60 Shades of Gray-age is not a disease!

Carole Townsend

I used to be the youngest kid in the room. I started kindergarten at age 4; high school at age 12. I entered college at the ripe old age of 16 (I do not recommend that last, by the way). 

There’s something special about always being the youngest person in whatever group of which you’re a part. Most young people don’t feel that way, of course, but what do they know?

Over the years, my unique age designation began slipping through my fingers. Yes, I graduated college at age nineteen but after that, all bets were off. I could no longer count on enjoying that secret delight of knowing that I’d always be the “baby” of the group, that I had accomplished what everyone else around me had – only sooner.

It’s been more than four decades since I graduated Sequoyah High School in Doraville, Georgia. My teen years long ago went the way of Atlanta Rhythm Section, platform shoes, pet rocks, and Tab® cola. I can’t remember the last time I was the youngest person in the room, unless you count the waiting room for one of those AMA-recommended health tests that no one likes to talk about. Not a lot of bragging rights in those waiting rooms, with their Muzak and whispering receptionists whose voices that softly imply, “Glad it’s you and not me, sister.”

As delighted as I used to be to let my peers know how young I was, today I am equally proud to tell them I’m, well, somewhat longer in the tooth. Of course I look my age, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I’ve massed a great deal of knowledge, skill and experience. I’m proud of all of that.

The problem runs wider and deeper than mere vanity; it’s called ageism, and its existence has truly shocked me. Does that sound naïve? Maybe it does, but stay with me here.

I was researching the topic of ageism for an article I wrote about a year ago. In truth, I didn’t expect to find much material on a subject that seemed rather thin to me. How could we, in this age of uber-enlightenment, inclusion, diversity-awareness, and all around back-slapping good will, allow an attitude and stance as ugly as ageism to rear its ugly head in the workforce?

We live in a world in which technology is king. I get that and believe me, technology and I are not best friends. I know as much as I need to know about technology to be able to write; the younger me had no idea that writing would ever require more than a pen, pencil, paper or a word processor, but here we are. Writing, at least the kind I do – books, and articles, mostly – requires an expensive computer and expensive software, if that’s what it’s still called. Both the computer and the software age and become out of date rather quickly, and the updates that periodically drop to earth through the ether make them unreliable and frustrating. I just want to write. Still, I teach myself the things I need to know to be able to keep up in a young woman’s world. A young woman’s writing world.

In my former life – my pre-writing life – I was the Director of Marketing for (of all things) a global software company. I was good at my job, and I experienced many milestones of success in that role. I’m also pretty well-educated. 

With that knowledge then, I set about trying to get a job. I’m smart. I’m capable. I have a strong work ethic. But here’s the kicker: I couldn’t get hired.I couldn’t’ even land an interview. I applied for writing gigs, marketing jobs, office assistant roles, you name it. I have a solid, well-presented resume; I know, because I paid for it. I was told by a Human Resources professional that I have too much experience. Yes, the amount of experience I have is a dead giveaway for my age, and my extensive experience is a bad thing. Go figure.

How does having a lot of experience turn employers away? It seems to me that there’s an abundance of technical savvy out there, but there’s also a dearth of actual knowledge, etiquette, communication skills and work ethic. Those things still matter a great deal, don’t they? I mean, we are still dealing with clients, aren’t we?

I spoke with a large employer here in Georgia recently. He goes straight to the University of Georgia to find talent for his company, both in-state and out. He shared with me that the kids graduating UGA and other such schools aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. They don’t know how to handle adversity. They loathe authority. They feel that they should work fewer hours, from home, in their pajamas, for healthy six figure incomes. He shared, and I quote, that “smug arrogance has replaced competence and ability.” Ouch.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that during my brief experimental job search, I did get a bite from one prospective employer. He needed flyers folded and distributed on car windshields. For $15.00 per thousand flyers clipped under a sea of windshield wipers (no benefits, mind you), I could have the job.

Since that eye-opening experience last year, I have participated in several seminars (sorry, webinars), sharing pointers on ways to overcome ageism. To date I have learned there’s really just one sure-fire way to do it, and that’s to try not to be very old.

Here’s hoping they have an app or a webinar for that (and that someone will teach me how to use it).

Have you experienced ageism? How did you overcome it?

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