“I know you don’t want to hear this,” my friend Naomi said to me, “but ageism is alive and well.”
We were discussing my current state of unemployment, while taking a stroll in my new neighbourhood, where I moved following my separation, shortly after the death of my father. Yes, I have managed to dine on life’s major stressors in one very long sitting – an appetizer of “loss of a loved one,” followed by a main course of “divorce,” with a side order of “relocation” and finished with a dessert of “job loss.” A feast for the mind and soul, as well as the body.
Until my world started to rock through this vortex of change, I didn’t think much about age. It never had any significant impact on my life. Whenever the subject came up, it was always in an amusing or pleasant way: still being introduced as my mother’s “baby boy” at the age of 50; being “carded” at the grocery store in my hometown of Rochester, N.Y., because beer-buying balding men might not be who they seem; and hanging out with kids half my age at concerts, clubs and music festivals. I was indeed as young as I felt, and except for the occasional soreness after an especially gruelling tennis match, or a hangover after a rare night of debauchery, I continued to feel – and act – like someone 30 years my junior.
But nothing makes one feel his or her actual age more than looking for a new companion, or searching for a new job.
As it turns out, spending most of your free time with people significantly younger than yourself is an awful way to meet someone your own age. What’s worse, when you eventually do meet that person, chances are that you’ll find them incredibly dull and boring. Is there nothing we can talk about besides your kids? (Or worse yet, your grandkids!) Have you really not seen a concert since Elton John and Billy Joel five years ago? Do we really have to go to the 7 p.m. movie because you’ll nod off at a later screening? Are we really the same age?!
The job search is even worse. My friend Naomi was correct: ageism is alive and well. She should know – as an executive recruiter, she has time and again presented incredibly talented, experienced and qualified candidates who are rejected without an interview. All it takes is a resume that hints at the fact that the person is over 50, and it’s game over. Sure, older people have far more contacts, greater experience and better social skills than that 30-year-old, but they cost way more and don’t tweet in their sleep.
So I now find myself “competing” for both companionship and jobs with the very same young ’uns I once hung out with as a happily married and employed man. Which makes it particularly ironic to try to impart sage advice about careers and relationships to my children – both of whom are recent university graduates – when I am seeking the same.
Inexplicably, however, I feel strangely energized by the situation. I’m not ready to pack it in quite yet. Though life may be more complicated than it once was, and the world often feels more like my clam than my oyster (sorry, couldn’t think of a kosher metaphor), opportunity is still out there. Age may make it a little harder to hear it knocking, but with age also comes the patience to wait and the wisdom to focus on life’s blessings.
I recently saw a tattoo on the arm of one of my young friends: “Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” I’m adopting that as my new mantra. If life really does begin at 40, then I am barely an adolescent. Ageism may be real, but I’m choosing to focus on the “alive and well” part of the equation.