Usually I tell young professionals to respect their elders, because I don’t see enough of that behavior these days.
The danger of this advice, however, is that young professionals sometimes take it too far. They seek out older professors, experts and mentors in their field and listen blindly regardless of whether or not the information is valid or the source is truly qualified to give it. As a result, they can be steered down a path that is detrimental to their career progress.
Just because someone has been in a field for a long time does not mean she is necessarily good at what she does and/or that her experiences will be 100 percent relevant to your own. People stay in and even succeed in careers for a variety of reasons; and frankly, true skill may not be a factor. Also, the judgment of some older individuals is so clouded by their own experiences that they can’t help insisting that you follow their actions and trajectory to the letter.
Case in point
I recently overheard a 55-year-old Fortune 500 female executive advising a 22-year-old college graduate to engage in hardball strategies to break through the glass ceiling at her consulting firm. These strategies didn’t suit the grad’s personality and might be perceived as over-aggressive and unnecessary in today’s corporate culture of greater gender equality.
It’s a good idea to talk to older professionals; and yes, you can learn a tremendous amount from them. But instead of acting on information right away, please take the time to filter it and deem it appropriate for your situation.