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How can one handle age discrepancy between a local clique and self?

For background, this is well pre-COVID-19 situation, so it does not include the pandemic as a factor.

Around two years ago, I worked as a software developer. Most of the work took place in a small office, with frequent chit chat, jokes and active work-related talk.

There was tight teamwork going on, from which I was excluded - or at least it felt so to me. I came to blame my age: I was 29 (visibly older, receding hair) at the time while everyone else was in their early 20s, and also the team was entirely male.

I tried to take part in chat around the coffee machine, tried to sit at their table during lunch break, initiate smalltalk, and even started vaping (which is popular here) to have a common mini-hobby. But everything felt artificial, and they were overly polite when talking to me, as if I was 50+, avoided referring to me during work, often to the detriment of team performance, but especially my productivity. I was treated as a friendly old man, but not as an full-fledged insider. There was respect, but huge distance in familiarity.

Eventually I switched to academia for two years, within the same company, but because of unfortunate reasons I have to switch back to my old job after the pandemic ends. How can I prevent this situation from reoccurring?

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    "I was treated as friendly old man" -> what indicates that? Early 20s, that can be 7-6 years difference only. What makes you sure this is a matter of age? Isn't it possible it is more a matter of you trying to be someone that you noticeably aren't (start vaping...)? Or perhaps you came last into this already formed team? – puck Sep 13 '20 at 13:22
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    This sounds less about age and more about culture. I know hip 50-somethings that can hang out with edgy 20-somethings like they've been buddies for years, I also know 20-somethings that are more square than a stuffed shirt and get along much better with grey-haired, tweedy academics than their own sophomoric contemporaries. It sounds like you guys just don't have that much in common. Maybe if you have communication issues I'd focus on discussing that with them rather than taking up a vaping habit in the hopes that this will somehow substitute for effective management. – J... Sep 14 '20 at 18:06
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I've been the "old member" of the team for a while and most likely will be for what's left of my career.

Although that hasn't consisted of exclusion, there are usually a lot of "old" jokes and references to watching TV in black and white, how all we had was rocks growing up, dinosaurs, computers using punch cards, discovering fire, etc.

The biggest mistake I've seen older team members make is to try to fit in. You don't share the same experiences and outlook as your younger peers. Generally any attempt to mimic their clothes, speech, interests, or behaviors is seen as forced. It looks... off. Your cultural references are different and your life experiences are different. Your frame of reference is different. Even your ability to stay up late is different.

What I've found works is to instead of trying to fit in, accept yourself as you are. Take pride in your experience. Accept that you aren't part of that youthful clique. Rather than trying to fit in to their group, invite them to yours.

Do what you normally would do. Work hard. Achieve. Be the person that, when everything goes to crap, your boss looks to. Be the person that solves problems. Be proud of your interests, rather than adopting someone else's.

You won't ever get the full attention of that group. But you will get the attention of people that think like you and want to learn from you. That will be a healthier relationship based on mutual respect than on your trying to conform to another group's requirements.

In my workgroup, I'm 20+ years older than my peers. We don't see each other socially - that would be weird. (Credit @Erik for this) But how "weird" it is depends also on what you would do. Again, trying to fit into the social activities of a group of 20-somethings, like going clubbing, might be seen as weird. Engaging in mutual interests, however, may not.

In the end, my co-workers and I get along based on mutual interests and respect. I've seen and done things that my co-workers haven't (yet) and have led an interesting life. I've found this strategy works - there are some of my peers that share my interests, and we can talk about them. There are some that don't - and I don't think any less of them because of it. I engage in relationships on mutual terms and not strictly on theirs. And that, as I've said earlier, is a lot healthier and more rewarding.

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    @ImmortanJoeiscensoredandmu I think you are making a bigger deal out of agree differences than necessary. Where I work (a company full of technical people), people range from freshly graduated to about ready to retire. Unless you work in an industry really dominated by young people (read: a "cool" industry that abuses its employees), it's not that big of a deal. You may not relate to everyone on a personal level, but that doesn't have to interfere with your work. – Kat Sep 13 '20 at 22:44
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    @ImmortanJoeiscensoredandmu yes, aging is scary and brutal. It's also wonderful. It provides perspective and makes us (for the most part) more able to choose our battles. I work in a technical field doing something that didn't exist 10 years ago. I may not know what my younger co-workers know, but they don't know what I know, either. My challenge is to engage with them in a way that values them and myself at the same time. Kat makes an excellent point - it's wise to not be in a "cool" industry because those folks get overworked in the name of "getting ahead" – baldPrussian Sep 13 '20 at 23:04
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    How weird the age difference is also depends on what you do to socialize. A 50-year old that goes out clubbing with a bunch of 20-somethings might be weird but my boardgaming group has members ranging from early 20s to early 50s and nobody cares. – Erik Sep 14 '20 at 13:20
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    @Erik You make an excellent point and I've added that to my answer. Thank you for the insight! – baldPrussian Sep 14 '20 at 13:57
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    @Erik With that said, it's 2020. Half the world's top club DJs are 40+ or even 50+, at this point. First generation ravers are closing on retirement age pretty quickly. Middle aged culture is changing pretty dramatically. Even Wil Wheaton is going to be 50 in a couple of years. – J... Sep 14 '20 at 21:18
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Got to say this question was the exact opposite of what I was expecting/hoping for. See I'm 25 and the vast majority of my coworkers (through my last two positions) have been late 30s to early 40s. They're all married, most have kids, and I haven't heard of most of the movies and such that they reference.

I would reiterate baldPrssian's point to just be yourself, don't try to blend. For me, that difference is what usually what we connect over. I make a point of making them "feel old" at least once a week and we joke about it.

But if that's not your speed or your truly worried about that age gap, I'd advise you to switch companies. I think you're making an overly big deal of the youth of the industry and presumed aged discrimination in hiring. But that's just my experience.

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These based on personal experience to achieve mutual benefits

1) Knowledge Sharing - I used learn from someone older than me especially lifestyle, set an expectation and learn how to handle to it. Most of the time if you ask politely to seek for guide, very likely they will share their experience. i.e. Most of people at age of 40 and above have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc and try to understand from them how to handle it and how to do it better. It could save your life someday later or loved one very soon.

2) Common Interest Sharing Some people in their senior age will still active in sport like Badminton, Jogging, jungle tracking. It will be some sport or event needs to be in a team regardless of age?

3) Actively Joining Company Events Even small company, it normally have some company events like just a simple affordable lunch or dinner and try not miss that. It's best place for "team building" or you can suggest to your superior if it does not exist at all.

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