Of the three life stage descriptors —young, middle-aged, old—only young connotes life. Middle-aged and old allude to decay and impending death.
A non-issue if you’re under 35, but a big one as you approach and past 40. And it’s not just about the physical decline of the body.
The author Robin Black describes what it was like for her to change careers at 40+, and in her story she describes how her friends listened to her new career choice with a polite “that’s nice,” and how some even responded to her new adventure with a polite warning. Most people dismissed her chances of success because she was middle-aged.
She also spoke about how the deck is stacked against +40. The awards favour youth: the top 20 under 40, Richest under 30 etc.,
You must have steely resolve or no-choice to persevere with a dramatic career change past 40.
Age discrimination, like all discrimination feels terrible
About a year or two ago I had my first brush with ‘middle-age’. I received a solicitation email by a group that seemed to espouse all of my values.
They were looking for new members to help stir things up. Their change-the-world narrative was to me like catnip for tabby; after all I had left my corporate trajectory to do what they were talking about and these guys were in my home town.
“Do you know someone under 40 that is a FireStarter?”
I felt like the fat kid no one wants to pick for their side.
“Wow!” I thought, “I was too old for this group.”
It blew me away on two levels.
Finding yourself on the wrong side of young
The first was a sense of incredulity that the year I was born now meant something different: middle-aged. Not young.
That explains what’s happening to my hair and skin, but it didn’t seem to apply to how I feel and think.
But this group wasn’t interested in exceptions. I couldn’t blame them for thinking that their recruits would come from the cohort with the most passion. Change the world types would more likely come from under rather than over 40.
Which made something hit home. It didn’t matter that I had the change-the-world qualities they were looking for. Youth was just as important. It’s the image of youth.
Nobody wants to go clubbing with the old guy even if he can keep up.
(Unless of course he’s buying drinks).
Amazing how fast that happens
The second level it blew me away at was how fast I got here.
If you’re reading this and thinking it’s not important or relevant to you because you’re still in the cool group.
Ageing is more story than biology
Ageing is as much (or more) time-biased-narrative than time-lapse-biology.
It’s our stories about age that give us our expectations, possibilities and limitations about every single person. These narratives are not so much true as agreed. And these agreements are held as beliefs.
We believe that a person of a certain age can or can’t, should or shouldn’t do, be or shouldn’t be, have or shouldn’t have.
If these beliefs were true then we wouldn’t have exceptions at both ends of the age spectrum. Young people like Zuckerberg and Brin are becoming business successes, and older people like Diana Nyad, Merlene Ottey and Tao Porchon-Lynch retain their youthful qualities of endurance, flexibility and strength.
But while these exceptions abound, media coverage still weighs more heavily towards the early accomplishments of the young; the paradigm change examples for middle-aged and old don’t get as much press. Why? Because they’re not young.
The irony is that older people also tell themselves the same anti-age narrative.
Some things get better with age
The fact is getting up there has great benefits.
I’m not saying that it’s not harder to do certain things as one get’s older… somethings definitely are, but many things get easier also. Like being confident, making decisions, self-understanding and knowing what’s important.
Plus it’s all about living your life as a creator, designer, or artist. That’s who you are.
What artists or designers do you know who got worse as they got older?
It’s your life and you get to choose how you’re going to spend the rest of it. No matter at what stage you decide to redesign, redecorate or reinvent it.
Go for it. If you believe and want it badly enough, you will succeed.