DOES EXPERIENCE MATTER? CONNIE’S STORY ABOUT AGEISM IN THE WORKPLACE

DON’T KNOW ENOUGH/KNOW TOO MUCH

Connie remembered the discomfort of her first business meeting.

A cocky college grad with a newly minted business degree, she entered the conference room tucked inside a bubble of scholastic self-confidence only to leave an hour later with a stunned sense of reality.

University textbooks and well-meaning teachers hadn’t prepared her for real-world business issues. As the rest of the team developed strategies using experience and gravitas, Connie sat frozen in the florescent headlights of that sterile room and realized: I just don’t know enough.

Forty years later, a different story.

Now, although Connie enters a room a well-seasoned 60-year old she treads lightly, wary of being viewed as sage on the stage, selectively adding value here and there but stopping short of suggested solutions that once rolled profoundly off her tongue.

During a recent team meeting, after offering some historical reference points for what’s been successful in the past, the brashest of the Millennial bunch sitting at the table let slip a condescending, “Well, that might have worked back in the day, but….”

Reeling from the insult but certain her ideas were sound, she realized: maybe I know too much.

BECOMING THE OUTSIDER

Now Connie remains mostly silent during meetings or takes pains to ratchet down the experience meter when she does speak. Her words have the mushy consistency of acumen oatmeal. And with each attempt to be more like them, she marginalizes her own formidable talent.

HAD CONNIE IGNORED THE SIGNS?

The discomfort of Being Connie reached a crescendo during a series of unfortunate experiences.

There was the moment she’d been unable to stop her smart phone from ringing during an important meeting. A young colleague grabbed the phone from across the table, punctuating his action with an accusatory shake of the head and an audible snicker. Within an instant – the phone was silenced. Although just a one-time glitch, the unfortunate incident fed into a common assumption that older workers like Connie can’t embrace technology.

Then at latest company mixer, confronted with cliques of thirty-somethings who wouldn’t make eye contact, she searched the room for a softer landing and found a group closer to her own age.

Bonding was quick, but she was turned off by their obsession with conspiracy theories about the company’s unsupportive activities concerning retirement-age employees. Although ultimately deciding to stay clear of this type of icky negative interaction, it was a fact that most new hires were half her age and escorted up the corporate ladder with dizzying speed.

And there was the uncomfortable lunch with a potential mentee who treated her like she was a fragile flower and seemed to have come to the meeting with a – those would can’t do, teach – attitude.

At the moment she had the most to give, Connie felt like a forlorn Moses, looking out toward the lush Promised Land, knowing it was no longer reachable.

IT WOULD BE EASY TO CLOSE UP SHOP AND ACCELERATE RETIREMENT PLANS

But not for Connie.

Disappointed by her initial reaction to bend under the pressure of dismissive attitudes rather than deflect the harsh glare of ageism, she began to stand up to it.

These aren’t bad people, she thought. They’re people acting badly; victims of a social structure intent on propagating myths about the universal physical and mental declines of aging.

Thinking back to the 70’s she winced when she remembered the ageist slogan used so frequently by her own generation – never trust anyone over thirty!

AGING ISN’T FOR THE MEEK

That old dog of an adage just wasn’t going to hunt anymore.

Connie did not feel meek. Her Baby Boomer generation was widely touted as independent, disciplined, focused and resourceful. The road back to her authentic self would require chasing new opportunities outside of her comfort zone.

Shining light onto her best self would be the antidote.

What Connie did next wasn’t brave or a Hail Mary pass. It was the rethinking of her career as an arc, not a straight line from beginning to end. She vowed to be the author of her creative trajectory along that arc. She would reinvent herself and the eventual transition to retirement. On her terms.

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We’ll explore Connie’s next steps in future posts. In the meantime, what would you do in Connie’s situation? If you’ve experienced something similar, how did you handle it? Every situation is different and requires a varying array of responses. There are no rights or wrongs.

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This article was first written for sixtyandme.com, a highly impactful site dealing with contemporary global issues for women over 60.

 

6 thoughts on “DOES EXPERIENCE MATTER? CONNIE’S STORY ABOUT AGEISM IN THE WORKPLACE

  1. I completely forgot abt “never trust anyone over”! How abt “never trust anyone “30ish”

    In that vein, watch Ken Burns’s “Vietnam”. our generation got that one wrong, too blaming those who fought

    >

  2. I do want to watch “Vietnam”.

  3. This was a very eye-opening article for me. I hadn’t given much thought to this sort of evolution of the workplace. You’ve told me some of your experiences with younger people, but it didn’t really register with me that your wide-ranging experience and wisdom might really be discounted. Your article makes it clear that older employees do face a new kind of barrier now that there are so many very young people in the workplace – people who are the product of educational institutions as they exist now, and have for the past several decades. There is a myopia, or something worse, that persuades young people that they know so much more than their older colleagues. They don’t value that hard-won life experience and actual career experience. I doubt that they ever will.

  4. I think I’m mostly experiencing it outside of my own company. I’ve enjoyed being a mentor to a number of younger colleagues. When I have seen it in my company it is fairly subtle. It’s my hope that the Boomer group I’ve been talking about can raise the curtain on some of this because I think it is really more cultural and “learned” rather than intentionally done to hurt. But it does hurt, nevertheless.

  5. It may be subtle but it is everywhere… I have heard versions of Connie’s experience all too often now. How is it that someone could have TOO much experience for the job?

    Seeing the drastic change our society has undergone from having complete respect for elders to a strucutre that praises young people and feeds on these ‘myths’ that ageing brings.

    That line “Well, that might have worked back in the day, but….” that Connie experienced exactly ties todays Ageism up in a nut shell.

    Younger people now feel a sense of entitlement in the workforce and their strength is only growing. Individuals in their 20s are able to climb up the corporate ladder at extremely fast speeds especially in industries such as Advertising, Public Relations, Events, Technologies.

    I have come to realise it seems to be a wider societal problem not just in the workforce. We need to get rid of these words such as ‘old’ because they are only tied to negative connotations.

    It’s great to see individuals sharing their stories as it is the only way that change is possible.

    Check out our blog: https://silversinwork.wordpress.com

    We are working towards fighting Ageism in the Workforce, follow us to support the cause!

    Our Twitter: https://twitter.com/SilversinWork
    Our Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/silverworkforce/

  6. Thank you for your response. I will check out your blog! My next article on Connie’s story should appear in a week or so.

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