Updated: May 23
You know, it’s funny...the older you get, you really don’t feel a difference. You are, in someways, always that 25 year old kid. You realize as you age that you know more than you used to, but you begin to realize how little you really know. That’s why older people giggle at teenagers when they say they have things figured out, because none of us do. At this stage of my life and career, I always trust those who say things such as “well, it’s usually like this” or “we should check on that" as opposed to statements such as “always” or “never." Experience teaches you to approach situations in this manner.
Regarding the “feeling the same age” as we get older, I was working as the Chief of Protocol at a large Air Force Command (Air Mobility Command - AMC) this is one of the largest commands in the US Air Force. As the Chief of Protocol in this position, I worked directly for a four star general (CEO equivalent) and managed all the visits of dignitaries and ceremonies involving that four star general. The pressure can be very intense and people expect you know everything, but we don’t. We do our best as we keep trucking along, using our training and experience along with the experience of our staff and requests of the commanders. We ensure everything is legal and ethical and our guests and events are taken care of. It is a fun job, but tough. You must have thick skin while you handle a very fast-paced environment and keep on smiling and setting the professional example for others to follow.
In that position, I was very often the younger person in the room along with a lot of older and very senior officers (mostly men). You have to learn how to hold your ground in that environment - learn to speak and present in a manner that was appropriate for such a high level. I also would work with a lot of the younger Airmen and officers (in their twenties). What I noticed about a lot of these younger officers is they seemed so rude in the hallways! I used to be one of those younger officers, and I remember walking the hallways and being sure I said, “Good morning sir/ma’am” at any moment of opportunity when passing senior members in the hallway. We in the military are all taught this in our most basic of trainings.
I began to notice how seemingly easy it was for these young officers to walk past me and others and say nothing or even worse “hey” or “sup.” I would grumble to myself and start thinking like my mom “what is happening to today’s generation, how rude!” Then I was asked to hold a protocol and etiquette course for some of the same officers. I created a six hour course that reviewed and taught things such as email etiquette, interactions with senior officers, body language and communication and of course, my favorite, dining etiquette. I was thrilled at how many questions came at me, the interaction and interest was fantastic. These younger officers were not at all who I thought they were.
One of the officers in particular (one who I really thought was the most rude in the hallways) fessed up to tell the group how intimidated she was in the hallways of the command. She said she had never been around so many senior people and wasn’t sure how to navigate the halls. It was very uncomfortable for her. Now let me tell you about her. She was (and still is) one of the most intelligent and sharp female Air Force Officers in our US Air Force…who is a PILOT of a C-17 (google that one - or see the photo below). But what she also is, is human. Just as I didn’t and still don’t feel that I’m old enough to have twenty years of professional experience behind me, this young officer didn’t feel strong enough to navigate the halls of AMC.
Before she was transferred to her next position, she left me a thank you note and her business card. I have that card and note still today, it means a lot to me and it reminds me to never judge a book by its cover or make assumptions. Every now and then, I hear from her. Together, on the day of that training, we built up her confidence. Be kind and patient to people and remember you are human, too. I believe this course kicked off my journey of wanting to help others gain their confidence.