Monday, May 11, 2009

Should You Even Be Driving?

Not long ago, we had to take my Mom’s car keys from her. She has dementia and her health is failing. Believe me, she was not happy. But for her protection, and the protection of others, we felt it was necessary.

There are times I feel that’s how I’m perceived in this job search market: like a vintage old-timer browsing the lot for a new-fangled sports car: too old to drive, too forgetful for the innovative controls and a potential hindrance to others on the road.

Trust me, I’ve been in interviews with “Senior” Vice Presidents (who look like they just stepped out of High School Musical) and I’ve picked up on their tacit assessments: I’m antiquated more than accomplished; venerable instead of valuable. A job more in keeping with my current status might be a museum, either on staff or as an exhibit.

Now legally, we know that age discrimination is forbidden. Regardless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that last year, the number of age discrimination cases reported increased by nearly 30 percent.

However, we also know that perception is reality. A little gray in my hair and some hard-earned “etchings” on my face make it easy to assume I’m an out-of-touch antique. In the mindset of corporate recruiters (often young), the stereotype is that I’m incapable of learning new technologies or resistant to new techniques. Worse, there’s the mistaken notion that I’m just looking to “wait out my time” until retirement…like some AARP version of “Senior-itis.” (If they could see my 401K lately, they’d know that’s not likely!)

I can’t speak for the rest of my elder colleagues, but for me, nothing could be farther from the truth. So, I’ve peppered my resume with references to my hands-on involvement with new technology in order to dissuade any preconceptions about my inability to exist in the new millennium. I teach classes in Microsoft Office products. I not only have my own Facebook page, I have an entire website that I designed. I have a Twitter account, with followers. (Granted, I’m not a threat to Ashton Kutcher, but at least his marriage proves that he doesn’t have an issue with age!) And I’m a blogger! That’s right, I’m cutting edge.

The cliché “you can’t teach an old new tricks” is difficult to defeat. But don’t expect this old dog to roll over and play dead. I may not be able to chase a car or catch a Frisbee (staying with “old dog” metaphor), but I have acquired skills that come only with experience. You don’t get “over the hill” without learning some valuable and useful lessons along the way. (Yes, that was a change in metaphor, further proof of how adaptable I am.)

Truthfully, I know I have much to offer. Younger employees may have an education, but I can mentor them with experience. School can teach all the new technologies, but only time can instill the skills to relate to people. Work ethic, loyalty and integrity build over time, and they should be modeled to a younger generation and valued by the employers.

It’s true, I may not be a GenY’er, but there’s still plenty of bang left in this boomer, baby. Can’t you look past my wrinkles and see my potential? Won't you ignore my age and welcome my vast experience?

Don’t make me hit you with my walking stick, young’un!

ADDENDUM: This article came to me today after I'd put up the original post. It's a sad solution to the problem discussed in today's post. This may need to be a totally separate posting!

ADDENDUM2: Here's a link to video that illustrates the points made in this post. It's a scene from the TV show "Desperate Housewives."

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