How old do you think I am?
Only last week I was reminded of the role a shifting consciousness of generation gaps can play in group identity. I wouldn’t have thought about it too deeply if I weren’t a part of TEDxBrighton, in fact, but asking questions about generation gaps on a regular basis as part of my blogging has given me reason to reflect on it a little longer than I would have otherwise.
I sing as part of a community choir in Lewes (we are the Paddock Singers, for anyone interested) and it is something I love doing. I am the youngest member of the choir and sometimes this comes up in conversation. Last week I mentioned my age while chatting after rehearsal and was met with some surprise from the two lovely ladies I was talking to. We were talking about my status as youngest member of the choir with most members ranging in age from late 30s upwards, but even so the revelation that I was 30 was still a surprise to them! There is clearly a disconnect between their recognition of me as youngest member and what this actually means in how they relate and think about me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been taken for someone much older than I am and I console myself with the observation that this seems to be more about context than the possibility that the years have not treated me well. In fact, while in my previous job at the tender age of 25 I was mistaken by a colleague for being closer to 40. I was mildly offended at the time, but when I reflected on it later I realised that it was not a comment on how I looked. It was a comment on what I meant to the person I was talking to and how they identified with me from their place in life.
At 25, I was working as an administrator / project manager at the University of Sussex and had carved myself a niche as matriarch of the department I worked within. It was my job, as I saw it, to look after everyone; to nag about deadlines; to find solutions to everyday problems; to pick up and look after all the things that were in danger of being forgotten. I did this as well all the things written in my job description and got a reputation for being very responsible and rather earnest. Hence, I think, my colleague identifying me as older than I am. I fulfilled, for her, a position that felt like I should be of a certain age and generation in relation to her.
To go back to my choir, I was surprised that the practicalities of age / generation gaps could be so easily forgotten. It was a pleasant surprise, in actual fact. What matters more is our shared interest and the ethos of our choir, which is to have a penchant for feisty choral pieces, a lack of tolerance for internal rivalry and the ability to take ourselves none too seriously.
The shifting consciousness of generation gaps is a wonderful thing and I am a big fan. However, age and generation gaps do have an impact in our lives and is it any wonder we grapple with the impacts of generational diversity when our understanding of what it means to us is subject to such fluidity?