Slow down. I didn’t say “worthless” or “not really valuable.” I said “overrated.”
There are obvious benefits to building a social circle of people in the same age range. Shared aesthetics and cultural touchstones, similar stages in life that provide better understanding (try explaining to a single 23-year-old that you really do prefer to stay home and watch ‘Air Bud 15’ with your kids on Friday night), and similar energy levels.
Still, a network of age-similar people is overrated.
It’s overrated because almost everyone talks about social life as if it is not only preferable among same-aged peers, but impossible with anyone else. People assume that if you move to a city or company or join a church or club without a large population of people your age you will be incapable of building a social life. This lack of open-mindedness and creativity is disturbing, and you shortchange yourself if you adopt it.
It’s not easy to see beyond your age group because most of us spent the first 20 or more years of life bound exclusively to those within 12 months of our own age, outside a few parents, teachers, and others who were always in “authority” positions and never seen as equals in our network. I’m amazed how much schooled kids think it’s weird to hang out with someone even just a few years their younger or elder. I’m amazed at how little adults interact with children or the elderly through the course of everyday life, not just on holidays and special occasions.
It’s not morally bad to associate exclusively with people your age, and you have no duty to do otherwise. But it’s impractical and limits the value and enjoyment of your network.
My colleague Zak Slayback has written about the limitations in having a predominantly “horizontal network”, the kind you build in school, vs. a deep and multidimensional “vertical network”. It’s well worth a read and Zak has some nice visualizations.
The ability to build an age diverse social circle is not only for professional network richness, it’s also great for personal happiness. The kind of person who can comfortably hang out at a cocktail party of people half or twice their age is someone who will be more interesting and interested in life in general. If your social scene is built around shared excitement, rather than shared station in life — often an artifact of a stodgy, top-down centrally planned education-career conveyor belt — you’ll be ridiculously adaptable and quick to connect wherever you go.
Don’t let yourself succumb to hopelessness or frustration if you move somewhere or work somewhere without a lot of people your age. See it as an opportunity to connect with fascinating people from all stages and stations in life. You’ll always be able to (at least superficially) connect with people your age. It’s an easy fallback and can sometimes make you lazy about building deeper connections. The chance to create a vibrant social life that’s far more diverse is one you should seize as a challenge and a game with big rewards if you don’t give up.
Invite someone over who’s well outside your age range but who you find fascinating. Ask yourself if similar people would invite you over just for fun. If not, get working on it.
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This article also appears on Medium and is published here with the permission of the author
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