Norm, the millennials, and me

Growing up — and maybe I wouldn’t have called him this at the time — one of my best friends was a guy named Norm… 

… a retired Army veteran, a loyal employee as Manager of Blue and White Station No. 6, Norm had to be at work by 4 a.m. most days, managing the flow of auto care and repair. After retiring, Norm couldn’t stop working; he spent 10 more years for the newly-immigrated Indianapolis Colts in Special Projects. He’d pick up new players from the airport, take cut players back, even return women’s outfits to the appropriate retail outlet when tags weren’t removed after an elegant evening. Norm always had great stories.

While Norm’s life never looked glamorously successful, he was indeed one of the most successful men I ever knew. He was deeply respected — both by Mr. Cloud at Blue and White and by the entire Irsay family, the NFL franchise owners. I’ll never forget when Norm took me with him to training camp one summer, when 300 lb. left tackle Chris Hinton scurried toward him in the cafeteria, all smiles, high-fiving his beloved “Stormin’ Norman.” There’s an autographed football from Chris still in my room to this day. He and I both were on the cherished receiving end of our “stormin” friend’s generous love, joy, and always, respect. 

Yes, Norm was one of my best friends. 47 years older than me, he got me. In fact, he and I always had an uncomplicated deal; if I ever felt need to run away from home, it was ok… as long as I ran to him.

It would be true, therefore, to say not only that “he got me,” but also, that he worked to get me. 

So much of what we witness in the world today is a lack of trying to get. We see it often with the generations clashing, not understanding one another… not working to either.

Many have studied the issue. Such as author, speaker, and contributor Elizabeth Dukes not long ago, in just one example of what we don’t get:

“The most popular misconception Millennials harbor of Baby Boomers is that they are resistant to technology, and (considering how inundated the workplace is with technology) this makes them difficult to work with. While they do rank the lowest in adaptability, this does not mean they resist technology. In their lifetime, Boomers witnessed life-changing breakthroughs in technologies — ATMs, the internet, cell phones — that entirely altered the way we live and work. But these improvements were released at a much slower rate than the pace at which technology evolves today. The Baby Boomer issue isn’t a refusal to use technology or a lack of enthusiasm for it, but perhaps a greater need for training/on-boarding…

The most common misconception Baby Boomers have about Millennials is that they lack a strong work ethic. It’s assumed they are too dependent on technology to think for themselves or connect humanistically with the real world, which makes them lazy and difficult to work with.

In truth, Millennials struggle with challenges no other generation has yet faced, like impossibly high debt and expensive college degrees that no longer hold the same value. These challenges have altered how Millennials prioritize work and life. But the social and professional movements Millennials have inspired is proof that ‘lazy’ is not an accurate depiction. With little hope of debt freedom, Millennials chase what makes them happy instead of what makes them wealthy… They see work and life as an integrated concept and strive to make careers of their passions…”

The above is simply one perception of generational contention. Sometimes the clash is more colloquial. On social media this week, for example, I had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing my sororal, alumni organization argue incessantly about future recruitment approaches. For far too many, it became open disrespect of the young or the old, believing entire generations to be misguided. My strong sense is when we make sweeping conclusions about entire generations, we miss what they have to offer. And yes, each generation has much to offer.

One of the three zillion things I loved about Norm — who passed away some while ago, after 66 years of marriage to his beloved B.J. — was that as said, he worked to get me. He knew we didn’t think alike. He knew there were things important to me and perspectives I held that he was nowhere close to sharing and maybe would never share. He knew he wouldn’t always understand.

But instead of sitting back, assessing the relationship as there being something wrong with one of us, he asked questions, listened intently, let me ask him anything in return, and never once judged or discounted me. And in those places where his years indeed made him wiser, there was no rebuke; he instead made sweet, uncomplicated deals.

Today one of my greatest, life-giving professional opportunities is serving on a highly talented team comprised of multiple Millennials and those in Gen Z (colloquially known as zoomers). They are the clear majority of our team, and while sure, I have much to teach them, they have so much more to teach me. Yesterday, in fact, we had an all day team building day — one we affectionately entitled “staff summer camp.”

Let me offer a hair more insight… after hours of games, play, including dodgeball with a hilarious twist and 3 hours of all-out fun, highly competitive laser tag, sprinting through warehouse sets and a challenging, outdoor obstacle field, this bit older body is fairly sore this morn. 

No doubt Norm would have been proud.