Crotchety Older People

My kitchen has two sets of silver, one of my choosing the other inherited. They live one above the other in their respective drawers. Is it so hard to sort them into their proper slots? As I do the task not done by others in my household, I recognize that my irritation is out of proportion to the amount of time the task takes and pause to ask myself, why am I wasting energy being angry? 

My “day job” is full of constant and multiple deadlines, with extra “24 hour” ones thrown in randomly, on a daily basis. I used to pride myself on handling them all promptly but lately I’m resenting, and exhausted by the relentless demands and lack of freedom to schedule my days into some semblance of balance.

Familiar, sadly frequent and therefore now expected computer glitches make me increasingly angry, where I used to be resigned to their occurrence. 

My cat’s meowing insistence on being tended to NEOW, instead of drawing my attention to her empty water dish, just rouses in me a perverse determination to ignore “yet another demand on my time.”

What the heck? What’s going on? I don’t think of myself as someone so easily angered by meaningless, petty daily events. It certainly isn’t my goal or desire, to be angry! I know I’ve never been a laid back, “whatever” personality, but for most of my life I’ve been able to take changes and uncertainty in stride, adapting as necessary, especially to the demands of a career that has never been predictable. So why, of late, are those same demands so frustrating?

One of the accusations leveled at “older” workers is that they are inflexible and reluctant to adapt and change with changing conditions, new technology, or different performance expectations. It is mostly a myth, that charge. But I see a hint of truth behind it, if I consider my present dislike of the constant barrage of small procedural changes thrown at us weekly, sometimes daily, as my company incorporates a new data management system. Fortunately for the reputation of older employees, most of my coworkers are significantly younger, but they share my sense that it’s time the changes were put on hold and we were allowed to develop some routines and patterns that would permit us to complete our “on deadline” tasks without having to constantly resort to “cheat sheets” listing all the steps for each activity.

Work issues aside, there remains something bothersome to me about my level of irritation with minor disorder. It is so clearly “not worth the cost in energy drain” to become angry about spoons in the wrong slot! I don’t want my cat going without access to fresh water, and I used to be appreciative when she drew my attention to the empty bowl. What has changed?

The easy answer is too heavy a burden in the day job, and that certainly is a truth which I have already addressed with my supervisor. He has responded positively and my caseload is being reduced to the purported standard, after years of me carrying a significantly higher number of clients than we are “supposed” to be assigned. I am appreciative of the anticipated consequent reduction in work schedule from 50+ hour weeks to something more like the standard 40.

I don’t, however, think the easy answer is the “true” answer, since it is not the time needed to sort spoons that angered me, but the fact that others do not seem to respect my desire for order in my kitchen. One of my clients, who has an explosive anger problem, recently blew up over a misplaced measuring cup, accusing his worker of stealing it. I am fortunately not so irrational in my irritation, recognizing instead that something in me needs shifting. But what is that something?

Aha – the perception of older workers may in fact have a kernel of validity, if I acknowledge that the creaks and pains of an older body, which come and go unpredictably (or remain persistent, annoying, and unavoidable) make me/us more reliant on order and control in those areas where we have a small hope of it. If most aspects of a day are orderly, I can more easily handle the unpredictable. True for everyone, no matter the age, I believe. What age throws into the mix is an increase in unpredictable challenges to be handled, mostly arising from the wearing down of the body and an associated decline in physical capacity.

In the past 5 years I have developed an unpleasant response to barometric fluctuations – my bones hurt and I get ocular migraines. The visual distortion of the migraine usually only lasts about 15 minutes and, if I have to, I can continue working despite it, though doing so worsens the headache pain that comes after the sparkling light patterns have faded. Carrying on while in pain is a given for older bodies, but it does draw down one’s allotment of energy. With less “disposable capital” in the form of energy, spending any of it on organizing what someone else “should” have put right themselves can feel frustratingly wasteful of a precious resource.

My client reported that he spent over an hour going through everything in his kitchen, even checking inside the freezer, looking for the missing measuring cup. He was in the midst of making a pie and he had a second measuring cup available to use  – “I have one set for wet and one for dry measure. I don’t like to mix them up.” – but let his anger at the lack of order totally divert him from his project.

Without going to the irrational extremes that my elder client accepts as normal (“I have a great deal of anger and fight to control it”) I do see in myself, as I also grow older, a  parallel growing desire for what is around me to be consistent, in its place, orderly and reliable so that my daily ration of energy can be used most productively. Having to travel 85 miles in order to have a tech turn off an auto-sync feature in my laptop, costing me half a day of time needed to meet my work deadlines (and hence requiring that I work well into the evening playing catch-up) is a waste of my precious energy resource. I resent that waste. Why didn’t the techs programming my computer think about the limited bandwidth those of us working in rural areas have access to, and NOT program in an unnecessary auto-sync? 

I used to be resigned to the fact that techs living and working in New Mexico’s big urban center would not consider the restrictions facing the couple hundred of us in my job category working “in the boonies” when making their decisions. Now I am not so sanguine. I have, in this domain at least, clearly become a stereotypical crotchety older worker.

On my non-work days, I am productive – often highly so, provided the days are not overly pre-scheduled. Using my daily ration of energy according to my wishes of the moment works remarkably well. On this three day weekend, without feeling over tired, I have not only written an essay, cooked five meals, cleaned out the back of my car, done normal daily housework, finished reading two books, balanced three bank accounts, done the week’s grocery shopping, and organized my home office, but also had a half day outing to a spa in Santa Fe (still 85 miles away), a meal out at the home of friends, a two mile walk, and several online chats with friends. Oh, and napped twice. All that done, without any irritation or sense of exhaustion, because it was at my pace and sequenced as I chose.

Which would suggest that older workers only become crotchety when they are subjected to energy-drain in the context of scheduling/demands imposed by others. Give us what needs to be done in a structured way at the start of the day/week/month and leave us to get through it in our own way, and you will have a happy, productive and effective worker, no crotchets.

Oh, and do your own part correctly, please!

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: