Michael Walter started his career at Mayo Clinic much later than most people do. Walter, an analyst and programmer, was 62 when he joined the Data Management Core Services Team in Information Technology. He shares his perspective on age being just a number and some of the challenges of being in a new environment.
Read his story below.
I began my Mayo Clinic journey eight years ago at the tender young age of 62. When most people are thinking about retirement, I was thinking about how I could best fit into a new organization.
My youth was spent chasing dreams. Everything seemed important and had to be done right then. I went to war at 18. I was certain that I would not see 19 and had no plans for being old. I got married at 22 and began having children. Their needs then dictated my calendars. When my children left home and started raising their own families, I became an empty nester and had to decide what to do with the remainder of my life.
Being a high school dropout, I got my GED diploma and returned to college. I was by far the oldest person in my doctoral program at St. Mary's University, but I did not care. I was following a dream.
Within my cohort, some people worked for Mayo Clinic. They repeatedly told me that I should apply at Mayo. At the time, I was in my 17th year as the data processing manager at a small firm in a small town in Southeast Minnesota. I heard tales of how wonderful Mayo was to work for and all the advantages I might discover. So I applied, and I was hired.
There are advantages to beginning a new career at my age. Being older, I was not in such a rush about things. I knew that there was an order to the universe. Fortunately, I had an extensive background in information technology, so I wasn't overwhelmed by tech talk.
Sure, there was a slew of new abbreviations and acronyms specific to Mayo. Familiarity with them would come in time.
However, I was overwhelmed by the size of the Mayo structure. There were departments within departments that were working with other departments. My biggest challenge was the notion that Mayo is a consensus-driven organization. For the previous two decades, if I saw a problem or an opportunity, I stepped up and made it happen. But Mayo is like a big pond in that the small ripple that I think I am making may have repercussions over a large area, affecting many people.
In my time at Mayo, I have learned that I am not only part of a team, but as corny as it may seem, I am also part of a family. One time, Dr. Noseworthy actually greeted me in the hallway. I had never experienced that in a large corporation before. I worked many years for a major computer manufacturer and never once saw the CEO. That was quite a culture shock to me here at Mayo.
"You have much to learn and much to give. You have been through the battles. You have the scars. Wear them proudly, but don't wear them as a shield."Michael Walter
A rather funny observation I have is that all my doctors seem very young. The joys of a teaching hospital, I guess. But that keeps the organization fresh and on the cutting edge.
A family member had to come to Mayo for some heart work. As it turned out, Mayo had one of only two physicians who had performed the heart surgery that he needed. Had we been anywhere else, he would not have survived. That is the kind of top-of-the-line expertise that Mayo provides. I am always proud when people tell me their stories about Mayo miracles.
To new employees, I say don't be afraid to ask. All of us had our first day here. There is just so much to learn, technically and socially. Be honest with your supervisor. If you feel that you are over your head, speak up. Ask for additional training. Mayo is very good at trying to find the right job fit for its employees.
If you start your Mayo career at a seasoned age, don't feel like an outsider. You have much to learn and much to give. You have been through the battles. You have the scars. Wear them proudly, but don't wear them as a shield. Mayo values your experience. Share what you can. Absorb what you must. I have learned that at Mayo, age is really just a number.
I don't know if age brings wisdom, but it does allow you to have many experiences that you can draw from.
People ask why I have not retired. I reply, why would I? Every day is a new learning experience. Every day is a new chance to give back. Getting old has removed so much baggage that I can do things I never could when I was young. I am at a good age. I can still work out regularly. My brain is still sharp. My curiosity is peaking. Unless some calamity befalls me, I see many years of freedom ahead of me.
To describe my life, Bob Dylan's words say it best: "I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now."