While many wince at the thought of getting old, most want to continue having birthdays regardless of the number of candles on the cake. Like any other life stage, post-midlife and beyond has its share of challenges, particularly in our youth-oriented culture. Blame the baby boomers who warned us not to trust anyone over 30 and decreed that young is good and old is bad. Ok boomer, whaddaya think now?
But we can’t blame baby boomers entirely. Despite more enlightened attitudes and social awareness, ageism persists in the workplace, in relationships, and even in our interactions with strangers as we long to be seen for who we are rather than how old we are. Sadly, some believe that people of a certain age are somehow less than. Ouch! But all is not lost. Here are some tools and strategies for effectively dealing with ageism and living a full and satisfying life, no matter what year you were born.
1. Don’t Limit Yourself
If you don’t feel good about yourself, how can you expect others to see you in a positive light? Surprisingly, many people hold negative, ageist attitudes about themselves and their peers. These self-limiting beliefs make it difficult to maximize your potential as you age. If this is you, ask yourself, how would I feel if others treated me as less than, just because I’m older than them? Indignation would be your likely response.
If it’s not okay for others to view you this way, then it’s not okay for you to view yourself this way! Want to turn it around? Start by making a list of all of your strengths/things that are good about your life. Then make a list of areas that need attention.
Review and deeply acknowledge each strength. As for areas that need attention, prioritize them from most to least important and start working on them. You can work on several issues at the same time. Self-confidence will grow with each accomplishment, enabling you to nix the self-deprecating, ageist self-talk and be the best you can be at any age.
2. Be Assertive
Older adults, particularly women, complain of not being seen. “Sheila,” a client of mine was attending a workshop and noticed that she was repeatedly ignored by the 40-something instructor as younger participants were being called on to share. Finally, “Sheila” stood up, waived her hand, and said, “Perhaps you didn’t see me, but I think…” That got the attention of the instructor and others who found her contribution interesting and helpful.
In a world where older people may be overlooked, standing up for yourself is more important than ever. If assertiveness has never been your strong suit, it’s never too late to learn. I highly recommend Assertiveness: How to Stand Up for Yourself and Still Win the Respect of Others by Judy Murphy. This little gem has been around a while and is a simple, straightforward read that will help you learn to step up and speak up in an ageist world.
3. Be Appreciative
Well-meaning individuals might assume you need assistance by virtue of your age. For example, my friend “Sue” was annoyed by a young man who went out of his way to open the door for her when she was exiting a store. She assumed he viewed her as old and therefore in need of help. But since she is not a mind reader, she couldn’t be certain of his intent.
Her assumption about him was as misguided as the false belief that all older people are feeble and frail. As “Sue” and I dug deeper, it became apparent that her negative reaction was more about vanity and her discomfort with appearing older. Once she realized that, she was able to appreciate his random act of kindness.
4. Realize You Are Still Valuable
Ageism in the workplace is not new. Years ago you received a gold watch or celebratory send-off and were essentially put out to pasture. The modern version of this scenario is receiving a generous (or not so generous) buy-out or another type of incentive to persuade you to retire earlier than planned. Obviously, there are economic factors driving these practices, but the underlying message is out with the old and in with the new!
The good news is that employers are slowly coming around to the fact that older workers have a lot to offer by way of knowledge, experience, and reliability. Compared to younger workers, they have an excellent track record in terms of showing up and showing up on time. What a concept! Many older workers are in the workforce both by necessity and by choice. Whatever the reason, they take work seriously and know a thing or two about what it takes to do a good job.
The key to job hunting and interviewing is to approach it with an ageless mindset. Instead of focusing on the likelihood that you will be competing with job applicants who are years, maybe even decades younger than you, focus on what you bring to the table. Focus on your strengths, skill sets, and wisdom that comes from many years of life experience.
“Marlene’s” Job Search
“Marlene,” a 69-year-old former client, had been looking for a job in the same industry from which she retired 4 years earlier, but this time she wanted more flexibility and creative freedom. On paper, she was an excellent candidate for several positions for which she had interviewed, but didn’t receive a job offer. She suspected her age might be a factor, but since she couldn’t prove it, she decided to learn from it.
She sought professional help to fine-tune her resume and improve her interviewing skills. She also followed through on my suggestion to contact the person with whom she last interviewed to obtain feedback on her strengths and weaknesses and recommendations on what she could change going forward. This proved invaluable in boosting her self-confidence and helping her let go of age-related worries. Within 10 weeks, she landed her dream job.
5. Accept Technology
Since you weren’t raised with technology, you may have learned to be tech-savvy out of necessity either in the workplace or within your own business. Whether you’re a fan of technology or not, it’s hard to avoid it in this day and age. But just because you didn’t grow up with it, doesn’t mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Not sure where to begin? Ask a patient young person to walk you through it. Your local senior center, park district, community center, or adult education venue may provide classes via Zoom or in person. It’s never been easier to become more skilled technologically.
6. Know Your Identity
Note Jose’ the 70-year-old or Alice the 83-year-old. While Jose and Alice possess a number of unique characteristics such as retired business owner, parent/grandparent, volunteer, artist, golfer, or world traveler, their respective ages are incidental. They are not defined solely by their age but by their life experience and who they are today.
You’ve heard the old clichés: age is just a number and you’re only as old as you feel. These clichés are based on simple truths. There are no objective definitions of what any given age is supposed to look like, act like, or feel like. So don’t dwell on what others might think. Work on becoming the best version of yourself at any age.
7. Embrace Your Age
One of the advantages of being a boomer is that while we were remiss in looking down upon our elders, we have more than made up for it by embracing our current age and continuing to view ourselves as hip, aware, wise, and unstoppable. We wear our gray hair like a badge of honor and don’t let a few wrinkles get us down.
Living in the here and now and being fully present is another way to stay grounded in the day-to-day of life at any age. When you’re stuck in the past or hyper-focused on what lies ahead, everyday life passes you by. You miss out on things that make for good memories now and in the future.
8. Savor Those Senior Perks
When my 99-year-old mother and I were out and about together, people often came to her assistance even when it wasn’t necessary! On one occasion, we were carefully navigating around some construction cones when before we knew it, one stranger was holding her free arm while another placed her hand on my mom’s back, “spotting” her from behind. My mother loved it! To her, it was a sign of reverence and respect.
As you reach certain ages, you’re entitled to all manner of perks from kind gestures to Medicare, to discounts on everything from a cup of coffee to travel. And why not? You’ve earned it! This is society’s way of recognizing your contributions, showing gratitude, and giving back. So savor it as my mother did and take advantage of the many offerings designed to enrich your life and your wallet.
9. Accept What Is
Okay, I get it. You’re not a spring chicken. You may move a little slower and have some aches and pains or health issues, but as the saying goes, it’s better than the alternative! The proverbial glass is more than half-full. As compared to previous generations, today’s older adults are more active and engaged and have more options available to us in terms of medical, social, and financial resources. We are no longer expected to take a back seat to life and quietly fade into the sunset just because we’re of a certain age.
Now is the time to pull out that bucket list and start crossing things off — to create a plan for this chapter of your life and to start implementing it. There has never been a better time to be in your 60s, 70s, or 80s + and emerge as the courageous, bold, brave, and totally visible person you’ve spent your life becoming.
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