“But You Look So Young…”
Turning 62, 63, 64, 65 – getting older at any age – is, as we all know, not all it’s cracked up to be. One of the most difficult parts of getting older for me has been the changing effect my age has on my career.
I’m 64. A couple of years ago, the company I work for held a 400-person division meeting in a huge conference center ballroom. Our executive announced that there were going to be staff reductions. We were to leave that meeting to go to department meetings in which we would each learn our fate. I, like many others, lost my job on that day, although we were told that our last day of work would be about three months away.
Like many old balding white-headed men, I have had the luxury of job-hopping throughout my career. Whenever I got bored, wanted a higher salary, or just wanted to move somewhere else, I could. BUT, after being laid off at age 62, I sent my resume out for all these fascinating jobs and quickly learned that something was very different: I was now old, out to pasture, ready for the glue factory, or whatever. I got no email responses requesting a phone screen. I got no invites to the big interview. Nothing worked. I couldn’t believe how quickly I went from being highly desirable to being persona non grata.
At the same time, my company kept encouraging we-the-laid-off to apply for other positions in the company. In my particular area of expertise, it just happened that there were some 40 positions posted, albeit at all different levels of experience. Most were positions well below my current salary level, but I really didn’t care. Because the company kept saying that we would have “priority consideration” for other positions, I entered into this internal application process with great hopes – and excessive confidence! I applied for 20 positions, got two interviews and, of course, was not hired. Needless to say, it was a humbling experience.
Now the thing is, I have lived in a world of white male privilege for years. And, although I have thought of myself as an advocate for social justice and racial equality, when it came right down to it, I wanted another job because I thought I deserved it. I still wanted to be thought of as a key player, a contributor, a valued colleague – if not valued senior leader.
Having dedicated years to consciousness-raising through needed personal therapy, recovery, group meetings and so forth, in my brain I am now the evolved, grounded daily meditating and yoga stretching guy that I always longed to be. In my head, I feel 29 years old – and more capable, relaxed, and present for myself and others than I’ve ever been before. Yet when I look in the mirror, I am startled to see this old guy. It truly sometimes shocks me. I feel so together and youthful inside, but on the outside, I’m in this aging, gradually – and sometimes not so gracefully – fading guy. It’s weird, isn’t it?
Then, ironically, my company announced just before my last day that seven new positions would be posted, and any of us who were laid off could apply. So about one hundred people were free to apply for seven jobs. I rolled my eyes, thought what the heck, and very unexpectedly and amazingly I was called in for an interview and got the job. When I went in for my first day, my new boss looked to me to be in her late twenties or early thirties. When I took the risk of happening to mention my age, she looked genuinely surprised and said, “But you look so young. I would never have thought you were that old.” Yikes! I had let the cat out of the bag. Would I be fired on the spot? Luckily, I wasn’t fired and now feel fairly secure in my new position. I do think I’m contributing, and I am getting used to being a solid twenty years older than most of my colleagues.
What lessons did I take from this journey?
1. I must cultivate more of a sense of inner direction about my purpose in life that’s unconnected to my career.
2. I’d like to unhinge my personal sense of worth from the myth of the American dream.
3. I am not my white privilege.
4. I am not my age.
5. I can help myself feel into my own present worth and dignity, regardless of age.
So, over the course of three years, I’ve researched the pathways that lead to the greatest sense of inner health and fulfillment as we enter our senior years. I’ve taken classes, hired coaches, read books, received certifications, and taken a ten-week holistic full life rehab program. I am now much more aligned inside and outside. My inner, capable 29-year-old and my external 64-year-old have joined in league with each other to daily express the in-the-moment me. I treasure every living, breathing moment. And I can honestly say to myself as I look in that old mirror… “but you look so young!”
Maybe the lessons I listed above make sense to you too. They are certainly worthy of consideration. Life is a trip. Let’s take it together.