Evelyn Leavens (1924-2013) was my neighbor, my dear friend, my guru, and my hero. She was truly the noisiest neighbor on the planet. She would teach art in her living room and BLAST rock n’ roll at all hours. Now I am a rock n’ roller from way back, and I play it kind of loud. But on some nights this was over the top. Do you know how it sounds when the bass is vibrating and you can hear the dishes in your kitchen cabinet starting to rattle and chime?
Well that is what it was like when Evelyn played her favorite music from her favorite band – Metallica. Her students regularly treated her to a Metallica concert and she lived for those shows. This was in the late 80’s – not THE late 80’s but HER late 80’s. Those who knew her back in her 20’s and 30’s would say she was “quite a gal” – an artist, philosopher and rebel travelling town in a hot convertible. You can probably already understand why she is one of my heroes.
Evelyn lived in that house next to mine from the time she was five years old. She told me she could never really pronounce her name when she was small. When she tried it came out like “11 Lemons” so she just started to call herself that. When she had a new sidewalk poured in front of her house a few years ago, she couldn’t wait to run out and write her name in the cement above her handprint and a newly minted penny.
Sharing Her Wisdom
So why this story about Evelyn and why now? She said many things that really stuck with me and one thing in particular stands out and has changed my life for the better. She said “I never hang around with people my own age because we have nothing in common.” The young people who came to her house to study art kept her young. The rule was that they had to bring a new record, tape, or CD (you can guess this started before the internet!) so that she could keep current with all the latest music. She always said that she learned far more from them than they learned from her.
When Evelyn died last year, I decided to set a goal of spending half of my time with people half my age. I got into the habit of gathering groups of young people for dinners, coffee, and even a trip here and there. Conversations have covered the gamut from careers, new business ideas, starting new companies, cool new apps, travel to faraway places, politics, restoring the Jersey Shore post Sandy, feeding the hungry anywhere they live, and helping subsistence fishermen in Haiti. Phew – so many ideas, such passion and purpose, so much to learn and …so far, so good!
Today as I scan through my alerts and my Twitter feed – I am struck by how much we are STILL talking about millennials and the need to understand them. Come on everybody – they are HERE. The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that in 2015, the millennials will be the largest generation in the workforce. Really? This is news?
My tribute to 11 Lemons and the decision to spend half of my time with people half my age is really paying big dividends right now – especially in the work part of my life. Having spent my entire career in the people business, I feel fortunate to have not fallen into the rut of what many experience in HR – getting so “senior,” so bogged down with process, politics, and mind-numbing meetings that they no longer have time to interact with employees.
This is a simple message – get out there. Your next generation workforce is sitting right there, right now. There is no better way to learn and understand than from engaging with them directly. Invitations for coffee or a bag full of bagels always makes it easy to build new relationships. Listen, listen, and then listen some more. As always, I am here to help and always excited to exchange ideas. @NancyGillHR