Aging Is Not A Dirty Word

By Maria Jacketti
Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As author Maria Jacketti remarks, people have been asking her when she would be retiring since her 40’s. In this very thoughtful article, she takes a look at why that is the case.

Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.

I am not sure if everyone my age feels this way. I will be 57 in February, which puts me just a whisper away from that magical number: 60. Yet, I don’t feel old and I have no plans of retiring.

Nevertheless, people have been asking me when I would be retiring since my 40s.

All of this aging makes me think about discrimination, and age discrimination in particular, which I believe is one of the dirtiest and best kept secret sins of our society, for it represents a radical squandering of true human resources.

I first felt it when I turned 30! How well I remember the scene: I was talking to an advisor of a comparative literature program at New York University about moving on to a doctorate in the field. He reminded me that I was “already 30,” and would have to move fast to establish a real career in the field.

After starting a second master’s in that discipline, I decided that it was not worth my time. It is was not that I was too old to become a drone stuffed shirt comparative lit professor, publishing (papers no one would ever read) or perishing.

No, I just would not play their game, for I did not accept their brittle and unsustainable rules. (I also didn’t want to have to move to Alaska to get a job, parsing old texts, while the world could be seen crumbling around me. I am just way to practical for that.)

As I hit each milestone after the big 3-0, people lost no opportunity to remind me that the clock was ticking, yes, like a time bomb.

I remember after birthing my first and only child at the age of 34, the doctor, after kissing me on the cheek and congratulating me, asked me, “So when are you having the next one?”

“What a lovely question to ask me after 26 hours of labor!” I replied, to which he answered, “They were not 26 hours of hard labor.”

I did not laugh.

Maybe I am just a fool for spitting at the clock every time I hear it tick, or someone reminds me that it is counting down to personal extinction.

While some of my friends have retired, most have not! In fact, it is not unusual to see people working well into their 70s and beyond.

Over the last six months, I spoke with two elderly gentlemen, one in his late 80s and another in his 90s. While the man in his 90s had just retired, the other was still working.

He called work the secret to his longevity and good health.

And as of this moment, he is still a barber.

The man in his 90s lamented letting his work go by the wayside. He had worked in old-style printing not the digital type. And he had outlived the technology that assured his living for a very long time.

Yet in his 90s, he felt bored with his abilities unappreciated and wasted.

Both of these individuals had diamond-sharp minds and climbed our stairs here with more pep than some people a half century younger.

It was clear that they contained history and brimmed over with experience. I just loved listening to their stories.

“Don’t ever stop working,” the nonegenarian told me.

But in social discourse, there are definitely two distinct sides to this coin: the one that says “Work” and on the other, “Go out to pasture.” Well, of course, if one has the means and wants to retire, it does not have to mean that. The other side of the coin could say, “Free at last.”

My husband just turned 63 and is sometimes badgered about when he will retire, to which he responds, “Never!”

To be perfectly honest, we cannot afford to retire, not with the cost of living today. But I also think that if we could, we would need to contribute to society through meaningful work.

Today, I know many people in their 50s — and younger — who can find little or no work.

The road to Social Security is still a long one and it is riddled with many potholes of uncertainty. The potential privatization of Social Security worries me deeply, particularly given the volatility of the stock market and the Great Recession of 2008. Will Social Security ultimately let us down?

Working, in 2016, for many, remains a matter of pure survival.

Some do their best to hide their age and not divulge it if possible, even though, for all of us, age is a matter of public record.

Some recruiters advise older job seekers not put dates next to the times they spent in school, or when they held jobs, particularly if they span decades.

I find that approach ill-advised and hypocritical. It is no wonder that the Gray Panthers consider themselves a militant group and AARP now recruits those who still work.

I recall speaking to an older recruiter when I was about 40. He was clearly in his 60s, and despite his designer suit and skyscraper address, he was nervous about keeping his office. If he did not sell his services, he might end up on the doorstep of one of his children. Proudly, he told me that one of his daughters was working for Rosie O’Donnell on her talk show, after another talk show had just been cancelled, throwing her to the curb, ever-so-briefly.

Had he been less urbane and just folksier, like a Hazletonian, he might have said to me, “Make hay while the sun (still) shines.”

Instead he related to me a story of a recruit he had successfully placed just some time before. He was talking to me, but he was also talking to himself.

“She was in her 60s!” he proclaimed, “and no one wanted to look at her — and she knew it.”

“But then she visited me again and looked so much different.” She displayed to him credit cards that she had used them with a vengance, to make herself over.

The castaway dyed her hair and perked up her wardrobe. She even tweaked her face with BOTOX and was now working in a Manhattan office.

I found his story horrifying. He was trying to warn me. But the narrative exuded such self-hatred. I could see that he carried his age like a burden and even hated himself for having aged. As I cut through the “success story,” a deeper show of reality emerged.

This woman had not been able to get a job because those around her thought her old and ugly. Let’s not glamorize their judgments.

When they looked at her, they glimpsed their futures, and this frightened them.

What miracle cure would prevent them from looking this way — and being unwanted?

In order to quell their fears, they wanted her somewhere else, out of their perpetual sight.

Of course, she understood the age discrimination that was happening and in desperation sought a miracle makeover.

Finally, rather than looking like a grandmom, she could pass as a “glam-mom.”

But at what cost? Was she really able to afford that job?
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It is not only those of a certain age who are judged on their appearance, but the fountain of youth has yet to appear for the masses. Often employers simply don’t want to pay older folks what their experience is really worth. And so they fuel the nation’s cult of youth, with age discrimination perhaps the most difficult type of job-eliminator to prove. This behavior also plants the seeds of fear in younger people.

It is a rare individual over 50, who has not felt the sting of age discrimination. Commercials portray older people and particularly the elderly as doddering, feeble-minded and in search of unglamorous products like denture adhesives and laxatives. Well, if they are needed, they are needed. But surely there is more to life. There is beauty. There is knowledge.

We should all admire businesses that value and respect experience, while taking into account that an older person may need an extra day or two to hold things together once in a while.

Or maybe not. Perhaps this person will have a better performance record that someone fresh out of college.

However, given my experience, I offer 20-somethings, Millennials, yes, like my daughter, this advice.

Become an entrepreneur and work for yourself.

And if you need to live in your parents’ basement for a few years to get things going, it is worth it. Find a business need and fill it. Everything is business.

Don’t rush. But never stand still. Markets evolve constantly. Arrogance and mediocrity can be strong enemies, and naysayers, can be found virtually everywhere.

Choose a job that is portable. Today, the Internet makes this more possible than ever. If you want to work in a cabin in the middle of a forest, as long as you have an Internet connection it is possible!

When you are your own boss, people can tell you to retire, whatever their motives and programming may be.

You, however, will control your destiny and send away age discrimination and another dysfunctional memes.

You can change the way the world thinks about aging, which is in everyone’s best interest, no matter what your age is right now.

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