Opposable Thumbs And Parking Spots

By Jack Newcombe

May 23, 2012 4 min read

Change is hard.

Think about it this way. You're in a highly populated area of a big city and meeting a friend for dinner on a Thursday. Anyone who knows Hollywood or midtown Manhattan or some other comparable overcrowded metropolis knows that finding a parking spot at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday is next to impossible.

But for the purposes of this hypothetical, let's say you get lucky. You find a spot right in front of your restaurant. You park and enter the restaurant feeling like royalty.

After dinner, you come back to your car, and it hits you: You have to leave your parking space.

All of a sudden, you get sad. You don't want to leave the space. It's yours. You don't want to give it up. It is right in front of the restaurant; it is perfect.

That feeling of loss is the negative emotion that accompanies change. It's the irrational feeling of loss that comes when you're forced to give something up or do something differently. Rationally, you have no need for the parking spot anymore, but still, in your mind, it was such a good spot.

Hypothetical parking spot analogies aside, the reality is that because of the Great Recession and the fact that people are living longer, the baby boom generation is being forced to cope with a major change: Baby boomers are having to work longer and retire later.

As a result, some are experiencing that same irrational sense of loss that you might feel when having to give up a prime parking spot (or having to wake up in the middle of the night to feed a crying baby or not being able to call a deceased loved one or having to move to a different city because of work).

Frank DiNoia, 61, is an example of a baby boomer who is forced to cope with change. DiNoia worked for decades in corporate America, hustling, negotiating and clawing his way to a senior level at a well-known telecom company.

When asked about working with younger executives, DiNoia said, "There was a lot of focus on PowerPoint presentations and the use of technology." He said that the young executives knew technology but that he "and the other seasoned veterans had experience and wisdom." There needed to be a mutual respect for what each group brought to the table, and DiNoia admitted that actually setting up that type of work environment -- in which both groups felt valued -- was challenging, especially for the baby boomers.

Many baby boomers have a feeling of nostalgia. There is an emotional, romantic sentiment that surrounds the past. Yes, the grass is always greener on the other side, but it's an especially shiny Kelly green when it's the house where you grew up, your first love, your first dog or your college years. We do not remember how small the house actually was, how our heart was broken by that same first love, finding our favorite article of clothing chewed or mountains of homework and tests during finals.

On the TV show "Mad Men," actor Jon Hamm plays a fictional advertising executive in the '60s, named Don Draper. When giving a pitch for an advertising campaign, he addresses this feeling of nostalgia, calling it "delicate but potent." Draper informs his client that "in Greek, 'nostalgia' literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone."

Even though rationally, we can point to a new opportunity to learn or the value of a new technology, many, not just baby boomers, focus on what they are giving up, and that is a choice.

It's a choice made by rational human beings with free will. Our ability to use reason is what separates us from animals (and opposable thumbs).

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