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Twentysomethings have taken over the office

Dear Annette,

Twentysomethings have taken over the office where I have been working since they were in elementary school. It seems that everyone has a navel ring except me. Can I stay hip without subjecting myself to the needle?

Experienced but Inexperienced


Dear Experienced,

Many employees over a certain age feel anxious about the correlation between computers in the cradle and rings in the navel. Alas, and yet hooray: the future belongs to the children, and to the people who were children only recently.

What you need is a reverse mentor: someone to escort you proudly into the new economy with dash, panache, and elan, even if they've never heard those words. It's an equitable exchange: you provide access to the insights of years or even decades of work experience, and your mentor provides a year's subscription to fabulousness.

Find the most outrageously styled newcomer in your office, the one who seems the most dangerous. I gravitate toward the pouty petulant young things, the ones who don't say much, the snowboarders who look like they are about to punch or stalk or cry. They have the best creative insights and that eagle eye for detail that lets you know they're watching. You usually find them in IT or design.

My mentor - let's call him R. - has taught me everything I know about navel rings. Many more people have them than you know - indeed, every workplace has a piercing policy, written or not. Even in the typical financial services firm there is likely to be someone covering up. Reverse mentors can name names.

In offices where employees out their outies, the issues are what to wear, how often to change it, how much to show, and the meta-game of whether to draw attention by playing with or mentioning the accessory. Conventional wisdom says, downplay but expect questions. I can't imagine a context where diamonds would be a no-no.

At work one sees only the outcome of the piercing, but the process apparently is the great joy. When you and your mentor have begun to trust one another, ask for the story. Not only will the answer entertain you, but it will show you are catching on.

Stay fabulous,
Annette