From original article of our May 2008 newsletter –
Many of you will recognize the title here as a quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In this scene a man walks through town with a cart calling “Bring out your dead!” as those so-fated are brought forth and piled on top of the cart. An elderly gentleman thrown over a younger man’s shoulder is pleading, “I’m not dead yet.” He is promptly shushed and it is explained that he will be “stone dead in a moment.”
McCain, at 72 this year, is too old to be president. Obama, 47, is too young. That must mean Clinton at 61, like Goldilocks’ choices, will be just right. If so however, why is it that at 60 – at 55, at 51 even – most are deemed unemployable? This is rarely spoken or printed of course, but it is often experienced.
Does it seem that Larry King is just hitting his stride at the age of 74? Jimmy Carter, who will be 84 this year – eighty-four – is writing books and interviewing on talk shows. The 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner (78 at the time) is still has the gonads to trot the globe working toward peace in the Middle East! Why then in the 9-5 weekday world does being 50 carry such stigma? Particularly when between jobs which happens also to their more junior colleagues. These people, it seems, are held at arms length as though they will “be stone dead any minute.” By pushing them away, are we giving them that fatal assist as the character gets in the Python film? The agency business is particularly tough; if one isn’t heading a department, at the very least, before age 40 their career seems to wane from that point on. I have often said it’s a good thing I work for myself because no one would hire me at this stage. Joe Tilli’s Minneapolis agency is called G reybeards, Inc. In his brochure he cites a fascinating study on the aging brain and excellent examples of great works achieved by notable “creatives” at ages 55-90. I just saw Leslie Nielsen in the recent release “Superheroes Movie!” Okay. It was no Grandma Moses painting, but the point here is – not that I actually sat through that movie, but – that Leslie is 82 years of age.
I am personally 54 going on 27 with plenty of juice to spare. I tend to work circles around some who are much younger. I am also closely related to a 55-year- old woman who fossilized many years back. A 76 yr old friend is very current with the world. She is so “with it” and quick-witted she puts me to shame. My stepmother, in her late 70s, moves swiftly through her days and is constantly on the go. Some of the oldest people I know are in their 30s –I wonder if that may be because of their focus on nurturing a growing family. We are all very individual. It seems that’s how we should be assessed. Yet conclusions are too often drawn on age alone. Perhaps if appearance (are we really so shallow as a culture?) or résumé history didn’t give us away we could be judged solely on merit. Many of us are so much wiser than our dewy- skinned fresh college graduate selves and more tolerant than our younger counterparts. We often take ourselves (not business) less seriously. That means we don’t ruffle easily with co-workers and are apt to work well with clients. Many at 50+ also have less angst about a career path. Because their families are often grown, they do not always insist on greater and greater salaries with each employment change. Nor are they as keen on title as many mid-career people. It’s okay to be an account director, supervisor even. A copywriter. They just want to contribute. To think. To be productive. In past decades age denoted wisdom; elders were revered practically by virtue of their age.
There is much talk about diversity these days – at least regarding ethnicity. It seems people “of an age” as well as “of color” should contribute to that diverse mix of staff. All this is not to say one should be hired because they’ve reached an age. If the work is not contemporary and the individual is not current with their industry, or a job-hopper, they should not be hired at any age. It’s our contention though is that age, like heritage, should be removed from the hiring equation. Many of these mature workers have much to contribute. They have history. A deeper and broader perspective. According to the study Tilli cites in his brochure for Greybeards Inc., “Older people get the big picture faster and are less inhibited.” The 50+ set, particularly in these times, are relevant to their world. In fact, they are the lion’s share of the population of the U.S.; conversely, the number of “working age” people has been shrinking. These baby boomers are great in number and are now aged 44-62. Births were much fewer in subsequent years. Business needs us.
If you are an employer, try not to resist having an “older” worker in the ranks. If you are a 50+ job seeker, be clear about your aims as well as your current and recent contributions.
IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT May 2012:
“Psychology Today” on creativity and the aging brain.