A group of women friends, from generations ahead of me, all nodded in agreement when one said, “In high school I didn’t want to learn to type.” It took me a moment to understand the implication of the comment and how learning to type often meant being channeled into secretarial work, which they didn’t want to do. By the time I was in high school, typing class was an introductory course to computer science, and the book and movie “Free to Be You and Me” had ushered many of my generation through childhood to believe we had more career choices. In a similar way, I am now grateful to see new perspectives on aging catching on. It makes me hopeful more doors will open to opportunities as I grow older, including in the workplace.
At a recent home show, where I was volunteering at an AARP Oregon booth, some people passing by the table returned my smile and said, “I’m not old yet” and kept walking. For those who stayed, we talked about the value of AARP information at any stage in life, as well as issues that may be impacting those in extended families. Light bulbs seemed to really turn on, however, when we shared how AARP is working to “disrupt aging” and helping people discover their real possibilities.
Shifting the way we think and talk about aging is challenging. I caught myself the other day saying in a deflated way “I’m old” to a young intern who had recently returned from an overseas experience similar to one I had at the same age, over twenty years ago. The passage of time, or changes in our bodies, may be physical markers that at times can unsettle anyone, but in no way should aging diminish our place and value in society. In reality, we are all aging throughout our lives.
It’s time to embrace everyone’s relevance to our communities and to wear our increasing age with pride. When we were little we couldn’t wait to be older, so let’s make the same true when we turn 50.
Just as I had many career choices when I started my working life, I don’t want to face limited opportunities in the workplace later in my career. Next year will be the 50 th anniversary for the Age Discrimination Employment Act, protecting workers over 40 from age discrimination. It will take effort from each of us to change the way we feel and speak about aging, to recognize our rights, and to continue to confidently show the vitality Americans of all ages bring to the workplace and the world.
Resources and Opportunities:
Discover Oregon opportunities to learn and connect with others and register for these free events and find a bold new path to live your best life at every age: http://www.aarp.org/states/or/stateeventdetails.eventId=NA&stateCode=OR/.
Read more on AARP’s Disrupt Aging work: http://www.aarp.org/disruptaging.
Learn about the Age Discrimination Employment Act, which covers people over age 40: http://www.aarp.org/work/employee-rights/info-02-2009/age_discrimination_fact_sheet.html
The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College has Steps to Make Workplaces for All Ages: