Q&A: Neerja Singh, Author of 'No Time to Be Young'

Neerja Singh is a former teacher, proud Air Force Veteran’s wife, prize winning fiction writer, and blogger with a background and training in media, having worked in advertising, public relations, documentary film making, and feature journalism. A professional speaker on the generation gap, she has been reverse mentored by her two millennials to empathize with the young; and what makes her eligible to address generational empathy is that she is at home with the zoomers, but a contemporary of the boomers. Her book No Time to Be Young: 30 Insights into Generational Empathy from the Seenager, Senior Teenager delves into addressing the generation gap and brings the inter-generational disconnect out of the echo chambers where it currently rages.

I chat with the author Neerja Singh about her book No Time to Be Young, how to develop generational empathy, the research process that her book entailed, book recommendations, and much more.

Hello, Neerja! Tell us a bit about yourself!

I call myself the Seenager or the senior teenager. A proud Air Force Veteran’s wife, I enjoy golf, love my road bicycle that I ride inter-city and enjoy swimming, a kilometre at a stretch. I have 37 years of lived experience in education and media. Having been an advertising executive, prize winning fiction writer, feature journalist, teacher, script-writer, TV anchor, professional columnist and editor, my deepest truths have come from being a mother to my two Ivy League educated girls. I have learnt that this is the time for a never before empathy with the young and their modern demons.

I consider myself a millennial in spirit with the benefit of hindsight. What makes me ideally suited to address generational empathy is that while I feel more at home with the Buntys-Bablis, I have shared life experiences with the pre-cablers.

I have since turned into a professional speaker on generational empathy. My purpose in life now is to befriend the generations next and those responsible for their care so that precious young lives flourish instead of spiralling out of control.

I can be reached at neerja@neerjasingh.com

Which authors and books were your early formative influences?

Law of Success by Napoleon Hill laid the foundation of some universally affirmative values for me.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand reframed “selfishness” for me.

The Diary of Anne Frank was my introduction to world events and what extreme vulnerability looked like.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir prepared me to speak up and claim my space as the disenfranchised gender.

Notes to Myself: My Struggle to become a Person by Hugh Prather led me down the path to greater self-awareness.

How would you describe your book No Time to Be Young: 30 Insights into Generational Empathy from the Seenager, Senior Teenager in one sentence?

In a culture of careful appearances and prescriptive voices, this book has the power to address and drag the never-before, inter-generational friction out of the echo chambers where it currently rages.

Now tell us a little more about the book! What can readers expect?

There is an impression that the generation gap is just one of those things. Today, it has the potential to cause parental estrangement, mental sickness and in extreme cases, loss of life.

Young adults isolate themselves behind locked doors in homes. Young people feel sucked dry in the aftermath of emotional rejections. Young souls suffer existential angst unusually early in life. Heavily invested parents hunker down to see their hopes and plans die unheard, unseen. Grandparents surrender the jewellery they saved up for grandchildren who will not marry. Children struggle with a sense of not being enough.

No Time to Be Young will start conversations around these generational struggles. The book examines today’s generation gap in thirty different areas ranging from technology, society, politics, sports, science, philosophy, business, sexuality, work to consumption. It will contextualize the young person’s challenges for the older generations. It will help the seniors to be what the young truly need them to be today. The book is a window to the multiple ways in which the new generations are radically different from the cohorts of the past. It makes a case for operating from a place of compassion and empathy and grace and faith in all of our inter-generational communication.

'No Time to Be Young: 30 Insights into Generational Empathy from the Seenager, Senior Teenager', published by Notion Press

What inspired you to write this book?

Two personal incidents in 2013 brought home to me the shattering distance and disconnect that exists between generations today.

My attractive, all-rounder, highly educated 23-year-old daughter went into depression and suffered a severe quarter-life crisis. And a MIG 21 Bison fighter jet crashed during landing in Barmer district of Rajasthan, killing the 25-year-old pilot. Depressions happen but this was my daughter and it was the suddenness and the unexpectedness of the episode that threw us completely out of gear. Crashes happen but the reason this time was sleep deprivation and social media addiction. These were incidents unheard of, at that time.

Our young are taking longer to become economically and socially independent. There are the new phenomena of women empowerment, institutional distrust and the sexual revolution in India. These create friction and disquiet both at home and at work. It does not help that my generation of Indians did not anticipate the mental colonization of our young. We neither prepared nor presented a rational and convincing enough alternative to the global (read: American) content that young urban Indians consume on their smart phones in these times.

It just felt the right thing to do to start the dialogue and ask, “What is going on? Am I alone in this?”

Since you are a professional speaker on the generation gap, a Millennial and Generation Z keynote speaker, and generations expert, what was it like translating that information into writing a book? Did you have to do any additional research for this book?

Yes, I read a lot. Newspaper articles, subscription journals, books, websites, Quora strings, Medium articles. I carried out an online survey, conducted Zoom conversations with different generations in spaces ranging from tech companies to feminism. I shot 30 videos initially and that forced me to internalize the generational patterns and identify them around me. At times I experienced self-doubt because I would often feel dismissed with this one declaration, “Oh, there has and will always be a generation gap!”

As a speaker, I struggled with my positioning for the global market and that niggling sense that the generational differences in India were not a copy of the ‘OK Boomer’ template in the USA. 

What is the message that you want readers to take away from this book?

We face a generation gap today, the likes of which has not been seen before. It is visceral and anxious. There is ambivalence in families, a tremendous conflict and confusion. And despite “having it all”, the young are struggling to define themselves in a globalized, traumatized and fearful world order.

Given these circumstances, the outcomes of a generational disconnect could be devastating. We deserve instead to harness and celebrate the unique strengths and distinctive attributes of all the generations for shared goals and progress.

My message is to be kind and compassionate and operate from a place of generational empathy. Be ready to listen, seniors! Don’t presume too much. Ask if you do not understand.

How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?

I wrote two books during the current pandemic and launched my YouTube channel dedicated to Generational Empathy. This is the link to my YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/c/NeerjaSingh.

The first book is Silver Surfers: Me-no-pause. This book challenges the stereotypical image of the elders with its inspiring stories that put an altogether new light on the silver tsunami afoot around the globe. The need is for the young to have an accurate understanding of the phases of the life cycle, and the elders to address a successful outcome for their ageing process that will involve self-esteem, self-efficacy, and locus of control. The objective of the book is to create empathy across generations.

The second book is GenZ@Authentic (It is with the publisher). This book is about the Gen Z, the generation of young men and women born in 1995 and onwards. They are different from the generations gone before; a bit more political and “woke” and tending towards authenticity. The objective of the book is also to create empathy across generations.

I have enjoyed saving money and time and energy working from home. I would be very happy working with a hybrid model post pandemic. Physical presence for the Waltz and Tango class, digital for the rest!

Lastly, are you currently reading anything and do you have any book recommendations for our readers?

I am currently reading India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century by Ira Trivedi, and Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens by Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava.

The book ‘No Time to Be Young: 30 Insights into Generational Empathy from the Seenager, Senior Teenager’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.

From Jammu, J&K; Studied in DPS, Jammu.