They say birds of a feather flock together, and it’s not untrue; studies show that we tend to gravitate toward similarly minded people in a subconscious attempt to stay with the familiar. But it’s only when interacting with others that you yourself become more open-minded and well-rounded, and even gain qualities you originally didn’t possess. Whether you’re single and can learn some tips from a married couple on their way to their golden anniversary (50 years), or you’re thinking about having children and have a friend who just happily welcomed her third, having friends in other life stages can offer fresh perspectives that make the mysterious puzzle of life a little easier to figure out. Here are a few benefits to striking a different chord.
Judgment can be a result of insecurity. And when you’re in a group of friends who are the same age, come from the same background, and are in similar professional and personal stages of their lives, competition can be fierce. Clock some hours with a friend in a totally different life phase and you’ll be sure to get a compassionate soundboard who wants to help you help yourself, not judge your imperfections or compete with you. Since you both aren’t in the same life stage, advice can be delivered with sincerity.
When you surround yourself with people who are experiencing life at the same pace as yourself, you risk becoming jaded. A friend-group debacle about who flirted with whom first can distract you from the fact that you just went to the most epic Taylor Swift concert of all time. Comparing your LinkedIn endorsements to those of your college classmates can make you feel inadequate, even when you just presented a project you were proud of. By hanging out with people in a different life stage, we are able to see our own experience with fresh eyes. The good things in life look even more special, and the bad? Well, you learn not to sweat the small stuff when your companion offers a different point of view.
What are you more concerned about: how many likes your Instagram got today or that you got to talk to your best friend for half an hour? Friends from different stages of life keep us grounded. A member of generation Z may remind a millennial about the impact of real relationships. A millennial may remind a baby boomer to take risks and stray from convention. Whatever your birth year, you have the power to remind people from another generation about the values they may have forgotten.
When you’re in your mid-20s, slowly inching toward the big 3-0, it’s common to think that life ends there. You imagine that the freedom to dance until dawn, travel on a whim, and quit your job without a lot in the bank will immediately evaporate and be replaced with the responsibility of having a family, mortgage, and retirement account. Meet someone over 30 and you’ll understand just how wrong you are. The fun doesn’t stop at 29. In fact, most people we’ve talked to in their 30s and beyond say getting older and building a life with more responsibilities can be just as fun, if not more so, than your young adulthood. So if you’re single, talk to someone who’s married. If you’re without children, befriend a family. Learn about the joy of aging from those a little ahead of you.
Confidence comes in many different shapes and sizes. When you’re younger, you’re more inclined to take risks, by challenging the odds and starting your own business or falling head-over-heels in love without thinking about the consequences. When you’re older, you develop a confidence after gaining experience and learning what to expect and how to behave. Whatever age you are, there is undoubtedly a stack of insecurities that haunt you and your friends. Get some confidence lessons from women who aren’t your age, and then share the knowledge.
Members of the same cohort tend to experience life as a group. Friends of the same age and experience level journey through life’s stages together: college, first jobs, first promotions, relationships, homeownership, and family rearing all around the same time. While it’s incredible to have someone in the same boat as you, those people aren’t going to find it easy to point out the holes of that boat. An older, younger, wiser, or more naive friend is able to see your situation from a fresh perspective and call bullsh*t when the level of drama in your life seems out of control. For instance, if you’ve just purchased a home with your significant other and you’re complaining about how you divide house chores, a friend who is renting an apartment with two other roommates can say, Hold on a minute—just be thankful you have a home and a partner you love enough to share it with.
Whether you’re working in a traditional 9-to-5 or living the life of a digital nomad FaceTiming with your team from opposite ends of the world, office politics exist. They can be easy to complain about and commiserate over with friends who are in the same position as you. But what do you get out of those venting sessions besides a fleeting sigh of relief (or just escalated frustration)? When you talk to someone at a different life stage, you will undoubtedly gain some insight into how office politics can be maneuvered to your advantage. For instance, talking to someone with a couple more decades of experience in the workforce can help you simplify problems and get less worked up over the language of a certain email. Talking to those with fewer years in the workforce can help too; they could open your eyes to your direct report’s perspective and help you see why your communication method might benefit from some altering.
Shop a few of our favorite generation-spanning gifts below.
How do your diverse friendships enhance your life?
This post was originally published on May 16, 2016. Updated by Sacha Strebe.