Jaye Chen reviews Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, a call for mid-career individuals to bring their experience to companies and reimagine the workplace.

Thank goodness for mentors! I could never have advanced in my career powered solely by my own innocent, youthful optimism and change-the-world fervor. I was fortunate to have found wiser elders and have listened to, although not always followed, their well-intentioned advice. Now I too have some wisdom to share, some advice to dispense (yes, sometimes unsolicited) and a profound appreciation for all my life experiences.

How fortunate and timely that Chip Conley has published his latest book, Wisdom@Work: The Making of the Modern Elder, that affirms that we middlescents, or, as Chip calls us, modern elders, are needed in the workplace now more than ever. We know that the professional environment is getting more complicated, transactional and youth-oriented, with the rapid evolution of new technologies and the acceleration of the pace of data exchange. If companies are to succeed, older employees who possess the wisdom of organizational experience, the capacity to intuit the big picture quickly, and the ballast of emotional intelligence are just as critical for that future success.

Organizations should identify ways to tap into this multi-generational wisdom and knowledge. Rather than encouraging a culture of harsh competition that ensures only a handful of winners while the rest of our colleagues “lose,” we could instead foster a growth environment of learning from each other. Modern elders have a lot to learn from our younger colleagues; we can absorb new knowledge like interns, while we mentor those colleagues who have less experience in workplace dynamics. With this “mentern” mindset, we will enable our companies to become stronger, more resilient and more adaptable to change.

As we remain healthier and live longer than our parents and grandparents, I am inspired to think that those of us from different generations—whether Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X, Millenial, or the future awkwardly-labeled generations who will enter the workforce—can merge our multiple perspectives to create something even more powerful, more exuberant, and more human.  This is no longer a zero-sum game; we can indeed live and work in an environment with room to professionally expand and personally grow. Let’s change our mindsets. Let’s leave things better than how we found them. Let’s look at our respective roles through the lenses of optimism and generosity.

Now is the time to make room for the next generations and hope that they will learn from, rather than replicate, our mistakes. Better yet, we can feel joy and excitement at the thought of both knowing and not knowing what new adventures await us in middlescence and modern elderhood. Each of us has the capacity to learn from others and the intrinsically human ability to aspire, thrive and attain that sense of wholeness in our lives.


Jaye Chen is a leader for mission-focused organizations including the Institute of International Education. She aims to transform organizations through operational excellence in a complex and changing world.

A Look at a Book is a series I’m hosting to help keep you informed about the latest books having to do with adult development and middlescence. A Look at a Book is an efficient, enjoyable way to stay informed. 

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