How do you feel about aging?

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I met this guy — fellow Canadian, actor/comedian Mike Myers — recently at a party in Manhattan. We’re near the same age, still working, still laughing!

 

This is a powerful video, and one worth watching — 11 minutes of a recent TED talk in Vancouver by activist Ashton Applewhite.

In it, she raises the essential unfairness of treating people who are older — whether they’re in their 40s, 50s — or 80s — as “other” and as lesser, people with less economic, physical, emotional and spiritual value to the larger culture.

And, as many women know, or soon learn, getting older is often a disaster in North America. If you’re still working, you’re supposed to pretend to be much younger and get every bit of cosmetic/surgical aid possible to make sure you appear that way.

I work in a field dominated by people in their 20s and 30s, eager to make their name, get ahead and claim a spot.

I also work in an industry — journalism — divided against itself in some deeply unhelpful ways. Digital media have claimed the lion’s share of audience and ad dollars, leaving “legacy media” (i.e. newspapers and magazines) with shrinking staff and budgets.

That also means many newsrooms and offices are hemorrhaging people like me and my husband, professionals with decades of experience and insight into how to do these jobs with excellence, integrity and efficiency.

Yet, now hundreds of newbies are also crying out for mentors, and finding none.

Because those of us who would have become their mentors by working together have been bought out or fired, blocked by age discrimination from acquiring the new jobs we need, dismissed as being “digital immigrants”, both illegal and unfair.

It’s a pervasive prejudice that weakens every workplace that indulges in it; diversity of age, wisdom, skills and experience also matters.

And I hate the word “seniors”, as if an entire group of people were an undifferentiated mass of old. We don’t call younger people “intermediates” and, usually only within an athletic context, do we call them juniors.

Enough!

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I also live in an apartment building where everyone owns their home, and a building dominated by people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s always been like this, even when I was 30 and moved in there.

Some people would hate this and flee as soon as possible — all those walkers and canes and even, very occasionally, wheelchairs. All that white hair! All that…age.

It’s not an unusual sight to have an ambulance pull up or to get to know someone’s aide.

It’s never really bothered me.

Consider the alternative!

I lost both grandmothers the year I was 18 and never even met either of my grandfathers so I enjoy talking to people a few decades further along than I am, seeing how they cope and enioy life, whether off on a cruise to Alaska or just sitting with me beside our shared swimming pool in the sunshine.

Several are still working.

They know my name. They commiserate when my arthritic knee puts me back in a brace or physical therapy.

As I’ve said here, I have no close relatives and poor relationships with my own parents.

As I age, I have slightly less energy than a decade ago, but it means I’m more thoughtful about when, how and for whom I work.

Drama is something I eschew.

I go to spin class and lift weights. I pray, daily, for continued good health.

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Love this Swedish TV show about a cop who’s definitely not young

 

Jose and I are also very lucky to have friends in their 20s and 30s, people whose company we really enjoy and who seem to genuinely enjoy ours as well.

They don’t just pump us for contacts and job help, but we talk about politics and travel and books and music and money — all the things friends talk about.

It’s a great pleasure to watch our younger friends navigate life and, when asked, (and sometimes when not!), we’ll share our own experiences and strategies. Since we have no children or grandchildren, we really value this emotional connection with those younger than us.

It’s also a benefit of older age  to have left much of early adulthood’s angst and anxiety behind.

We’ve been lucky and careful, and have saved enough to retire. I just pray for a few more decades to enjoy it all.

Here’s a lovely “Vows” column from The New York Times, about a couple who recently married at 98 and 94.

They met at the gym:

“Age doesn’t mean a damn thing to me or to Gert,” he said. “We don’t see it as a barrier. We still do what we want to do in life.”

 

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Remember this famous image? President Kennedy in the Oval Office…

Aging is a great privilege denied to so many!

 

Do you feel uncomfortable around people much older or younger than you?

Do you work with people much younger or older than you? How is it?

 

 

 

68 thoughts on “How do you feel about aging?

  1. Love reading anything on ageism. I’ve seen that Ted talk before and I’ve saved it to watch again and again.

    I was telling another blogger that I’ve worn glasses for reading since I was a teenager. No one ever said a word about it until I got older. I’ve heard all sorts of “funnies” about being so old I need glasses. I just remind myself that I’m proud of my years.

    1. Thanks!

      Luckily, I still don’t need reading glasses, which is, for most, the tip-off that you’re past 40 or further.

      I’m also fortunate that people still often guess my age at 10 to 15 years less than it is. That helps with work.

  2. But, surely, age is a state of mind, Caitlin. I’m the same age as you. Sure, I suffer now from low back pain, excess weight brought on by the menopause, and sore knees when I’ve walked up and down too many stairs. But aside from the physical, I feel as perky and positive (and, oh, so much wiser) as I did decades ago. In any case, there’s nothing we can do to stop the hands of time, so we might as well just get on with it as positively as we can. Being mindful, as you certainly are, is a good thing. Also, exercise and good eating habits.

    “Do you feel uncomfortable around people much older or younger than you?” Not at all. Like you, I also enjoy the company of older people (as long as they’re not racist or negative.) And I love the inquisitiveness and sense of discovery in small children. Teenagers? Meh. Most seem to be addicted to their telephones, speak in monosyllables and don’t read books. How interesting is that?

    “Do you work with people much younger or older than you? How is it?” It’s great. The company I work for is one of the very very rare companies left today where there are actually people nearly 70 years old who are still working full-time. They’ve been there for nearly 40 years!! This blows my mind. The legal retirement age in France is 62, but you can work longer if you want to. I will probably work longer because I haven’t contributed enough to my retirement fund.

    As for working with younger people, it’s great. We’re all educated, have different experiences and paths of life – different nationalities too – and I find this enriching. Every day at lunch we eat together in the staff cafeteria and have the most interesting discussions. Diversity, open-mindedness, curiosity, staying active and positive … I guess these are some of the ingredients to a healthy living experience, for any age.

    1. Thanks for this…

      Clearly, d’accord!

      I know that mixing it up socially and professionally — whenever possible — is fantastic. I learn a lot that way. I am so glad to have younger people in my life and hope that continues as I age.

      Physically, I wish my knees were in better shape. I really resent how that’s slowed me down, as I try to postpone partial knee replacement. My knee was injured in Berlin — so I haven’t been able to get back to spin class yet. As soon as I can, the weight will come off again.

  3. I’m only twenty years old, so I can’t relate on a personal level, but I actually find it more rewarding to socialize with people over 30, 40. This may sound slightly offensive, but our generation is more selfish, more influential and often just overall annoying. So yes, I actually appreciate “older” citizens more if that makes sense.

    1. That’s interesting…

      Glad you are finding a good fit socially.

      The younger friends I have are usually in their late 20s, early 30s — and one in her late 40s. It’s interesting to know people at different stages of life, and very satisfying if/when I can offer insight.

  4. You’re so right, as an early career journalist, finding mentors with long experience in the field can be an issue! Reporters in my (mid-sized daily) newsroom range in age from early 20s to late 60s, and honestly it was one of the reasons I took the job. I liked that several journalists in the newsroom had more than three decades in the field. Their insights, institutional knowledge and editing skills have helped me become a better reporter already.

    1. This is so great! 🙂

      I’m delighted you have found such a good professional fit, and some good mentors to help you. I still sometimes turn to others for help — we all need it at certain points.

      I just had dinner in NYC last week with the woman (just a few years older than I) who sat beside me in my very first newspaper job, decades ago. I’m still in touch with editors from my earliest days, and that means a lot to me, as they’ve enjoyed watching me grow and develop, and I’ve appreciated their interest.

  5. let’s start with mike myers. i’ve always loved his overflowing creative talent. how wonderful that you two had the chance to meet. as far as age, yes there is definitely a culture of ageism, and it does impact most every career area, as well as other parts of life. like you, i enjoy being around people of all ages, i think that the different perspectives and experiences are absolutely valuable beyond words. there are things to learn and be taught on all levels.

  6. You know I’ve given this question lots of thought and observation. What I’ve found is that I don’t mind as much being around people of an older generation, as much as I do people of the younger generation. People of an older generation just tend to give a more pleasant experience. Why? Because they have grace, intelligence, wisdom, humor, consideration & manners!

    Oftentimes, people of a younger, maybe even millennial generation, tend to be more lazy, clueless, rude, and just tend to have such a general “out- of- it” kind of persona. They tend to be even more selfish, inconsiderate and many feel they exude a sense of entitlement that’s not yet been earned. I realize that some of these are general traits of the young and that I may be harsh in my observation, but that’s primarily what I’ve encountered the most, at many different times and in many different settings.

    In the military it’s especially so and in civilian work places as well. When I’m out at a restaurant or if I’m encountering on some level, retail customer service, I’ve witnessed the above behaviors in both groups, young & old.

    I feel it’s because the older generations vs the younger generations have come along during a time when there were much higher standards & expectations with almost everything. Today it’s quite the opposite. We now all live in an “anything goes” permissive society, where there are basically low to zero standards and with that comes low to zero expectations and quality of output as a result.

    I suppose I fall somewhere in between. But even when I was in my 20’s, thankfully, I never behaved as people who are in their 20’s do today.

    American society pushes people of an older generation off and would just as soon lay them out to pasture as far as how they perceive their personal and professional wealth to be. When, in my opinion, the older generation may not have the tech skills that are so often required in many of today’s work places, but they can learn and they make up for it nearly tenfold in their overall knowledge, experience and quality of person that they’d offer to any given work place.

    1. Thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment — really appreciate it!

      Yes…I just had this conversation now at breakfast with friends, all of whom are highly accomplished career journalists, about our experiences (a few of them) of offering help and very valuable contacts to younger/ambitious journalists…who did not even understand that this was a GIFT, a favor, not something they are entitled to in any way. AT ALL. Who did not follow through (!) Who did not even say thank you!

      It’s shocking to me.

      I’m, still, very very grateful to anyone who lends me a hand and make sure to thank them repeatedly.

      I’ve survived three recessions since moving to NY in 1989 and it’s been hard as hell. Without that kind of experience, I don’t think people have a clue. When I hear millennials complaining about hard their lives are — and yes, they do face some real challenges with work and student debt — I want to shout THREE RECESSIONS! As though anyone older (let alone personal and health challenges) has not experienced and surmounted difficulty.

  7. Yasir Alsaedi

    I’m in my mid-twenties, but i really do enjoy the company of people who are older than me. I have known people who are in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in three different countries which opened my mind and eyes to see the world and my soundings differently.

    1. Thanks for your perspective….The multi-cultural element is so helpful, too.

      We’re hosting friends right now who are American and French who’ve lived in France, Japan, Turkey and the U.S. It makes for great conversations.

  8. Great post! I am 50 now and I am loving it. So much experience has changed me in ways that I couldn’t even fathom and I like me. There’s a freedom in being 50 I think. I love to hear my elders tell stories and share their experiences. Then I share experiences and wisdom with my kids. I think it’s wonderful!

    1. You sound awesome. 🙂

      I agree, as long as we retain decent health, $$$ and friendship, aging should not (we pray!) be as GRIM as it’s so often painted. I like knowing what I now know — and having the confidence to say NO to people and things that made me crazy in past years. No longer.

      1. True. But we also gain as time goes on. Losing them through death is hard. Losing them through choosing to drop toxic relationships is hard as well. But I think we gain a centering feeling when we know that in our hearts we are doing what is right for us.

  9. I’m in my 50’s and as far as I remember I’ve always loved eldest people, even since I was a child, I found in them the knowledge I needed to face all circunstances life put me. In fact I always seemed to be older than I was, due to my maturity at facing different events of life, and it’s really funny, now I feel younger with the experience of someone older than me. I say thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to enjoy life as I do it today.

    1. Good for you!

      I agree, it’s really helpful to have older people to talk to for some advice and perspective — what looks TERRIBLE at one age can look quite a bit smaller from a different perspective.

  10. Wonderful column Caitlin! Psychologists and sociologists talk about “role-exiting” as an issue for older people, yet it’s often not the choice of the older person to exit, so of course, they are going to have unhappy feelings about being pushed out. Also, as you have observed, the technological changes of the past twenty years have pulled the rug out from under many in creative fields by drying up the income streams on which we have depended. I feel that I have much more to offer now, and a better attitude with which to offer it, than I did in my 20s and 30s, but it is hard to sell that in this market.

    I’m blessed with good health, a happy marriage, and wonderful friends, so have many things to be thankful for personally. But society in general could do a much better job of including more people in meaningful work and work for pay if there were a greater commitment to fairness and inclusion.

    I always come back to same question: What is the purpose of society? Why do people live in groups? It is not to make profit for some at the expense of others. Ideally, it is to make life better for everyone. There are many steps between here and there.

    1. Thanks, Ginny…really appreciate you’re still here! 🙂

      And yes…so true…it’s a wholly different world than when our elders might have retired — by CHOICE — with a gold watch and a decent pension…not paltry savings from a 401(k) and, if lucky, Social Security.

      The problem is that (!?) we’re idealists — and live in a dog-eat-dog, laissez-faire society predicated on profit — i.e. capitalism. We are nothing more (at worst) than “human capital” (ugh) or “labor” or a “cost center” — all words I’ve heard and read many times.

      Without a much different — gentler (OMG SOCIALISM!!!!!?) vision of work and our larger human value, I don’t see many likely changes to a system that chews up and spits people out just as we actually are our most efficient.

      Funny timing indeed. 🙂

  11. Hello. Thank you for writing this.i enjoyed it so much and can relate to a few of the things you wrote. I’m 45 and currently live in an apartment building where most of the owners have loved for 30 plus years. I too see the walkers and gray hair and the ambulances every couple of weeks. I’ve o it live fhere a year but I’m getting used to it.

    I’m not uncomfortable around older folks. My father who passed recently was a strong 90 year old man. I’ve always had a ton of respect for older people. That’s just the way I was raised and the way I’m raising my 2 kids.

    As for the workplace. I too am sorrouded by many young people, most of whom have just graduated college; don’t know how to write an email and don’t know the first thing about work place etiquette. So I train a lot in those areas. It’s part of the job now and part of that “mentoring” you spoke about.

    Lucky for me, I love technology and digital toys etc. That keeps me “‘Current” in the workplace and with ny own children.

    1. Nice that you could relate so well and easily to this!

      It’s terrific that you’ve got a job where you fit well and are thriving, too. The mentoring piece — and just basic “this is how business WORKS!” is also essential for newer employees so they are very lucky to have you.

      1. Hello again. If I may be so bold, I would love to get your feedback on any of my posts. I’m new to blogging and I’m having a bit of a hard time getting readers from the WP community. Pick any post. You don’t have to like or comment. You can just give me your feedback here if you like. I would greatly appreciate it. But I understand if you choose not to. Thank you and have a great day!

      2. Thanks for thinking of me.

        I charge for my time/skills now, so it’s not an option pro bono. I get a lot of requests like that; my rates are on my about or welcome page, if that’s of any interest.

  12. I was taught to be an old soul, to ignore the dates on books and movies and music; instead see if they are good on their own. Talking with older people is no different.

    As for the young journalists who need mentors, I think you’ve found your niche. If I were in your position, I would consider starting a new journalistic company that uses an apprenticeship program.

    https://norriscafe.wordpress.com

    1. Love this…so true! I’m reading a book right now written in 1934 (Appointment in Samarra) and enjoying it. Great perspective, and thanks for sharing it. 🙂

      My husband and I have discussed when and how to mentor, and I already charge for my skills. The problem? Journalism pays very badly, and the youngest/newest have no money to pay for the skills they need to acquire — many of them already burdened by student debt as it is.

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  14. rwh

    Thanks for this, Caitlin. One of the things I’ve always objected to in American society is the divisions by age. You are mostly friends with people your own age, or, with people whose kids are the same age as yours.

    I have friends of all ages, and I cherish these relationships . My adult children think it’s weird I’m friends with some of their former classmates, but I think these artificial societal divisions create the lack of empathy we see all the time when middle aged people complain about “lazy millenials” or having to pay for the healthcare of older Americans.

    I’ve made my friends of all ages mostly through past shared activities and now through my resistance work. We can learn so much from people of all ages. My life is much richer as a result of these relationships.

    1. Thanks!

      It is a weird thing to only spend time with your demographic co-hort — where do you find wisdom if everyone is doing more or less the same thing in the same few years? (If you have elder close relatives, you’re lucky.)

      Resenting having to pay elders’ healthcare is also American — the only developed nation without single-payer. Plenty of younger people (sorry to say) also need surgery and also get very difficult chronic or terminal diseases. Not to mention the opioid epidemic and other addictions that, last time I looked, were NOT rampant in the over 60 crowd.

      Today we’re spending time with friends in their 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. No worries about who’s what age, just how fun and interesting we will be for one another. There’s no age limit on that.

  15. In my industry, we have gray hair whose contributions include patents and core business products – still contributing today. We have some “child” engineers whose brilliance is awe-inspiring. Each learns from the other. In my church we have young and older talking and learning from each other. One of my mentors as a youth was a 98-year old cowboy who rode and roped – a little slowly, but still full of grit. It is all about engagement and contribution and respect – and not resting on something a person thinks she is due because of age or position. Thats where we went wrong with education, schools and politics. My paternal aunt is in her mid-80s but charges around the country, is involved with clubs and great-grandchildren. Age is relative. I know some of my peers who died younger than I am now. Mentoring the next generation is life-enriching.

    1. So true!

      I was very struck — when I did attend church for a few years — that it’s one of the few remaining public spaces that is always inter-generational, and in which lies a great deal of community and shared experience, at best.

      When reporting my first book in Texas (and elsewhere) in 2002, I met a cowboy (!) in his 80s who was still working. I was in awe of him! Very nice guy.

      I was so excited when a recent story about California environmental activism included my late great-aunt who was a local legend in Santa Barbara for this. What a great role model!

  16. I get along with everyone…my block has people of all ages….my children have friends their age that I get along with. To me, it’s only a number. Hubby and I are in our 70s and I finally retired so there is this whole new world out there for us to explore. Some of our friends didnt make it to their 60s – so we are blessed. Besides you cant feel old when you have nine grandchildren running around your house!

    1. Indeed!

      The greater challenge is for those of us with no kids or grandkids to automatically (for most) link us to younger people, and for many years.

      I’m so aware of those who haven’t made it this far, so am very grateful for every day we get.

  17. “And I hate the word “seniors”, as if an entire group of people were an undifferentiated mass of old.”
    I love how you’ve put this idea down. I read something the other day that discussed people (particularly women) over a certain age feeling invisible and being treated as irrelevant by society as a whole. I know my mom has been fighting against this at least since she turned 55 and Denny’s began considering her a senior citizen. She’s 66 now–still working, still as vibrant as ever, still pissed at being dismissed out of hand as someone less than she is. To me, of course, she will never be a part of the “undifferentiated mass of old,” but I hate that she is to others. I hate that *anyone* is. As long as we live, we are individuals; it’s a system we can’t age out of. And yet…there is this horrific tradition of giving people numbers, disregarding their humanity, and moving them down the line into (forced) obscurity as quickly as possible.
    Great post!

    1. Thanks!

      It’s something I absolutely dread as I age, and head (probably) into deeper invisibility. Only by actually having a few conversations with my older neighbors do I know that they have been (!!!) — a nightclub singer; a flight attendant. a former high school drama teacher, a high school English teacher — and some, even a bit older, are currently professors of psychology and of accounting. Until or unless we engage older people in conversations, with real curiosity, (the kind we automatically confer on younger people), could this change. We were chatting today with the owner of the beach house she kindly lent us this week — and I’d (!?) never asked where she’d gone to college. She’s in her 80s — and it’s one of the automatic questions you tend to ask people in their 20s-40s…the answer surprised me. Now I need to know more. 🙂

  18. I have a wonderful age spectrum in my friends, with the youngest in their teens, trough t the older ones in their sixties and seventies, and all points in between. I always have had, never having felt that I only wanted the company of people approximately my age. I value spaces that are all ages friendly, too – steampunk is massively so, paganism and folk do passably well at including all comers.

    1. It’s an interesting challenge to find and enjoy inter-generational spaces — I’d like to find more. Physical limitations (mobility) can impair some older people from some activities. It’s very cool when people share interests across decades.

  19. I work in the ‘yoga industrial complex’. I am sliding into 60 and, while there are certainly “elders” in the industry (Tao Porchon-Lynch being one) by and large I am surrounded by thin, lithe, Lululemon wearing young women eager to demonstrate their flexibility via social media and not quite as eager to dive a little deeper into the fundamentals of what it means to have a yoga practice. I’m painting with a broad brush and I know what I write is not an absolute. What I didn’t know as a thirty-year-old yoga instructor just starting out is that I would fall in love with teaching an older demographic. Not because of what I can offer, but because of what they offer me – all that was missing in my childhood. They have given advice, taught me history (I learned all about the WASPs in WWII and was even taking to their Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in DC courtesy of an older client), helped me lose my fear of death and challenged me to embrace life.

    1. Thanks for this…a helpful POV.

      Small world — I’m good friends with a woman, 57, who’s leaving journalism this fall to study a two-year master’s program in yoga, and who plans to start a new career teaching it at 59. I think it’s essential to have diverse role models and teachers!

  20. I liked your write up. I worked in several corporates houses in India in middle management level . I never felt lonely in the work place because where I worked, there were many colleague above my age group. When I go out to the corporate hangouts I feel I am taking the average age of the group much higher, without me which would be around 30 years, I have resigned my job when I was 50 and started my business, Now I am finding a bit awkward because my customers and competitions are much younger. The extra respect they show makes me unhappy. Otherwise I have no issue in the society. The best thing about aging is that you are not alone in this race. Your best friend , brother and sister, your ex girlfriend , your friend and foe all are aging at the same speed. Ij health is maintained properly then I think it is manageable. Lets enjoy the journey and hope its even better after its over.

    1. Thanks and — good for you!

      It’s a very different experience to work for yourself — and when you’re older than your clients and competitors. I do think, speaking for myself, (and in a different culture/country that having a POSITIVE attitude and lots of energy (physical and emotional) will keep you in the game.

      I wouldn’t dislike respect! But that’s me…Better that than disrespect, no?

      I like your perspective on how, if we are fortunate with health, we are all aging. That can create camaraderie.

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  22. I did see an altogether different picture and thank you for that. In my country, it’s quite the opposite. Newbies aren’t allowed to be themselves and are constantly bugged for being a fresher, they are also being paid a very tiny amount as their salary since they lack experience.

    Talking about age, it is unfortunate that people HAVE to look younger! I don’t know how younger looks will overpower the experience certain people have gained after years of hard work.

    Being yourself is hard at times, but if we stick to it! It hopefully will be good.

  23. Older adults are also being advised not to add their full work history to their resumes because that is a dead giveaway of age. On the other hand, leaving off a chunk, may no qualify you for a job your really want. Not to mention, if you were out of the workforce for a while, say to raise children, you may have no work history that isn’t over 10 years old. You are left taking a starter job regardless of how well qualified you might be.

    1. I’m well aware of all of this…sorry to say.

      Anything on your resume older than a decade isn’t much help because skills have also changed in some fields.

      And, yes, this hurts parents. Age discrimination is rampant and no one does a thing to stop it. It’s appalling and hurts a lot of us.

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