‘Dear Boomer’: What should I even ask a boomer?

50 years ago, I rode my Kawasaki from Portola Valley onto campus, usually squeaking into class just on time. While much has changed since then, one thing has remained constant: our humanness. We still search for meaning and need connection. We still have dreams and we still screw up. In the last 50 years, as I’ve changed careers and locations, I’ve never stopped appreciating and observing my fellow companions. So, “Ask Boomer” anything. Surprise me. Life is short. Let’s add on to it.

— Helen Hudson ’74

Want your question to be featured in the next column? Ask Helen here!

As students, we’re told all the time to follow our passions. Say you even have a passion (which isn’t true for lots of us! We’re figuring things out!). How can you take on the risk? Is “following your passion” really good advice for everyone?

Dear “figuring things out”:

Passion is a pretty strong word. I prefer “bliss” because it doesn’t feel so demanding. I see no risk in following it, particularly when you’re young. How else are you going to discover who you are — what you’re good at — where you suck? It’s not like you’re saddled with a mortgage and a couple of kids. These are the years to EXPLORE which will ultimately cause you to EXPAND! Why else are you walking around? To fit in? So yeah, following your bliss is good advice for everyone.

The more subtle point you make — and it’s an important one — is that not everyone has a passion. I had a zillion growing up and consider myself fortunate because I still have a zillion. However, if it’s not in your DNA, there are steps you can take to beef it up. First: try everything at least once. If you fail, at least get a good story out of it. I still tell mine about my excruciating five minutes trying standup at The Comedy Story in LA. It was worth the humiliation and certainly made me appreciate comics.

Second, don’t assume anything about yourself or anyone else. Just because your family were all lawyers doesn’t mean you’ll love debating and throwing around Latin phrases. You might make a great dog groomer. Whatever you do, don’t sit on your butt and wonder what your life will be like someday. It’s here now. If you’re stuck in no mans’ land, shake it up. Surprise yourself. Walk into Starbucks and pretend you don’t speak English. Spend a day wearing a blindfold. Remember, a door only closes if you shut it. Many people walk past dozens of doors and don’t even open them! At the very least, turn the knob.

— Boomer

Hi Helen! It’s Shadman! One way to interpret the “OK Boomer” criticism is as a rebuke against the notion that those older than us actually do know something useful about our world, considering our world HAS changed so much. As someone who is both curious and with access to the knowledge of the great past sages at my fingertips, what should I look to learn from those decades older than me through conversation and relationship?”

Dear Shadman: 

Way to get the elephant out of the room! Yes, the internet gets you access to the great sages but it doesn’t provide you perspective from real, breathing humans. I always looked to older people for advice and still do. Where else will you get both experience and perspective? Our peers are great but they’re in the same boat as we are. I want to know how the folks in that boat on the horizon are faring because we are all of us learning as we go.

Yes, your world has changed infinitely from mine. At your age, my phone was connected to a wall and didn’t move. It took me an entire afternoon in the library searching through stacks of books to answer questions I can now answer in seconds. But Google, Siri and even ChatGPT are all ‘“surface stuff.” They can’t prepare you for the turbulence, change and awesomeness that lies ahead for you. You won’t recognize your own world when you’re my age but you will always need others. That’s why you need to keep your antennae up and your heart open.

Ultimately, the best reason to ask anyone for advice is to make a connection. Many in your generation tell me they feel “disconnected.” They struggle in silence thinking it’s easier to interact online than face to face. So, I encourage you to reach out to a variety of human sources. I am a mere drop in your bucket. Make your questions bold. It will force your listeners to dig deep into their own wells.

— Boomer 

P. S. Your curiosity is a blessing. It will save you in your old age.

Originally posted 2023-06-15 15:32:15.