Baby Boomers are the largest population segment in the US. They are getting older, but they are getting older differently than previous generations. They are staying healthier longer, they are staying mentally sharp longer, they continue to focus on staying fit…and most importantly many of them want to (and are able to) contribute in the workforce longer! Unfortunately, for decades a subtle and in many cases unconscious bias exists that perpetuates this myth that older people must move on from their jobs. The problem is that many of the people affected by that bias just accepted it…moved on and then regretted it or found themselves trying to replace their career with something else later in life. The “movement” I hope to start is to have those in their 50s and 60s stand up, speak out against ageism and for those who employ them to be more open minded and creative in finding win/win solutions to make room for older workers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Patti Temple Rocks. Patti has held senior leadership positions in three different sectors of the communications industry: PR, advertising, and on the corporate client side. She is an inspirational leader, innovative thinker, problem-solver, growth driver, brand steward, and agent of change. She has recently taken on the issue of ageism in the workplace and has written a book called, I’m Not Done: It’s Time to Talk About Ageism in the Workplace.”
Thank you so much for joining us Patti! What is your “backstory”?
My “backstory” is that I have known I wanted to be a “communicator” since I was in middle school writing stories for fun. Not surprisingly the “star” of my story was always this successful woman, dressed fabulously and working out of a super cool high rise office in the city of Chicago. She would regularly check in with her super efficient and loving nanny on the status of her two perfect children (a boy and a girl of course) and before taking the train home, she and her handsome and equally successful husband would meet for a glass of wine. While never really articulating that strategy once I turned 16, it has always been in the background of my mind. And slowly but surely, I just kept working hard and giving my best and as a result have ended up with a pretty damn amazing and successful career. And I did have a super efficient Nanny for a while, but like all backstories, there are always a few “forks in the road.” I no longer needed that nanny because handsome husband decided to be a stay-at-home Dad, so I could focus on my career. I have three kids (not two) and two of them are stepkids. I did get to work in a super cool high-rise office a few times, but I also worked out of my back bedroom and in a dingy office in a manufacturing plant. I’d like to think I always dressed fabulously of course.
The moral of the story for me is that the “backstory” will always be what it is going to be. Just make sure it is your story!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
There are so many of those stories I should probably write a second book! So while I can’t single out just one, this is probably one of the more absurd moments. In my career, I have often lived in the crisis management world. And for whatever reason, crises love to make an appearance at the worst possible time. This one involved the need to negotiate a communications strategy with the female head of a company (and country!) in the Middle East. And it was Christmas. As I have been throughout my career, I was determined to balance my work commitments with my family commitments. One of our family traditions was to go bowling (yes, bowling) on the day after Christmas. So, not being willing to miss it, I brought my laptop to the bowling alley so I could negotiate in real time. I would bury my head in my computer until it was my turn to bowl. “Patti Up” my family would call and off I’d go. One time I forgot to put down my computer and bowled with my laptop in my left hand and a bowling ball in my right. It was a truly absurd moment especially because I think I actually bowled a strike!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Certainly, most of my time in the last year has been writing my book, I’m Not Done, and now I am transitioning to marketing and promoting the book and hopefully speaking about the topic and helping companies try to be more age inclusive. But, I have found time to do some consulting and speaking. One of my favorite talks was called “SHIfTHappens: How What I Didn’t Plan Shaped My Career.” I talked about 10 major inflection points in my career that came from an unexpected event (and a catastrophe or two) and how they made me better.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
MALALA YOUSAFZAI: She made sure the world stands with her against the oppression of children and young people, and for the right of all children to education.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: He pretty much saved the union from itself and freed the slaves, making it clear what we stood for in the United States of America.
STEVE JOBS: Because I cannot, and do not want to, image my life without Apple products.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH: Because though we did not agree on a lot of things, he was a decent and honorable person. Oh how I miss that type of leader.
Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?
Well — if I can loosely interpret the word literature — I would have to say it is the “literature” I listen to on my daily 90-minute walks with my two golden retrievers — Podcasts! Podcasts have literally changed my world-view. So much of what we consume in terms of news/opinion/social commentary is presented in short and often snarky sound bites! I had reached a point where I knew I couldn’t read another nasty tweet. Or listen to another screaming cable news soundbite. More than ever, I am grateful for the respite and dignity of the long-form interview. And that is what podcasts do so very well. With an hour to listen, I always find something to like about the guest or a POV to agree with, or better yet, think differently about.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
Long before I wrote this book, I used writing as a way to reach people that worked with and for me. Today it is called a blog, I guess in early days it might have been a newsletter, or an essay that I emailed to my staff. Regardless of what it was called, when something big happened in the world (mass shootings) or big in our company world (change in leadership, strategy) I would write a very candid and open assessment — the good, the bad and the ugly — from my point of view. I was always rewarded by thoughtful and meaningful responses back from people who seemed to take some solace or gain some inspiration from my words. So, is that impacting “the world?” Perhaps, just one person at a time.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Just start writing. If you think too much about it, you can find plenty of reasons not to do it. And once you start writing, tell people about it. When I first started my book, I initially wanted to keep it to myself (probably in case I didn’t succeed) but I found the more I talked about my ideas the more I learned and the more people were willing to share their own stories and experiences.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s what I am hoping to do with this book! Baby Boomers are the largest population segment in the US. They are getting older, but they are getting older differently than previous generations. They are staying healthier longer, they are staying mentally sharp longer, they continue to focus on staying fit…and most importantly many of them want to (and are able to) contribute in the workforce longer! Unfortunately, for decades a subtle and in many cases unconscious bias exists that perpetuates this myth that older people must move on from their jobs. The problem is that many of the people affected by that bias just accepted it…moved on and then regretted it or found themselves trying to replace their career with something else later in life. The “movement” I hope to start is to have those in their 50s and 60s stand up, speak out against ageism and for those who employ them to be more open minded and creative in finding win/win solutions to make room for older workers.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite talks to write and give was the one about the unplanned aspects of my career story. So..in a way, I feel like there is nothing I wish I had been told — because the journey of learning from my experiences (and my mistakes) was probably in the end THE most valuable part. But for anyone who wants to learn from my experiences — here are five things I would say to them which I’ve synthesized into quotes I love!
Take risks. I learned a lot about business and even more about myself when I quit my job to start my own agency. While the agency never broke onto the Fortune 500 list — it was a great experience.
2. Don’t find fault, find a remedy. (Henry Ford)
I had to learn (and learn to embrace) the difference between blame and accountability. As leaders, many times throughout our career we will be called upon to deal with a situation or problem not of our making. But the more time we spend (waste) making sure people know it wasn’t our fault — the less time we will spend actually solving the problem. That is what a good leader must do — be accountable for the now and solve problems.
3. An open mind always gives someone a chance to drop a worthwhile thought in it. (Mark Twain)
I had VERY specific and well defined ideas about what I wanted my first job out of college to be. And that did NOT include working for a chemical company in a small, company town in the middle of Michigan. But, opening my mind to that experience led to me saying yes to the job and it proved to be a truly great place for me to start my career.
4. When you make a mistake, there are only three things you should do about it: admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it. (Paul “Bear” Bryant)
It is nearly impossible to have a mistake-free career — or a mistake-free anything for that matter. Especially when I was younger, I remember literally being sick to my stomach with worry about the consequences of a mistake — like when I was quoted in the New York Times saying something that came out wrong. But Bear Bryant’s advice is spot on, by embracing it and learning from it the odds of repeating it go to almost zero. WIth my bad quote, I asked myself what were the circumstances around my NYT quote? I was in a noisy room when I took the media call — from then on, only talked to media in a quiet room — even if it was a closet. I would add to Bear Bryant’s quote and say that apologizing goes a long way.
5. You can have it all, just not all at once (my Mom)
I was born during the time when most women got married in their early 20s and stayed home and raised their families. That is what my Mom did. She was also as big a career cheerleader as one could ask for and an astute observer of working women. I remember when she made her observation to me that she thought I could indeed have it all, perhaps just not all at once. It was almost as though she had put an oxygen mask on me — and I took a very deep and very restorative breath…and then I relaxed, became infinitely more patient and I do think I have had it all — just not all at once!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Full disclosure, I am a long-time and no longer suffering, Chicago Cubs fan. I know very little about the strategy of winning a baseball game, but I am fascinated by the strategy of building a winning team. Joe Maddon did exactly that — and he did so with an incredibly diverse and eclectic group of athletes. I actually wrote one of my blogs about his management philosophy and tried to apply to it the agency I was running at the time. It was one of my all time favorites to write. Also, in the context of my book, Joe Maddon is 64 years old. He sure as hell is “NOT DONE.” I think Joe is a fan of good wine, so I’ll opt for lunch, not breakfast, so we can share a nice bottle of wine.