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You’re Too Old! Facing Ageism With Power, Purpose and Grace

Half of all children born today in the United States and Europe are going to reach their 103rd or 104th birthday,” Neurologist Claudia Kawas explains to Lesley Stahl on CBS News recently. Kawas is the leading investigator on the 90+ Study that has been ongoing for six years. She adds, “I have seen several 116-year-olds.” […]

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Half of all children born today in the United States and Europe are going to reach their 103rd or 104th birthday,” Neurologist Claudia Kawas explains to Lesley Stahl on CBS News recently.

Kawas is the leading investigator on the 90+ Study that has been ongoing for six years. She adds, “I have seen several 116-year-olds.”

So I guess, at 62, I am middle aged.

Yet, invisibility for women over 50 in the workplace and in the global culture appears to be the norm, as ageism reverberates through advertising, products, entertainment, fashion, and the economy.

According to Margye Solomon writing in Forbes: “Research shows that age discrimination in employment is clearly a woman’s issue. In 2018, Lynda Gratton, coauthor of’ ‘The 100 Year Life: Living and Work in an Age of Longevity,’ wrote: ‘Ageism is ‘far worse’ for women than sexism.’”

She adds, “Gratton’s findings seem to mirror those of David Neumark, an economics professor at the University of California whose research showed that women suffer more age discrimination than men starting in their 40s :’The evidence of age discrimination against women kind of pops out in every study. Ageism at work begins at 40 for women and 45 for men. At that point, the employer no longer considers the worker for promotion.’”

Invisibility and ageism are among a range of topics in the Take The Lead Book Club Discussion December 3 at 6 p.m. ET, on my latest book of essays, Act Like You’re Having A Good Time.

“Telling The Truth” is a frank discussion between Lesley Jane Seymour and myself, two journalists and authors about how honest stories help all of us discover meaning in work, life, friendships, and more. We will dish on fashion, ambition, privilege, parenting, and purpose.

Register here for Take The Lead’s free Book Club Discussion 12/3

Seymour, author, media entrepreneur and founder of CoveyClub, hosts the conversation. Seymour may be best known for her leadership from 2008-2016, as Editor-In-Chief of More Magazine, the leading lifestyle magazine for women over 40 with a readership of 1.5 million.

Seymour was also the Editor-in-Chief and Social Media Director of More.com, which attracted over 12 million monthly page views and 600,000 unique visitors. Before taking over More, she was Editor-in-Chief for Marie Claire, Redbook, YM, and Beauty Director of Glamour, and copywriter and senior editor at Vogue.

Read an excerpt here from Act Like You’re Having A Good Time: 

I am a sixty-two-year-old white single mother of three grown sons, a woman with privilege, an education, and an identity that has offered me the chance to achieve some professional success. I have lived through a few things—cancer for one, raising three sons alone since they were 6, 4, and 1 after a tumultuous marriage for 10,000 more. They are good men—all working and launched and responsible to the world. Amen.

I also understand what I am not. Because people remind me, sometimes not so kindly. Looking honestly at a life can be seen as narcissistic navel-gazing, a bald absence of any humility, a waste of time— particularly during and after a pandemic crisis when the world is reshaped.

Even without the trappings of success as a base thermometer, I worry whether what I do and have done is enough for anyone else, let alone for my own aspirations. In my field as a journalist and author, so many deserving talents—some of them are friends, many are former students, more are my idols—are able through their valiant efforts to uncover truths, change how the world sees and thinks, and influence behaviors and policies shaping ideas in ways I never have and never will. I am simply not as talented or good as they are.

They are brave and brilliant and are changing history. I admire them. I am not envious; I know the capacity I have. Still, I had some audacious dreams and ambitions for myself; upon reflection now, I see them as dreams that I will never fulfill.

Life and an accumulation of unplanned events happened to my mind and to my body. It shows. Watching awards shows—the Kennedy Center Honors come to mind—I see the musicians, actors, and stunning performers just a wee bit older than me celebrated for years and years and years of breathtaking excellence and genius. I applaud and marvel at their achievements, but my second thought is, “I’ll never be great at anything.”

That my appreciation of mastery bounces back to me is also a character flaw. I know. Though I believe I make the perfect bruschetta with asiago cheese bread sliced thin or occasionally write a compelling sentence, I am mediocre or worse at most things I try and have done—even if I have tried those things the requisite thousands of times that you must do something until you can call yourself an expert. I expected I would do more, be more, give more.

In the shadows of such unprecedented tragedy and change, interrogating a life can seem either ridiculous or urgent. How can I make the best of it all? Am I ever enough?

Most women my age whom I know personally and professionally are not able to pause so much; working hard and facing health challenges, heartbreaks, financial setbacks, illnesses or deaths of partners, parents, friends, and children. Some have a spouse whose health is catastrophic, placing them into daily caregiving again. In spite of all that, they are also at times deliriously happy.

Like most women I know, I am trying to see clearly, craft, decode, and reshape an identity as a mature woman, single or partnered, with or without grandchildren, with or without any secure financial future. I am new to being old; at times it feels like I am wearing someone else’s clothes in the wrong size.

It is not just wearisome to read the news and to unmask what is fact and what are lies, but it feels like a threat to every breath. In that arena, deciding whether and how I matter at all and how I can inform one small piece of the world is another challenge to take on when every second absorbing public realities is disruptive, disturbing, and disorienting. It also feels like it could be a waste of time when there is so much real injustice to remedy and unravel.

And while I get it that this life is not all about me, I do want to ask the questions about just why, how, or if anything I do affects anyone or anything. Do I matter? “I understand that a key factor in arriving at clarity comes from examining truths, encounters, and the magic as well as the mess of the past, an apologetic nod to all blind spots, amnesia, bias, intentional and unintentional shifting and stretching of mutable memories.

All to say if this is to be my Lifetime movie–worthy self-discovery journey that middle-aged and older women seem to need, it will all have to take place close to home a few hours a week because I work a lot. I also don’t have the time and money to explore who I am solo abroad. I can’t summer in Tuscany; eat, pray, and love across the globe; or even walk 1,000 miles through deserts and national parks to find answers. I have bills and deadlines. I would overpack.”

Please register for this conversation; if you are unable to attend, we will send you the link to the recording afterward. Win a chance for a free autographed book if you attend live.

This post originally ran in Take The Lead.

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