It can rear its threatening head as early as 50 and it’s certainly expressing itself loudly by 60. It can become like a ball and chain that stops us moving forward, or even moving at all. At least that is what the mentoring I do with this group of people tells me. Yes, I’m talking about ageism, that prejudicial and discriminatory belief system that stereotypes people on the basis of their age. It can happen at any stage of our lives, but my professional experience has been with people at the 50-70 + age bracket and that’s what I want to focus on here. The question that permeates the mentoring is always: Will they let ageism affect their professional future in a negative way?
These are the people who are considered “too old”, with little to contribute to the future growth of their organisations. They are seen to be out of date, not “with it”. They do not represent the image that their organisation wants to portray to the world. They are often perceived to be at the end of their professional lives and therefore are not given opportunities for career or professional development. This last point I make is crucial to this discussion because many in this age bracket do rely too heavily on their decades of experience, their tried and true methods, systems and processes. They do not see the need to keep on learning and growing if they are to make a difference in this world where change and unpredictability are the only certainties.
Your Don’t Have To Buy Into Ageism
One of my colleagues, Bob Cooney recently challenged the 50+ people about ageism. He wrote:
I just read a post about #ageism. Someone proclaims that they’re tired of being discriminated against in their job search because they’re almost 50. In their picture, they look like a schoolmarm. I’m going to be 58 this year. And I talk to people on the phone, and they think I am in my 30’s. I have long hair and tattoos and just got my ear pierced. I work with tech startups run by kids and feed off their energy. I get job offers all the time partly because I am the best at what I do, partly because I respect and admire youth. And mostly because my energy and enthusiasm defy my age group.
I am NOT saying ageism isn’t a thing. I’ve had plenty of people who don’t know me write me off with “OK Boomer!”
If you’re struggling with getting a job in your late 40s, 50s, or even 60’s, take a look inward. What can you do to tap into the youthful energy that maybe you once exuded? Do you prioritize play? Are you challenging yourself to learn? Are you spending time with people younger than yourself and listening to understand their beliefs and concerns? Or are you just feeding into the stereotype of generation gaps?
If you want an easy first step, offer to mentor younger entrepreneurs or executives. Don’t ask for or expect anything in return other than learning. You might be surprised who becomes the student and who becomes the teacher.
It all starts with oneself.
Will You Let Ageism Affect Your Professional Future?
There are inspirational stories about men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s who have refused to get drawn into the stereotypical mindset associated with ageism. One of those is Paul Tanser, the Director of Operations at a consumer products company in San Francisco, who was made redundant at the age of 64. He didn’t allow ageism to even enter his consciousness. Instead he created a new future for himself two years later at the age of 66 by establishing an award winning company, doing something he had always wanted to do. His short 7 minute TED talk is well worth a listen and if you are being challenged by ageism at the present time, let it shift your mindset. Let it inspire you to create a new professional career.
Seniorpreneurs – The Fastest Growing Group of Entrepreneurs in Australia.
I read recently that the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in Australia are people over 60, seeing the emergence of a new word – “seniorpreneurs”. There are characteristics of this group of entrepreneurs that make them successful.
It is quite understandable that many of these, like Paul Tanser, may initially see what happens to them as ageism in action, but they do not buy into that stereotypical thinking. They believe in their expertise and experience. While they often cannot see how they can translate it into a new career after 60, they engage mentors and coaches who act as a sounding board for them to process their aspirations and discover their transferable skills. They proactively embrace their new beginning with enthusiasm and excitement. They seek the support of their existing network and start to expand it by surrounding themselves with empowered and empowering people.
Just like Paul Tanser they often realise that there is something they always wanted to do but their financial commitments associated with paying a mortgage or children’s education, for example, prevented them from taking the risk which they are now able to take.
Most importantly, they have the qualities that made them ideal entrepreneurs – a growth mindset, persistence and grit, adaptability and resilience, to mention a few.
So if you are experiencing ageism, think about the questions Bob Cooney asks. Who do you want to BE for the rest of your life? Maybe you don’t want to be an entrepreneur. Instead you may want to be an up to date grandfather or grandmother instead. That also requires staying current and up to date with what your grandchildren are interested in. Get yourself a mentor or coach to update yourself for this new world in which we all live. Age is merely a number and when we approach it with an open mind and a committed attitude it can be the most exciting time of our lives professionally and personally. But preparing for it doesn’t happen when we are 50 or 60. The awakening needs to happen when we are 40. Don’t let ageism affect your professional future in a negative way.