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Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Time is Now

Aging is not new. Generations before us have come, stayed, and moved on. In their wake, there has persistently been some population of the "next generation" (note that is not capitalized, and not "Generation Next") ready to step forward into leadership. The world of workers' compensation faces a cross roads of sorts. It is not new, we've discussed before, but it is time to get serious. We find ourselves surrounded by many greying and seasoned professionals, and we might well worry about the conspicuous dearth of the "next generation." Yeah, yeah, yeah - "OK Boomer . . .." But, seriously folks. 

I have counseled many young people, striving to be a mentor. See Bring Value (February 2020) for discussion of the various generations and how they may play in our future. We always have great opportunity to assist those who would strive to replace us in this (or any) community. See Reminders of the Value of Mentoring (September 2016). The Inns of Court movement has recognized that, and across the state and nation various seasoned attorneys have striven to advance the next generation. See Pet Peeves of Judges (February 2021). It is not limited to the legal community, various professions are struggling with their "next generation."

At the Forum in April, See Back to the Forum (April 2022), I was again struck by the collective chronology of the gathering (we are old). As one of the younger folks in the crowd (sarcasm), I noted that while we found ourselves back together and celebrating the pandemic's demise, there were not many new faces in the crowd. I say this not to offend you, and apologize if I have, but to strive to bring home the challenges we face as a community.

This is not a new issue. Bob Wilson and I addressed this on the Workers' Compensation Hot Seat in March 2020: Rise of the Millennials, the Passing of the Baton. Barry Bloom and Mark Pew wrote a compelling piece in Risk and Insurance in 2020. They noted:
"We are confronting an existential threat to the long-term viability of our industry due to the huge and complex passing of the torch to subsequent generations."
Yes, we are old, worn, and perhaps a bit jaded. We may be set in our ways, despite our self-congratulations at having weathered the recent SARS-CoV-2 storm, and brilliantly innovating in the process. We may feel we are "with it," that we innovated, that we improvised, that we overcame. But, at the end of the day, I might suggest that as I look around - "Most have seen too many winters . . . or too few." (The Two Towers, New Line, 2002).

This theme was illustrated in various exchanges. Mark Touby noted, in introducing the Current Trends panel, that Dawn Traverso has served for 17 years as the Continuing Education (CE) Chair of the Section. While that is laudable, why has no one from the "next generation" come along to assist her and to grow into leadership? Notably, Rogers Turner is taking over this CE responsibility, there is change, but he is more of my own generation. Where is the "next generation?"

There are the typical explanations or excuses to which we might retreat over cocktails (the more cocktails, the more philosophical the conversation seems to become). We might lament "these kids today," and we might assuage our sensibilities with self-justification of the merits of our own experiences and perceptions. But, in the end, however we explain or cast blame, the fact is that our community is seemingly not attracting young people. Or, are they just not interested in hanging out at conferences with us old people? I look up and down the convention center at the Forum and I ask aloud "will this event occur in 2032?" Will the current leaders like Stacy Hosman, Leopold Garcia, Mark Touby, and others still be producing such content? Call me skeptical. So, if not them, then who?

There are apparently not as many young people in this community. I can accept that. So, it may be that the "next generation" finds value in things we may not (or less so). It may be that the "old ways" are not necessarily the best ways for the "next generation." And I am certain we can all find plenty to lament, to doubt, and to denigrate ("You kids get off my lawn"). We can be cynical, delusional, or worse. But, at the end of the day, none of us is going to be here forever. Who is the future of workers' compensation?

We have asked this rhetorically for years. We have lamented, prognosticated, discussed, and published. A generation or two ago, Theodor Geisel penned Marvin K. Mooney. In it, he expressed immediacy, "The time has come. The time is now." How many companies, law firms, or organizations brought the "next (comp) generation" to the Forum? I met one young attorney. It was a delight. She was lauded by, accompanied by, introduced by, a partner for whom she works. She is being supported and integrated into our community. That is heartwarming. But, when I note "I met one," the tragedy is that I met only one.

"The time is now."

It is time for the "older adults" to focus.

The "next generation" is seemingly not coming looking for us. We must go looking for them. How do we hire them, motivate them, and retain them?

The "next generation" may not share our values, see our imperatives, or appreciate our lessons. But, we pre-geriatrics are fast collectively approaching irrelevance, and they are the future. Like it or not, it is their values, imperatives, and lessons that matter. We have to get over how "they" are not like "us." They will take the wheel, and we must adjust to them. It is their values that will be the future, whatever they choose. 

How do we pass on what we've learned in a manner that brings them value, appeals to their needs, and affords them growth? How do we show them why we appreciate and value what we do (gathering, collaborating, educating), so that they might come to value something similar?

How do we pass the torch, recognizing that the future is not ours but theirs? I tell my students I want them to succeed (so they can pay taxes and support me in my old age - I am only half joking). 

We antiques ("classics"?) can fade into the past sitting in a circle and complaining to each other and telling war stories. There will be a future with or without us. Or, we can find ways to connect with the young now and provide them support, encouragement, and growth. We can be a part of their future as they choose it or consign ourselves to sit on the porch and yell as their future happens without us.

Like this, or don't. Tell me I'm wrong! Or, send me a note and let's start talking about how we help the "next generation" or Next Generation build a foundation for their future in the law, claims, medicine, risk, or beyond.

"The time is now."