You’ll Understand When You’re Older

A few months ago, a friend told me about an opportunity to become a contributor for The New York Times . . . ok, so it wouldn’t actually be for the Times, but for The Edit, their quarterly newsletter targeted towards students and recent graduates! You’ve never heard of it? Well, most people probably hadn’t until this brilliant PR move presented itself.

The opportunity to write for The New York Times, er, sorry, The Edit, attracted over 20,000 applicants who wrote in answering one of five given prompts. I’m not counting on a future career in journalism, but still enjoy writing, so I thought I’d send in my own response. Of course I don’t expect to be chosen. But if this pursuit doesn’t work out, I can always join the thousands of aspiring journalists by submitting self-made lists and quizzes to Buzzfeed (of course it’s REAL journalism!).

Below is my response to the chosen prompt, as well as my accompanying author bio:

What’s your biggest pet peeve about the way that people write about your generation?

It’s not a phrase particular to any generation. Yet all children in the presence of an adult have likely heard this phrase in response to their questions about where babies come from, whether they’ll ever love anyone again after their first break-up, or why it’s not possible to continue eating anything you want as you get older. Growing up in the early 2000’s, I thank my own parents for their wisdom and fortitude when they refused to let me get frosted tips. Although I resented them then, I now see they were saving me from a lifetime of humiliation immortalized through school photos.

We now live in a day we can access endless information at the press of a button or swipe of a screen. We become chagrined if our smart devices lag and it takes longer than five seconds to access the desired information. In a generation of now, how much more frustrated we become when told to wait years for a lesson we want to learn now. However, frustrating as it may be to be told that we’ll understand when we’re older, some lessons simply cannot be learned online.

I recently completed a graduate program in Healthcare Administration and have just begun a year-long residency at a hospital. I essentially have one year to learn how a hospital operates before getting thrown in the mix myself. Three weeks in and I already feel like I’m drinking from a fire hose while treading water at the deep end of the pool. Taking pity on me, the administrative assistant to the CEO has taken me under her wing and has begun imparting to me the wisdom she has collected from 30+ years on the job.

Most frequently, I arrive to work and am lovingly told “crease those pants,” “polish those shoes,” and “never wear that tie again.” I thought I had finally learned to dress myself, so this isn’t information I want to hear. I liked that tie. She also shares information which she says will be crucial to my personal and professional development. Always show up five minutes early to an appointment. Stay off your phone. Don’t eat celery in an important meeting. These were apparent problems of former residents of my generation. Perhaps the greatest piece of advice I have received so far is to not let my career become more important than the people I meet along the way. A likely difficult concept to grasp for early careerists.

Although not stated explicitly, much of the advice I continue to receive is an indirect form of telling me to wait until I’m older to understand. Growing older always manages to stay just out of reach. There will always be life lessons to learn, no matter how hard it may be to hear it. But if my parents were right about the frosted tips, what else could they be right about?


Matthew Cowley is an administrative resident at Texas Health Resources in the DFW area. He is deeply interested in the fragmented healthcare system and is compelled to work towards sustainable solutions. Matt is also the lead contributor to his personal blog.


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