Baby boomers seem to always have an opinion about young people’s work ethic (or lack thereof) or “sense of entitlement.” And millennials (who hate that word, fyi) are generally ready to snap back that boomers ruined the economy, tanked the housing market, and rigged up a nice system of debt peonage.

Previously we sent millennial-aged bookseller Chelsea Cook to spend a morning with boomer-aged sales agent Bill McCue, at his job with Portland Computer Copy… and in return, we sent Bill McCue to take notes from millennial Chelsea at her job at Sherman’s Books in the Old Port.

Untitled-1I arrived in Maine by way of Canada in 1971, when I was in my early twenties. My older brother had moved here and suggested I check it out — I loved it!

Like most, I started with just about nothing and worked in the Old Port district doing various jobs, mostly in restaurants. Upon reaching thirty, I decided to get serious about life and took a “real” job at a regional health agency in central Maine. It was only okay, and without a master’s degree, I was pretty much stuck at my desk.

As luck would have it, my office was located next to the copy room; over time I became friendly with the technician from the copier company, and I complained to him often about my lot in life. He said that I should jump ship and became a copier salesman. No way, I said, I’m no salesman!

He kept after me, and finally said, “Look, just come in and talk to the boss.” I did, and liked what I heard. Thus began my thirty-plus years in the copier business. I’ve done well and have enjoyed myself greatly.

Looking back, I wonder if I could have ever enjoyed the success and satisfaction I’ve experienced had I not had that office next to the copy room!

When Dispatch asked if I would job share with a young person as part of a story they were working on, I agreed, and spent a day or two with Chelsea Cook. What a nice young person she is! We talked a lot, and I spent a morning at her job, Sherman’s Book Store in the Old Port.

It’s such a warm and welcoming place – the sort of store that you could spend hours in. Chelsea explained to me how the various sections are organized and why. Also, how important it is to constantly stay on top of keeping things arranged properly, and that in winter it’s keep the floor clean. She even showed me how their register works — a brand-new system that is colorful and cool.

They say that life goes by in a moment, and that’s true, because spending time with Chelsea made me feel like I was young again, with my life before me. 

… and Bill was lucky we didn’t send him along with a millennial with five jobs!

While we did what we could to bridge the generational gap, it’s quite likely the finger-pointing will continue.

Today’s young people are poorer than previous generations by a wide margin. According to a Washington Post report, older families had 7.6 times as much wealth as young families in 1989; today, it’s 14.3 times. There’s only so much you can pay for with your word, your reputation, and personal favors.

Bottom line is: yes, boomers vs. millennials is a bit of a media construct, but there’s much we can learn from the differences between them.

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