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Missed Gifts

Aging and Success in the Workplace

 Craig Whitehead
Craig Whitehead

In today’s workplace, everything has a forward focus on building brands, sustainability, and value.

Overlapping meeting agendas include goals and ascending to new heights and new victories, moving ahead, frequently stepping on the shoulders of those who were there first as if merely steps and not a valued resource. 

25 years ago, I might not have had an interest in this topic the way I do today. 

However, as I head into my 61st year around the sun, I contemplate the idea of aging resources—yes, such as myself—and, with that, how we define and understand success. 

That said, I have always valued the stories and wisdom that come with age, not in the way you recognize art or a monument but rather as part of the broader workplace community and culture. Like a blend of voices in a choir, I appreciate a wide range of age and experience. Age is not a defining characteristic, nor is money. We are all much more significant and more than one aspect of who we are and what we do. 

More and more, I am aware that age and experience are less relevant and less valued in a country that holds youth and money dear and close to its heart.

Seemingly, our measure of success is financially driven.

I am increasingly aware that peers in my age range are quietly marginalized by their employers with conversations about “health,” which is code for age. Ironically, at the same time, with “concerns” around health, they have a health care plan appropriate for someone in their 20s. 

As if value or relevance were attached to where they are chronologically rather than the wisdom that can come with being over 60. 

As if the experience of someone over 60 was no longer relevant or part of a broader landscape that stewards a culture.

For me, my concern is a bit unique. As the founder of Less Cancer, I feel the pressure to have a succession plan for a sustainable organization, where one day, it won’t be me at all; that the work to end cancer is much bigger than me, and soon anything I have done will be long forgotten. 

I am lucky I get to work with people of all ages, and each brings not just wisdom, but texture. 

While age is part of the equation, I especially understand the importance of planning for the next chapter for both myself and the organization. Our work is too critical to come to a stop when I come to a stop. It’s our ethical responsibility to have a plan in place. 

Do I have concerns about that transition? 

You bet. 

Since our founding, I have always ensured that our work was propelled from the grassroots level. We have never taken funding from any entity that was not about advancing human health and lowering the risks associated with cancer. That means no soda or tobacco companies.

No cancer causers. 

As an outcome, while we always struggle with funding, our success in our work is because of our commitment to actually preventing cancer. 

For that to work, I have earned a relatively low salary, some years with no pay, and have juggled jobs in my off hours producing events. 

As we look at issues such as success, we look at the values of the whole picture and the gifts we, as an institution, bring to a diverse world. We have been successful in bringing change and protecting the health of communities. 

As we define success, it is an “us” situation, not “me ” situation. So many diverse people and gifts propel our work for Less Cancer. We must not overlook the contributions of our community members and what they mean to bringing solutions to the world. 

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