50+ in the workplace.

Boris Pasternak wrote his first novel, Dr. Zhivago, when he was 55.

Madeleine Albright became U.S. Secretary of State when she was 60.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum at the age of 80.

What did they all have in common?

Age. With all its wisdom, life experiences, and broader perspectives.

Plus a great deal of talent and creativity, and the broader thinking that we over-50 types are blessed with in abundance.

Wonder what would happen today in America’s youth-oriented society if one of these successful people tried to get a position with a major company…interviewed by a 20-something who instead of seeing the wealth of talent and experience, only saw the gray hair, glasses, and (gasp) a few well-earned wrinkles?

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In other countries of the world, the interview would probably go a lot better. But here in the good ‘ole USA, we seem to be addicted to being young. Which, when you consider the almost priceless value brought by someone who actually knows what they’re doing, is very very sad. And very very bad for business.

But there are still a lot of us out there who want to keep contributing.

I wanted to get some advice from someone who’s been putting potential employees and employers together for a long time. So I called Pam Witzig, whose firm, Witzig,  primarily concentrates on marketing and advertising, filling both agency and client-side assignments. She’s an experienced boomer who knows too well how challenging it is for anyone over 50 to find employment. (I’ve stayed in contact with Pam for years, and always found her to be intelligent, friendly, and helpful….and her regular email newsletter is a delight to read. Check out her website to learn more.)

Pam is quick to respond when asked why employers should consider people over 50 for the workplace.

 “Older workers want to contribute. They are more apt to think outside the box. Studies show we become more creative as we age…and we are more able to look at different aspects of a problem and make fresh associations. We also are not as concerned about climbing the corporate ladder or insisting on greater salaries with each employment change. ”

In addition, Pam points out the value of a 50+ person over a millennial in terms of logistics. “Older workers usually don’t have the pressures of a growing family…soccer games, schedules, etc. They are much freer and can focus all their energy on their job. Plus, I think we don’t take ourselves as seriously. We enjoy our work, and take a more relaxed approach to things, which really benefits our coworkers and customers as well.

“There’s an unfortunate mindset that once you reach a certain age, and you are not a senior VP, or a head of a department, you’re out. What a waste of experience and talent! The idea that everyone who comes into the workforce is eventually going to become CEO is ludicrous. There can be only so many chiefs. You need good people to do the work.”

And maybe the best reason of all? Employees over 50 are more relevant.

Our segment of the population is the biggest and fastest growing. We are the ones out there making the cash registers ring, choosing new residences or communities in which to retire, traveling, buying cars, and so on. According to the U.S. News & World Report, Americans over 50 control 77 percent of the total net worth.

So how can a 50+ person re-enter the workforce, or change jobs, or hope to relocate and keep contributing?

photo-1416339684178-3a239570f315Pam offers some tips:

  • Be confident. Go into the interview or phone call strong. Do not let a lack of confidence show.
  • Be honest. Put the dates on your résumé. Do not leave them off. Not having dates just creates a mystery and actually makes you appear even older than you are. Use it your advantage; talk depth of experience.
  • Don’t oversell. There’s a fine line between confident and desperate. Talk about your strengths and the value of your experience. And do not use words like “seasoned.” Just tell them what they’re missing!
  • Be current. What are you doing now? For example, if you’re trying for a position in an advertising agency’s creative department, do not show samples that are 10 years old. Your potential employer wants to know what you are doing now. So even if that means doing some pro bono projects, it’s worth it.
  • Be creative. If you’ve been out of the workplace for an extended period, do your best to connect the dots to your potential employer. Maybe it’s the hobbies you’ve been pursuing. Or there’s something in your background that connects you to the industry. Look at your whole life experience—can you find something that could benefit your employer?

Pam Witzig knows what older job candidates are facing. Her firm has made a sound reputation of matching people and positions in marketing and advertising. Yet she admits that these days, re-entering the workforce after 50 is challenging, because so many times it comes down to appearance. She speaks of a friend over 80 who is more active than ever, while many people in their 30s are “some of the oldest people I know.”

It’s true, isn’t it? We’re individuals, and we should be judged that way. Yet in the land of “younger is better,” it’s an uphill climb. I can only speak for myself, but I know I’m doing much better work in these years. I’m much more relaxed about all of it. I have so much more to draw from these days.

And I still have that classic work ethic—the one instilled in me by parents who survived the Depression—that I think makes one heck of a difference when it comes to the bottom line.

But yes, there are gray hairs. And a few wrinkles.

But there’s also experience. Wisdom. Empathy. Honesty. Persistence.

So as long as we can contribute, we should. As my wise friend Pam says, tell them what they’re missing!

“The years teach much which the days never knew.”

        Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

How To Not Be Invisible.

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Do you ever feel invisible? Like no one is hearing anything you say, or even noticing you’re there?

I confess I do at times, especially since as a boomer I’m older than so many of the people I come into contact with every day.

I see the part-time salesperson in the clothing store for hopelessly thin and young women sigh a bit when she has to wait on me. I order food at a deli counter and I know the person ringing it up is looking right through me. It’s no my order often gets lost. Am I truly fading away, or does the under-50 world just not want to acknowledge I’m there?

50+ men complain that women not that much younger than them call them “sir”. Few women over a certain age like to hear the word “ma’am” from a handsome waiter who already seems to be humoring them.

Then there’s the type—as a friend of mine says, we’ve all met this person—he/she is much younger, inexperienced in his/her field, yet already magically seems to know so much more than we do and sees no reason to consider that our opinions and guidance are based on actual experience.

And while a person can be proficient at something at only 25, I prefer to rely on the experience of someone aged 55, 65, 75, 85…etc. There’s an internal transformation that takes place with time. It is impossible to explain but it is very real. You just know more about some things, like how to stay cool under pressure and what really matters (and it’s not how many friends you have on Facebook).

(And at the same time, I very much like to be around a younger person who is so savvy about technology, metrics, social media, and more—I enjoy learning what they know, or at least benefitting from their knowledge—as long as they’ll show me the same respect.)

 

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It’s not always an age difference that brings up these feelings. If you’ve recently made a big change in your life, it’s likely you’re feeling more invisible these days. Suddenly there are new co-workers, new neighbors, new friends…or maybe it’s more a case of having removed yourself from the workforce, a marriage, a destructive situation. It can feel like there’s no barrier between you and the indifference of the world. You’re a baby boomer, putting yourself out there anew all over again. It’s a bit daunting.

I think sometimes we have to sit back and take a breath, and remind ourselves who we are.

We’re not over the hill.

We’re not past our prime.

We’re intelligent. Generous. Helpful. Involved. Curious. Worth knowing and worth listening to…whether it’s our opinions or our advice.

Many of us over 50 are just beginning to hit our most productive strides.   Some people will see that and acknowledge it. Some won’t—but does that truly matter?

If there’s a person who never seems to see or hear me, then maybe I need to be around others more. If it’s a room filled with 20-somethings, I just need to remember that when I was that age, I probably couldn’t think clearly enough to take in anyone else’s wisdom anyway. If my client thinks I am too old to do something creative, then I need to knock his/her socks off with my ideas.

And sometimes, it’s a simple matter of standing tall, speaking firmly, making good eye contact and being confident. Hey, we’re baby boomers! We are NOT invisible!

 

“I am not a has-been. I am a will-be.”

                        Lauren Bacall

 

 

 

 

A Valentine for Us.

It’s that day again. The one that usually makes us feel left out. Even if we’re in a happy relationship. Even if we have a cute girlfriend or handsome boyfriend and we’re going out for a nice dinner and later we’ll have truffles and hold hands.

Does anyone really do this? If so, congratulations. I don’t think we’ve met.

For most, Valentine’s is a non-starter. We watch the jewelry commercials and compare ourselves, and mostly come out short. We see a chick flick and watch couples end up together and everybody looks like Diane Lane and Viggo Mortensen. And then we come home and our dogs greet us with real kisses.

It’s all okay. Each of us finds our way to happiness, and great if that means you have a wonderful partner. Single people aren’t jealous or sad, single people are just single people. Boomers are often in this category, whether through divorce, death of a spouse or simply never finding the right person.

It’s tempting to feel like the odd person out when all around you the world seems to worship the movie version of love, as well as youth. Even science loves to point out how when you fall in love, your body releases the feel-good hormones of dopamine and oxytocin.

But here’s the good news: So does exercise.

So does holding someone’s hand or hugging someone.

So does volunteering or doing any good deed for someone.

So does petting your cat or dog.

Joyful moments are good for us, even when we’re not jumping into a reflecting pool and “sharing the fantasy” as Chanel used to urge.

And boomers often have learned a valuable lesson: you can be with the most spectacular person in the world and still be lonely. Just as you can be the only human for 500 miles and feel perfectly connected to the universe.

Strange, isn’t it?

Like Woody Allen says in Annie Hall when asked why we keep going through romantic struggles, “We need the eggs.” But then, sometimes it might be better to be sure we love ourselves as well. Sometimes really taking care of who we are, and honoring our quirks, our extra pounds, our receding hairlines and our wrinkles is more of a real romance.

Love really is all around us. It’s in how beautiful the stars look at night. How soft the fur is on a kitten. How the view from a mountain trail fills us with awe. The giggle of a baby. The peace of mind knowing we are a precious, unique light in the universe and we will never stop shining.

So maybe we can all celebrate Valentine’s, or at least not let it make us feel less than. So go ahead, have a heart. (Make mine dark chocolate).

The past is behind us, love is in front and all around us.

Terri Guillemets

Being present for the miracles.

A few days ago, a beautiful sight appeared right outside my window.  An unexpected flock of cedar waxwings landed around the small pond in my yard and began splashing about, hopping on the rocks and clearly reveling in their discovery.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, as I had not seen a cedar waxwing in a very long time. 

In fact, that last time, was a few weeks after I had scattered the ashes of a beloved pet in a lovely creek in Colorado.  I had returned to the spot, taking a walk, and I stopped for a moment, closed my eyes, and when I opened them, in the bushes next to me were several waxwings.  They took my breath away then just as they did a few days ago at my home.

Cedar waxwings are like the Jaguar (automobile) of birds…elegant, beautiful, and somehow above the fray. They wear a mask reminiscent of Zorro, and sport a bright yellow patch on their tail.  Groups of cedar waxwings are called a “museum” of waxwings or an “ear-full” of waxwings.  How cool is that?  Seeing these birds  was a pure moment of grace, at least as I saw it.  For a moment, I wondered if my late dog, now an Australian Shepherd with angel wings, was visiting me again. 

Such moments are rare, but they do happen to us. The trick is to actually realize they are happening.  To be still enough to see the eagle in the sky.  Or the amazing red sunset. To look up from the GPS or computer tablet and notice how the light plays off the mountains.

Life is delicate.  It is fragile.  And it can be stunningly beautiful.

That’s good to remember when we are surrounded by so much arguing, so much hot air and such dysfunction.  It’s hard not to get sucked into the clamor. But if we are not very careful, the clamor will sink in our bones and steal our peace.  It will shove aside our childlike wonder that notices the butterfly land on our knee and instead, divert our attention to getting even, getting the last word, or getting revenge. 

No wonder so many people don’t see the butterfly.  Or the waxwing.  Or the red clouds.

Don’t be one of those people.

Resist.

The universe is waiting to wow you. Don’t miss it. 

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”    Franz Kafka

 “Enough. These few words are enough. If not these words, this breath. If not this breath, this sitting here. This opening to the life we have refused again and again until now. Until now.”         David Whyte

“I never saw a discontented tree.”  John Muir

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