The Ageism Conversation Continues…

This blog is a follow-up to my recent article in the Globe and Mail on Ageism.

The response to my article was far greater than I expected and the conversations that ensued locally, globally, across all genders, ages, stages and walks of life was surprising. I typically write about issues that impact me directly and I hope there is a broader circle who can relate and/or find the topic relevant – this one clearly struck a very large and loud chord.

The catalyst for the article was a couple of ageist situations at work that I witnessed first hand. Almost simultaneously, I was in attendance at the annual SXSW conference in Austin where I listened to panels of business experts and professionals discuss the opportunities and challenges that the various “ages” are facing. Comforted (?) I realized I was not alone in noticing the increased conversations around ageism and I was not alone in feeling the mounting tensions between the young and old(er) on the age spectrum.

When I was young I discounted “ageist” remarks pointed in my direction – “you are too young” – because, afterall, I was young, bold and the world was my oyster! As I have gotten older, ageism feels as though it is something that I cannot escape. You can gain years and fix the prejudice at the young end of the spectrum but at the older end – there is no fix. It is what it is. It is beyond our control. The tug of war between those at opposing ends of the spectrum is real however on one end there is somewhat of a natural remedy. As a result, there needs to be acceptance and tolerance – far easier said than done.

Truth is, ageism is a universal prejudice that impacts everyone. However, research has proven that the impact is the greatest for the those over the age of 50. And yet, now that I and many others are in our fifties, we actually feel like we are in our prime. We have acquired degrees of financial comfort, raised our children, seen economic highs and lows and for the most part we have settled into ourselves. While we cannot rest on our laurels we have certainly been there done. All of these life experiences and years of living have unbelievable value.

Upon further exploration, I also uncovered that older folks stick around (stick it out?!) longer. According to study by younger workers have higher turnover rates – workers 45-54 stay on the job twice as long as those 25-34.  This certainly raises questions of loyalty, focused expertise, the value of long term relationships. I also wonder if this age tug of war mimics home/familial relationships. We joke about having a work-wife and/or a work husband but perhaps there is also a work-parent and a work child relationship which may not be the best model for success.

I don’t have the answers but I do know the struggle is real and I do know the two ends of the spectrum need each other. I also know, and I can say this with complete credibility,  that the younger end does not fully appreciate the older end of the spectrum. I don’t believe one should unilaterally respect their elders simply because they are “elder” but I do believe that all elders bring some every valuable wisdom from having been there, done that to the party.

I also have to admit that 50 is not the “fifty” it once was, nor is it the new 30. Research has also proven we are more vital now than we have ever been. When I am at work, spending time with family and friends,…living my life,… I am still 25. My mind is spinning with ideas, my energy is boundless, my spirit indomitable and my body ready to climb any mountain. It is not until I look in a mirror, pass a reflective glass or discuss the ages of my children that I realize I am older – physically and mentally. At 52, I am well past my 25 year old self sense. To be clear I don’t have an issue with being 52. In my 52 years I have done a lot – but the thing is I have so much more I want to do and so given my youthful internal persona I am not holding back. And therein lies the issue – “I” am not holding back/stopping. I have LOTS I want to do. However, I am now often the oldest person in the room and it is very interesting at times to see the respect by some and disrespect/discounting of my opinion by others.  While there may be many reasons why disrespect/discounting arises, I have noticed a strong correlation when there are conversations on new technologies, social platforms,… Admittedly, the younger generation has an advantage – they were born with tech in their hands while older generations have adopted the tech and adjusted along the way. But is slower adoption necessarily a fault or weakness or is it an opportunity to evaluate best adoption practices and build the best business models?

Bottomline, the age spectrum is long and all ages along the spectrum have value to add. This conversation is far from over – in fact, its ageless!!!