When age becomes a four-letter word



By Caitlin Kelly

I’m now in that fabulous place where I’m at the top of my game professionally —- and fewer and fewer terrific work opportunities, certainly full-time jobs with affordable health insurance, are available to me because of my age.

Speaking by phone, I recently had a new/potential PR strategy client — a man — ask me directly: “How old are you?”

I was a bit stunned and finally, laughing, replied: “Over 45. That’s enough.”

I could have said over 50 but imagine….all those extra years!

Here’s a recent New York Times op-ed on the double standard women in politics face regarding their age:


The Democrats vying for 2020 run a remarkable age gamut. Mr. Buttigieg is the youngest and Bernie Sanders, at 77, is the oldest. The prominent female candidates cluster more in the middle: Kirsten Gillibrand is the youngest at 52, and Elizabeth Warren is the oldest at 69, with Kamala Harris (54) and Amy Klobuchar (58) in the middle. But whether a youngish candidate is bright, brilliant and promising or inexperienced, off-putting and ruthlessly ambitious depends on whether the young thing in question is male or female…

Unfortunately for women, age poses an unsolvable problem: They are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until they are branded too old and tedious. Ms. Warren, for example, finds herself put in the sameold” category as Mr. Sanders and Joe Biden, even though both men are nearly a decade older than she is.

Men who are more or less the same age as Ms. Warren — Sherrod Brown (66), John Hickenlooper (67), Jay Inslee (68) — are not lumped in with the white-hairs. If women in their 40s are “in a hurry,” and women in their 50s are old news, and women in their 60s are just old, when, exactly, is a woman supposed to go to the White House?


I probably use social media more often than most women in their 30s or 40s — who are already swamped climbing the career ladder, commuting and/or parenting.

Yet, here we go, also in the NYT:


“We don’t want to lean out of that, we want the Cami-stans to want to pick it up,” one editor piped in. (For those over the age of 40: a “stan” is a kind of superfan.)


Seriously, enough with this bullshit.

Like anyone north of 40, let alone beyond, doesn’t read?

Watch TV, YouTube, Insta?


I have no kids or grand-kids, so if I want to talk to someone decades my junior, it’s going to be social and/or professional, not familial.

Luckily, I still have friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s and really enjoy their companionship. I’m delighted when they choose to hang out for an afternoon or catch up for a long phone or Skype chat. I offer advice when asked (and sometimes when not!) but our concerns are hardly wildly different — where’d you get that fantastic lipstick? How’s work? How’s the new house?  What are you reading these days? Mammos hurt!


Friendship, in my world, need know no boundaries.


Work, illegally and so annoyingly, does.

I don’t Venmo (I use PayPal) but I actually do know what it is.

The next time you assume someone older than you is de facto ignorant of a word or phrase or reference, ask.

Then be pleasantly surprised — or have a useful conversation in which you share your knowledge.

8 thoughts on “When age becomes a four-letter word

  1. You said it so well in one of your earlier posts, Caitlin … “It’s (age discrimination) a pervasive prejudice that weakens every workplace that indulges in it; diversity of age, wisdom, skills and experience also matters” … and … “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.” As we age we tend to work smarter. Also, the TED talk by Ashton Applewhite you referred to in this earlier post was also right on point.

    At a time when we should be mentoring younger employees, we end up being pushed to the side. I spent 40 years in my industry with 4 different companies, the last company for 18 years before I entered retirement. A large US company with global reach in 170 countries and over 9,000 global employees. During my tenure there, I reached the pinnacle by achieving Presidents Club a total of 5 times, which was reserved for the top 1% of the top producers in North and South America. The last time I went on a Presidents Club trip was 2 years before I retired. The last 7 years were the most satisfying years of my career when I had the chance to coach and mentor a young female “up and comer” in the company (who I ended up reporting to for a time), and who could have gone onto even to greater heights but is now with a different company. She was such a huge loss.

    But, as I was aging I was finding more and more that the culture of the company was changing, and it seemed as if I was being gently pushed into the background. I still had so much to give and could run circles around most of the younger employees. Fortunately for me, I found myself in the position where I could retire early, and so I did, and I haven’t looked back since.

    My point is, that in our later years, our position of relevance within any organization should increase, not decrease. We still have the ability to produce, to learn, to mentor, and to achieve. Often more so than many of the “younger” employees. Thanks for another thoughtful post.

    1. Thanks for this…

      Journalism is a nightmarishly young industry, and more so now. It puts me in a tough place because my “decades of experience” mean I am definitely over 40, 50 or beyond. OMG! Yet I write for digital outlets, speak at conferences (May 5 with a much younger colleague in NYC) and am very active on social media — mostly to keep my name and work visible.

      There’s not much to be done about it, sorry to say. Glad you were able to enjoy such a satisfying career!

  2. ageism is real, though the actions are most often under the radar, they do truly exist, on so many levels. professional and life experience should be valued as an asset to a company, not a liability.

  3. cadencewoodland

    PREACH. Our friendship is one of the great joys of my Girl Gang Life and while our particular vantage points are different, the overlap is extraordinary. Marriage! Money! Work! Aspirations and goals! Really great pop culture!

    We’re reaching some kind of tipping point in wider culture, I think; there are too many tired narratives about broad generational groups (surprise! We millennials are no longer teenagers thanks, we’re in our 30s and some of us are running for president. Our grandmothers are scary savvy on instagram, while our younger siblings and nephews are organising labor movements). Lazy categories are no longer helpful. People contain multitudes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s