A woman’s age was supposed to be kept secret. Whether for vanity or professional reasons, that was society’s thinking for many generations. It was only in the early 70’s that revealing our age became a sign of freedom or liberation. We began to rebel against negative stereotypes and stand up for ourselves saying very simply but rather bodly, “This is who I am and this is how old I am.”
I’ve never liked stereotypes and bucked them subtly and not so subtly all of my life. With that preface, I’m happy to share with you that I’m turning 75 this week and am not an ‘old lady’ despite the years. Old is a destination. Older is the process of getting there.
The picture above was taken in November, 2018 as a casual attempt at an untouched selfie. The only thing that’s not true me in that picture is the color of my hair. I need a little help these days to get back to my natural color which I like better than the alternative. People are either very surprised or semi-shocked when I tell them how old I am. No, I don’t look my age or sound my age thanks to a great set of designer genes gifted by my mom and dad. But how am I supposed to look and sound?
People have asked me what its like turning 75, and I respond by saying it’s different than turning 74. That milestone thing conjures up a lot of thinking. It’s as if I’m bucking yet another societal norm sharing that I just don’t feel my new age, however that age is supposed to feel. I still love to work and I still love to play.
I say all of this despite having survived two different cancers in the last six years and feeling the pains of arthritis creeping into places that used to make me a pretty damn good tennis player. Some parts of growing older we could all do without. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s scary, but then being a real grown up at any age isn’t always easy either. I came close to death at the age of 29 from a rare disease, and there hasn’t been one day since that time that I’ve taken for granted. I feel blessed and grateful beyond any words that can be written.
My generation is living longer and approaching that ridiculous term, the golden years, differently than many of those who came before us. We’re keeping at it longer, as long as we can keep at whatever it is we’re doing. We want to continue feeling valued, and don’t like being treated like an ‘old’ person when it’s done in a derogatory way. Deference is one thing. Discrimination is another.
After I left TV news, I said the next act would be the challenge. Little did I know how many acts were yet to come. The one thing I know today is that the word retirement has never been a part of my personal thought process. Work has been one of the major drivers in my life, and I’ve been my own boss for many years. Retirement is simply alien to me, and a lot of others as well. That doesn’t mean I want to work 60 hours a week. You just begin to think about time differently, and it becomes more focused on what you really want to do and how you want to spend that time.
Many people do look forward to retiring, and that’s great if it works for them. The goal for all of us, on many issues, is choice. But for too large a number over 50, 60 or 70 years of age there isn’t any choice. Age discrimination exists in more professions than not. Pervasive Ageism was the first digital story I wrote for Forbes in 2012 highlighting the issue, especially for women. It’s against the law, but often hard to win the case. The fight needs to continue.
It’s a good news/bad news time to be older and wanting to work. A majority of older Americans over 50 report being pushed out of their jobs by their employers and forced into early retirement. But the Society For Human Resource Management (SHRM) tells us that there are more people over 65 in the workforce than we’ve had in the past three decades. It simply doesn’t make me feel good knowing that a Home Depot sales person was formerly an unemployed corporate executive. Or reading a New York Times story that tells us about midlife crisis hitting as young as 30 if you’re working in the digital world. Those 30 year olds will eventually grow up to be older.
I am part of a large group that came of age with an activist spirit that drove many of us to try and empower change. And we did! This is not the time to stop. Let’s rebrand the terms senior and senior citizen which have come to be connected to many things negative that lead to unfortunate stereotyping. We need to see ads and commercials and stories that reflect our true diversity in every way.
I will always be working at something. It’s just a part of who I am. Once you’re a reporter you’re a reporter until the the end of your days. It’s how you think. How you look at things. The instinctive curiosity that pushes you to keep asking who, what, where, when and how. Those five words taught to me when I was studying to become a journalist in college have continued to drive a love of learning new things and looking for the next challenge.