How we value others and their skills based on their age is an issue we do not talk about often enough. Having worked with over 10,000 millennials and now Gen Z students- they are the most resilient and service-orientated people I know. They have so much to offer the world, and I am privileged to work with them every day.

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      Kelly, your work and leadership at UCONN School of Business is exemplary. You get to work with our future leaders, to help shape and mold them, and to encourage them to follow their dreams and realize their full potential!

  6. Jahn Marie Surette

    Kathy- as a parent to 5 millennials I must say – I have some BIAS. 🙂

    This was a great reminder how easy it is to generalize the population and how unproductive it can be. And while some of my millennials have made different choices than I did/would – at the end of the day it is exactly that. Their choice.

    Thank you for your insights and inspiration. Jahn Marie

    • Kathy McAfee Americas Marketing Motivator

      Well said. It is THEIR choice, and we should respect them (even if we would personally choose differently)

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