Is Advice from Older People Worth Anything?

A week or so ago, a high school friend suggested on Facebook that Millennials and Gen Z (Zoomers?) young folks shouldn’t bother listening to older people’s advice about how we did things “back in our day.” His assertion was that the younger generations are better than we were, and on some matters he might be correct. And yet I’ve spent nine years building an audience as a Gen Xer dispensing advice mostly to younger people. Is there any value to what I’m doing? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say yes, if only because I keep getting asked for advice.

Things I Do Not Give Advice About

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
–Dirty Harry, Magnum Force

The gaps in my knowledge are obvious to anyone who reads other tech writing blogs.

Information Technology

I’ve noted elsewhere in this blog that if it weren’t for my job (and customers) requiring me to stay current on work technologies, it’s entirely possible I’d be a laggard. I’ve even been called a Luddite in techie’s clothing. I am not a techie or computer documentation writer. I cannot code worth a darn. Not being on the cutting edge in my 20s or now, I continue to be surprised and amazed by the new gadgets that come onto the market. People don’t come here to learn about cutting-edge or “bleeding-edge” tech, and I’m okay with that.

Dating in the Workplace

I didn’t do much dating in the workplace in my 20s, and by my 30s I was so focused on my career I didn’t have the time or interest. I have some good friends who met each other in the workplace and managed to make things work. I am not that guy. And I’m still single as I’ve moved past the half-century mark. If you want advice on how to maintain that lifestyle, I might be of some use. Otherwise, forget it.

Diversity Training

I’m a middle-aged white male. I’m the sort of person diversity consultants are trying to move beyond so that different faces appear in the workplace and the executive offices. I wish everyone well. I’m just not the guy to advise on the details for how all that should implemented.

Getting Rich or Promoted Quickly

I’m rather bourgeois and independent in my outlook. I’m not interested in get-rich-quick schemes, nor do I make any promises that my readers will experience fundamental transformations in their personal wealth, corporate position, or “personal power.” I’m interested in doing good work, operating as an independent contributor, and maybe making make enough money to retire. If you’re interested in such things, I can probably refer you to a few people, but I’m not arrogant enough to guarantee them.

What I Do Offer

Basic Office Procedures

I’ve done just about every type of writing a business or technical writer can be called upon to do, from correspondence and meeting minutes to reports, speeches, proposals and strategic communication plans. I’ve been there, so I can explain how things work in the real world, technically, procedurally, and politically.

Understanding the Space Business

I’ve got a whole page full of links dedicated to my observations of the space industry, the people who work in it, and how a technical writer can contribute to them. That’s my passion.

Professional Behaviors and Dealing With People

If you read here enough, you’ll discover that a lot of my lessons on professional behavior have come after first doing something incredibly stupid. I made the mistake, I got the feedback, and I learned to do better in the future. If this blog has any value, I hope it will be to provide you with a long list of lessons of what not to do because you’re irritated, impatient, pushy, or just plain obnoxious. I am not the same person I was in my 20s and early 30s because the lessons I learned by screwing up allowed me to get the career I wanted in my mid-30s to now-early 50s.

Most of those lessons are dealing with people, who–as much as some folks would like to think otherwise–don’t change dramatically one generation to the next. If we old people have any real wisdom to offer, it’s from our longer, more experienced perspective in interacting with others.

The Attitudes Necessary to Be a Good Tech Writer and Person

I love what I do. I’ve made no secret of that. That has a great deal to do with being able to live the life I’ve wanted. I’ve been willing to learn the content, procedures, and politics behind what I do and to speak the language of my customers–space people in particular–so that my skills are useful to them.

Beyond that, I’ve striven–again, partially in reaction against being such a pain in the butt in my early career–to be a person that’s not just good at what he does but pleasant to work with. This means doing things like volunteering for difficult or unpleasant tasks; being kind and helpful to others; and finding diplomatic ways to express things that peers, customers, or leaders would prefer not to hear. Those skills are eminently transferable, and, as a bonus, are more likely to ensure that I get and stay hired. Notice also that I don’t write a lot about marketing myself? That’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to have customers come to me because they thought well enough of me when I last worked with them that they’re willing to hire me again.

Bottom Line: Why Listen to the Old Guy?

My advice and lifestyle might not be for everyone. I’m okay with that. The people who want to operate as I do, though, know that they have an open door if they need help or advice. And yeah, I’ve got more grey hair and a decade or two of living than many of my readers. But many of you still show up, and I greatly appreciate it. With any luck, a few of you do, too.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
This entry was posted in careers, clients, freelancing, Office Politics, peers, personal, philosophy, technical writing, workplace. Bookmark the permalink.

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