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What Happens When You Age Out of the Cool Kids’ Club at Work

The early-twenties debauchery is easy to let go. What’s harder is accepting that you’re no longer hip

At my old job, I felt a pang of resentment when the group of recently hired 22-year-olds would post Snapchats of themselves hanging out and ripping shots on Thursday nights. I’d hear them laugh at some joke in a Slack channel I was never invited to. At 29, I knew that I’d already experienced what they were now discovering — and now, frankly, I wanted nothing to do with it. But it still stung.

My peers are going out less on Fridays and working more on Saturdays. We’re dropping the hard stuff and picking up games and puzzles. We don’t talk about hookups, we talk about wedding registries and travel credit cards. Zillow is the new Tinder.

The early-twenties debauchery is easy to let go. What’s harder is accepting that you’re no longer cool.

This feeling gets worse and worse with younger and younger colleagues entering the office every year. Many modern workplaces emphasize culture — which means being fun and social. So what happens to those of us who just don’t want to be? Or — worse — aren’t invited into the in crowd?

Take this story, from redditor Z3R0_C00L, writing in the subreddit r/AskMenOver30:

“I am 37. I have been working in IT my whole life. I have always been very social and enjoyed hanging out with my coworkers. Recently we have hired some early 20s peoples and I found out a large group of my work friends and the younger staff have been hanging out regularly (without mentioning it to me). There is apparently a NYE party I will not be attending tonight. Fear of missing out is real. Is it time I start making conversation with the old guys around the office? … Is this because I am an old grump now?”

Todd Davis, author of Get Better: 15 Proven Practices to Build Effective Relationships at Work, offers the following advice: “Engage with your team members, but do it appropriately,” he tells MEL. “You don’t have to go to the club with your co-workers or be in a specific [group chat] to show that you’re interested in them, or anything else that shows you are trying to fit into a generation of which you are not a part.”

The point isn’t to force yourself into relevancy, he says, but merely show interest in their lives and they’ll likely return the favor. “Whether you are 18, 28 or 48, we connect well with people with whom we can relate. The more you know about them, the more you will be able to engage with them in meaningful conversation.”

Being left out of non-mandatory socializing will always hurt. But the trick may be to make the first move and reach out as an elder. Davis says the best cure might mean stepping out of your comfort zone occasionally — “breaking your routine by joining your colleagues at an after-hours work event. … Meet them ‘where they are.’”

He also adds that it’s important to see people as more than coworkers. “Those who are most effective at relationships, see people as ‘whole people,’ not just as a work associate,” he says. “If you want successful relationships at work, you need to engage with everyone.”

“Engaging with people” and “having successful relationships” sounds good on paper, but what about in real life? Considering I quit my old job to work alone, I thought I’d ask guys who’ve been aged out of the hip and cool young crowd at work for some real-world advice.

Embrace the Fact That They’re Talking Shit About You

Mike, 31, Tech Consulting: I got married at 23 and I now have two kids. At 31, I still feel young, but the reason reason I’d say that I’ve aged out from the younger crowd is due to the tech business model. In tech, people come in at 10, have a fancy lounge with alcohol, and give them enough work to be there until 8 to 9 p.m. every night. Then everyone goes out. Every night.

For my age group, I have moved up a bit faster than most, so most of my counterparts are in their mid-40s and I fit in better with that crowd. So once a week I will usually go out a to a happy hour early with the older crowd so I can get home, because I get up at 5 a.m. Sometimes the younger crowd joins and goes out afterward, but I can’t image “starting” my night at 10, like they do.

Still, even though I relate to them perfectly fine and I think if I had the time to go out with them, I still wouldn’t. They respect me as a mentor and a lot of them work for me or, at a minimum, take direction from me on a number of projects. They need to be able to let loose and vent their frustrations about me and management. If I am there, they can’t really be themselves, or they drink too much and become themselves a bit too much. Of course, we get along, so we would have a good time, but I have to make tough decisions that may negatively impact them, which is why they need to vent.

Overall, I enjoy my home life and want to stay with my family as much as possible. For the younger crowd they often have most of their friends at work. When they go home they are just bored and don’t have people to hang out with, so they hang out with people at work. There is beer in the lounge, a huge TV, a pool table, etc. At least in corporate tech environment, we have a generation of early-20s people who will spend a majority of their time at work and don’t have a lot going on outside it, which I don’t think is healthy.

Bring the Booze to Them

Zach Taylor, 35, Owner of Life Insurance 420: Even before I had kids, I was a salesperson, and I noticed that the younger staff who supported the sales people would often do their own thing for lunch and social events. In turn, usually the salespeople would hang out with other sellers instead of mingling, so there was clearly a divide of who was comfortable with whom. There were other times I’d see photos of when they got together for a fun weekend event without me, and I’d feel slightly left out. But I also had my own responsibilities, and I was grateful not to be hungover!

To break these social circles, if you’re feeling left out, it just means you have to speak up a little bit more. If you can brush off the office politics and be fun and relatable outside work, you can build trust with them. Lunch can be an easy opportunity to do this, though happy hour tends to be more conducive for bonding.

So if I heard they were grabbing lunch together, I’d tag along and try to learn more about their personal lives. Sometimes it was about discovering a new lunch spot, which was fun to learn about, and also fun for them to teach me something new. It’s human nature to want to be the cool person with the great experiences and stories, but sometimes it can be better to let someone else have that spotlight. I think most of us have a much different story outside of work than the person we present at the office, so it’s fun to be able to connect with others and discover their true selves. If you’re not putting in the effort to care and learn about your younger coworkers, they’re not as likely to want to include you.

If it’s important enough, maybe you can leave work a little early on a Friday and still get home to your kids on time. Even easier, grab a case of beer and bottle of wine and bring it to the office to be enjoyed at the end of the day in the break room, assuming that’s okay with your company’s work culture.

Don’t Sweat It

Ryan, 34, Aircraft Mechanical Engineer: Over the years as I’ve “aged out” of the cool kids bracket I haven’t worried about it. To me work has never been a “social” setting where I’m trying to meet new friends or impress people. I’m always sure to be respectful and professional, but worrying if a 20-year-old thinks I’m cool is literally the last thing I’d be considering in any capacity while I’m working.

Plus I already see coworkers a lot — more than I see my girlfriend, dog, parents, friends. My coworkers are great people, but I see them so often, once the off-hours come around I don’t want to see them.

I’ve never been jealous of seeing my younger coworkers going out together, since I think those bonds may make for a better at-work team. I think it’s great, I think young people should be going out and having a blast, having fun together, but I’m not going to be the 43-year-old in an Ed Hardy T-shirt at the bar full of 20-year-olds.

Work is a place for work, not happy fun times with the boys. I don’t need to be invited along to every social gathering. I may not be everyone’s favorite guy, but as long as I’m treated professionally and given as much respect as I give others, it’s all positive.

If It Starts to Feel Toxic, Quit

Khris Hughes, 42, Senior Content Marketing Manager at ProjectManager.comAt my previous companies, I managed large teams of social media managers and content creators. Being 42, many of them (and the company in general) were younger than me.

Only one person in the offices was married and had a child, and the rest were still in the pattern of going out on a nightly basis and often hitting the bars with each other. I didn’t mind doing so now and then, but I’m married and had other hobbies outside of the office that were more of an interest to me, so I didn’t join all that often, even though I was often invited. Also, I felt it was important to maintain some distance between myself and my team, especially as a supervisor of one of the company’s larger departments.

So I think the best way to approach socializing with your coworkers outside of the offices is to take a hard look at how it would benefit you and why it’s something you’re concerned with. Do you feel that you’ll be ostracized within the work environment if you’re not spending time with co-workers outside of it? If so, you may actually need to be taking a close look at the culture of the company and make sure it’s somewhere you should be working, if that’s an expectation that can actually affect your professional future. No two people’s lives are the same, and some just can’t spend time outside of work with coworkers due to all of the other demands that occupy their lives.

If it’s important to you personally to have those relationships with coworkers, make a point to initiate get-togethers that better fit your schedule. Maybe it’s a happy hour immediately after work that ends early in the evening, going to lunch together, or getting together for coffee/breakfast early before work begins. In suggesting these types of events that may not go late into the evenings, you might find out that more of your coworkers are on the same wavelength than you might have anticipated.

I didn’t feel left out, necessarily, but there was definitely some cliques that were starting to form around the time I departed the company that were becoming unsettling. I guess the lesson really is to do the best you can to be social in the workplace within the boundaries of what makes sense for your own life situation and not to bend that too much just to accommodate trying to be one of the cool kids.