Marc Freedman’s latest book should be subtitled Prescription for Aging Well: Become Mentor to Younger People & Work With Children. Rather than break new ground, the book subtly reinforces some of the most common stereotypes of aging. For instance, “older people are more concerned with leaving a legacy than making money;” “older people want to nurture younger people and children.”
For instance Marc says he has three young children and no grandparents close by. “Our silver-haired safety net is located two doors down. Our quirky, engaging eighty-something neighbors …have become quasi-grandparents for our children… “
Freedman notes institutional factors that help older people: social acuity, Medicare and … AARP?! The truth is, many people avoid AARP because of their overly aggressive advertising (I stopped them by sending a public Facebook message) and because it’s not clear how they really help older Americans. In the last election, the two main party candidates differed significantly in their positions on Medicare and Social Security; one clearly would benefit recipients more than the other. Yet AARP remained steadfastly neutral, merely reporting what each side said.
AARP supported the drug “donut hole.” And AARP is, above all, an insurance company, which many people believe is sub-par in both value and customer service. You can just look at the comments under most AARP articles. r
Freedman points to Experience Corps as a model of ways to help both seniors and children. In fact Experience Corps seems to target “vulnerable older adults.” Their web page includes an excerpt from a newspaper article, “Older citizens have time on their hands and skills to share.” Really? Could this be another stereotype.
Freedman praises the movie The Intern as a “great example” of introducing an older person into a Millennial environment. In fact, the notion that older people need to become low-paid (or no-paid) interns seems preposterous. It’s not unusual for companies to hire executives who bring special skills to the table, even if they’re not familiar with all aspects of the organization. DeNiro reinforced many stereotypes — tech-challenged, always wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Today’s executives of all ages are likely to show up in business casual or even jeans and sneakers. A Pew Trust survey found that 67% of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, in contrast to just 14% in 2000.
Freedman takes a top-down view of aging, talking to people who create services, products or policy for older people. He talks to architects who offer innovative cross-generation housing. He talks to academics and authors. But the “boots on the ground” older people often don’t want any part of that. They want integrated housing but that means they want to live in an ordinary neighborhood or apartment with people of all ages. They want to work in real jobs for market wages and growth opportunities. These days, five years is a long time in any job, so they have time.
The truth is, some people — age 18 to 80 — just naturally enjoy working with children. Some others in the same age group would rather work in a for-profit environment as a contributor, not an intern. Some people are simply not qualified, by temperament or skill, to work with children. And many younger adults can afford to pay a coach or consultant to mentor them.
The workplace is the single biggest area of ageism (closely followed by the medical profession, which tends to pathologize medicate normal aging processes. See Christiane Northup’s excellent book, Goddesses Never Age.)
Finally, many older people aren’t afraid of dying. They’re more afraid of ending up in a nursing home, where many will be abused. They want to die with dignity. The advice to “accept your mortality” seems to apply to a specific segment of the population.
Chris Conley’s book, Wisdom At Work, may be approaching best-seller status and he’s collecting many 5-star reviews on Amazon. Yet if you read it carefully, the book actually reinforces the very thing he’s trying to attack – ageism. Conley defines himself and his relationship with AirBnB entirely in terms of age. He writes about taking on a new role in a youth-oriented company and getting a performance review from someone who’s thirty years younger. I winced when he reports asking someone, “Aren’t you old for an engineer?”
As an aside, Conley conveniently ignores the controversy surrounding AirBnB and its offerings. Millions of people have been displaced in urban areas as residential apartments become high-priced touristic AirBnBs. Just one AIrBnB can disrupt the community of a condo building or a block of single-family homes. There’s a reason hotels have trained managers and security forces. To be sure, some folks benefit from AIrBnB but we need to realize it’s a mixed bag.
The truth is, companies of all sizes have always brought in experienced advisors of all ages to serve as consultants and sometimes as managers. His role could be described without reference to age: he’ll be a consultant and his contribution is so great that the company will help him fill his knowledge gaps.
Conley’s not familiar with the nuts and bolts of tech because, in his previous job, he had people working for him to do those things. He doesn’t need to reach for a silly term like “mentern” to describe this role. In reality, today’s businesses are collaborative. If you don’t know something, you find someone who does. They might be older or younger; they just have to know what they’re doing.
Similarly, Conley’s tips on learning, counseling, and collaborating would apply to people at all ages. The founder of my coworking space, barely 35, would make many of the same observations.
Performance review? That’s a joke. If they don’t like his performance, he’ll gracefully bow out; it’s not like he needs the money or the status.
Anyway, Conley began his journey into elder hood at the age of fifty-two — an age where discrimination has begun to appear. It’s an age that’s not uncommon among senior executives or many kinds of professionals. Calling a fifty-something an “elder” seems a little silly.
In fact, the book seems to fall into the a new sub-genre of highly successful older people joining a millennial-dominated company. We saw this pattern, complete with stereotypes, in the movie The Intern and the book Disrupted. In all these narratives the senior male was the condescending sage and change agent, brought in my senior management solely because of his previous career status.
Conley references Meredith Maran’s book, The New Old Me. But Maran’s attitude is completely different. She wasn’t hired as a change agent and she attempted to fit in with the younger employees in her company. Her sardonic comments on her former coworkers seem based less on age than on the LA culture. As someone who’s lived all over North America, I can say that I had more trouble as a New Yorker adjusting to southern culture than as an “older” person adjusting to younger groups.
We will be truly age-agnostic when someone can apply for a position without having to be a sage or a wise old elder…just an ordinary person who will do the job. In any company, you’ll find people who like to socialize with each other and others — even the same age — who have different values and interests. They’ll get along on the job and who cares what they do on their own time? In any company you’ll find people who need extra consideration, whether they’re young parents, caretakers of relatives, or going through tough times.
I did find some good things. I love the quote from Eric Schmidt, the COO who told Sheryl Sandberg to “get on a rocket ship” and her career will take care of itself. The chapter on “counsel” is good for people of all ages. And some of the resources are quite good. Ironically, the selection of movies shows that people of different ages have teamed up for a long time.
Willie Nelson once said, “ I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference,” We need more people to say, “I’ve worked with young and old people all my life. I can’t tell the difference.”
The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50
This book seems to be about preparing for the years right at midlife — the fifties and early sixties — and just past midlife, which Mary Pipher characterizes as the “young old.”
As I’ve noted in reviewing other books, I often think it’s impossible to write a really helpful book about this stage of life because (a) there just aren’t a lot of choices for everyone and (b) there’s such a variety of people, health levels, skills, aptitudes, background and more. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot deals with (b) by focusing on a small slice of the population: educated, healthy people without financial worries. Within that group, she finds common patterns: a yearning for something that can’t always be named, a resistance to change (possibly because successful people tend to resist changing a cherished identity) and finally a learning that differs from previous classroom experiences. (more…)
Baby Boomers Look to Senior Concierge Services to Raise Income – by Liz Moye
What I wrote to the Times:
As an aging Boomer I’m appalled by this article. The headline suggests that baby boomers could “raise income” by working as low-paid service workers.The rest of the article reinforces the stereotype of “seniors” as caring and nurturing people who are more concerned with doing good and leaving a legacy than earning money. (more…)
A reminder of aging comes at the treadmill in the gym. At 85, Robert Goldfarb notices the graphs for runners’ heart rate goes up to age 70 and stops. It’s a reminder that he is “now officially one of the old-old.” Writing for the The New York Times, his article Talking To Younger Men About Growing Old reminds us that a lot of the frustrations with aging come not from our bodies, but from the way we are defined totally by our age, not by any other factor.
At age 85, Goldfarb is a competitive runner. Yet airport employees come rushing over with wheelchairs and offers of early boarding. (Frankly, I’d take those offers even if I were 55…or 35.)
Goldfarb finds that men his own age don’t want to talk about aging. As he says, men of his generation “regarded feelings as something to be endured, not discussed… Men in my platoon didn’t embrace when we parted after serving in the Korean War. Closer than brothers, we settled for a handshake, knowing that’s what men did.”
What Goldfarb describes is a cohort effect, which many people confuse with an aging effect. We often associate aging with the behaviors of our parents or grandparents, forgetting that when we reach their age, we won’t be like them.
I look at the 30-somethings in my gym who participate in boot camp classes. These classes didn’t exist when I was their age. In particular, women just didn’t do the kinds of exercises we do in class, unless they joined the US Marine Corps (and maybe not even then). Thirty years from now, these totally fit women won’t be moving like their great-grandmothers.
If you want another example, we used to see little old ladies riding on the buses, all dressed up to go shopping. They’d carry a tiny shopping bag from a high-quality store – just one little bag, which suggested they were shopping just for something to do, and felt they had to buy something. They’d be wearing heels and hose, with full make-up.
I remember telling a Canadian colleague, “One day these women will be gone.”
“Where will Eaton’s be?” he teased, referring to a Canadian store that somewhat resembled Macys.
Today Eaton’s is gone and so are the old ladies. I ride the bus in gym shorts and see women of all ages in jeans, sweats and yes, shorts. They wear short sleeves with their bra straps showing, sandals and sneakers. They shop on the Internet and make friends on Facebook.
Cohort effects trump age a good deal of the time.
Some things probably shouldn’t make it to the Internet. Today someone posted on LinkedIn about turning 60. He wrote a whole LI article too for all the world to see. I’m sure he meant well so I’m reluctant to post a link here. But his post embodies many stereotypes of aging.
This guy writes: One thing that becoming an old guy gives me is the right to write an article about what I’ve learned along the pathway that constitutes my life.
Saying you get wise with age is just another way of saying that biological age is related to abilities and skills. I know a guy who’s 32 going on 45 and some people who are in their 60s going on 12. Saying that you now get the “right” to share your views is another way to differentiate yourself from others in a meaningless way. You’ll scare off potential friends, employees and clients.
So what if you’re 60? You’re an expert in some things but not others. Simply living a long time doesn’t mean anything. Just look at some of our politicians.
As it turns out, the wisdom he offers consists of a bunch of cliches and opinions that come out of left field. For instance, “A dog will mourn you when you die, a cat will eat you. Just sayin’.”
Sixty years of living to learn that?
Then there’s “Always take a leak in the other man’s toilet.” I have no idea what that means.