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I Don’t Want to Be the Office Grandma

I wish I had better advice for you. You’ve figured out how to coast but know you won’t be able to do so forever. No one can create the necessary imperative to course correct but you.

I’m in my early 60s and I’m heading back to government policy work after a 10-year absence. Because of my previous 20-year experience in the field, I was offered a senior position. I find myself very nervous. I’ll be the new gal working with colleagues many years younger who have far fewer years of experience, but more current experience.

Do you have any advice for someone like me? How do I share my knowledge so it can be heard and not dismissed out of hand? How do I craft mutually respectful relationships with my younger colleagues? Already I find their enthusiasms — strong opinions and strong concerns — exhausting! (I’m joking — sort of.)

I should add that I believe I’ve been hired because of my decades-long experience but also to help lower the temperature in an often stressful, political work environment. I find myself cringing at an image of myself as the office grandma.

— Anonymous

Congratulations on the new position. It is perfectly natural to be nervous but everything is going to be OK. And given that you are putting this much thought into collegiality, you’re positioning yourself well to ensure a seamless transition. The most important thing is to avoid being condescending or overly self-deprecating.

Yes, there is an age difference between you and many of your new colleagues, but it is only an obstacle if you treat it as such. You have a great deal of experience. There’s nothing wrong with demonstrating your competence, and doing so with confidence.

At the same time, be open to expanding your knowledge and learning new ways of doing the work you’ve been doing for decades. Show your colleagues you can learn new tricks. Don’t generalize about “millennials” or “Gen Z’ers.” Don’t assume that differences of opinion rise strictly out of the generation gap. And if you find their enthusiasms exhausting, that’s fine!

Young people can be exhausting because they have energy and have not yet accreted too much cynicism. But I would look at their energy as a positive thing. Maybe their energy will be infectious and reshape some of your thinking and concerns. And maybe your experience will given them new perspectives on what they value.

To craft mutual respect — give respect and expect it in return. Enjoy this opportunity. Go be great. And try not to worry about being the office grandma You’re going to be far more preoccupied with your age than anyone else. Sixty is the new forty, right?

Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at

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