Like many Millennials, I graduated in a recession and without a passion for any particular problem to solve. So I channeled my energies into climbing the career ladder. And why not? I was told by my parents, professors, and society at large that better opportunities would come with greater career success. I climbed pretty high, only to realize one day I had climbed the wrong ladder. Lucky for me, I was able to redirect my course. That’s a story for another day.

Working Hard Doesn’t Make You Right (But It Can Make You Righteous)

These days, I’ve come to realize if I could go back in time and coach myself, I’d be a lot more understanding of my peers. Especially the older ones. The ones I thought were outdated, shortsighted, and didn’t know what they were doing. The ones with the serious attitudes that dismissed me for being young and inexperienced, yet couldn’t learn the simplest of new tech advancements. The pushy, know-it-all types that didn’t know how to have fun. The ones that were really blunt and often had bad senses of humor. The ones that were making a lot more money than me, and for the life of me, I couldn’t justify why.

Now I’m On the Other Side = Things Look Different

Fast-forward to today, and a little perspective goes a long way. I get it. There was a lot more going on in their personal and professional lives than I realized. I can see now some of them were actually jealous, threatened, worried, and drained. With that in mind, here are seven apologies I’d make to some of the more “seasoned” people I worked with:

  1. I didn’t understand how hard it is to run a business. As a business owner, I have a new level of respect for every company I’ve ever worked for. Keeping a business in business isn’t easy. The curve balls never stop coming. It doesn’t matter what size business it is, there are problems 24 hours per day, seven days per week. It. Never. Stops.
  2. I didn’t realize what managing others was really like. I swear, in some ways, being a good manager is harder than being a good parent. It’s tough work and can be very draining. So many people to keep happy and engaged, but so little time.
  3. I failed to see you had other people’s interests to consider besides mine. Doing something for one employee always has a ripple effect. You have to try to anticipate how it will impact morale, other people’s workloads, future employment policies, etc.
  4. I didn’t know my personal life would get so much more complicated and impact my job. Marriage, a house, kids, pets, aging parents, sick friends, etc. All of a sudden, some important things in life start devouring your time and attention. But you’re still supposed to show up to work and deliver. Otherwise, you risk being replaced by someone younger, with fewer obligations, and who seems determined to prove you aren’t doing your job well.
  5. I was unaware of what things really cost. Money, money, and more money. That’s what it takes to pay for everything needed for people to do their jobs right--and keep them happy while doing them. There’s always something else to invest in to make the company and its people better--and it always costs more than you can afford.
  6. I should have been more patient. Time moved so slowly in my 20s. A year at a job felt like a decade. Now a year feels like a month. I hate how fast time is going. I don’t feel older, but I know I look and act it at work.
  7. I didn’t realize you were making me better. I hated when you made me do really boring tasks and forced me to learn stuff that wasn’t exciting. I thought I was finally done with that when I left college. I thought you were just being difficult when you made me do those extra steps, taught me lengthy processes for problem solving, and showed me time-sucking activities for building better products, services, and systems. Every time I draw upon the incredible training of my past, I’m reminded of how lucky I am you knew what you were doing--even when I didn’t.

I feel pretty lucky I can look back on my younger days and realize what I didn’t know. Which leads to this final thought…

Anger Is Fear Turned Outward

Recently, I wrote some posts about Millennials and their struggles in the workplace (i.e., why some aren’t getting promoted and why others are getting fired). I did this to raise awareness around the increasing disconnect between the generations. Calling attention to conflict can bring resolution. Anger is fear turned outward. Both sides are deeply afraid of being wrong, experiencing loss, and becoming trapped and helpless. Who can blame them? With the economy shifting and businesses changing at the speed of light, we have a new reality: Every job is temporary. Regardless of age, for many of us, that lack of job security is very scary.

Here’s the thing: Neither side is wrong. It’s just each side wants the other to be more understanding of their pain. Each side thinks the other needs to change.

I hope this gets us all thinking about a solution to bridge the gap and work toward a common goal--to come together, leverage each generation’s strengths, and build amazing businesses in these ever-changing times that can:

A) Stay in business and keep people working
B) Have real purpose and impact on our world in a way we can feel good about
C) Offer career satisfaction that leads to happier lives for all

Yes, I know. I’m asking for a lot. But wouldn’t that be nice?

Published on: Aug 6, 2015
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.