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The Roster blog image for 'Dealing With Ageism.' A tightrope walker on a rope leading to a launching rocket.

Dealing With Ageism | Layoff to LAUNCH An Inbetweener's Playbook

Series Overview

Layoff to Launch is a blog series, comprised of six articles:

  1. Introduction
  2. Day One: Triage
  3. Personal Branding
  4. Résumé Strategies
  5. Self-Promotion Power Plays
  6. Dealing with Ageism

Facing the Reality of Ageism

Talking about ageism isn’t easy. Most of us would prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist and, more importantly, believe it doesn’t apply to us. However, if you’re over 40, you’ve likely encountered ageism, whether you realize it or not. It’s a subtle yet pervasive challenge that most of us will eventually face in our professional lives. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to define us. In this final installment of 'Layoff to Launch,' I share insights and strategies for navigating ageism with grace and determination.

Overcoming Ageism with Competence

Ageism is real, but worrying about it is counterproductive. The key to overcoming ageism lies in proving your capability and readiness to compete, regardless of age. It’s about focusing on what you can control: your work, your attitude, and your resilience.

Meritocracy is the Goal

The concept of meritocracy, where abilities should outweigh factors like age, gender, or race, is often praised but not always realized in the corporate world. Despite this, it's been a guiding principle in my business and personal life. I've witnessed firsthand how attitude and determination can transcend age barriers in the realms where I operate. 

Confronting Ageism Head-On

I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my entire career. Fresh out of college, I launched my first venture, the first of four. I’ve always assumed I’d be able to work as long as I wanted. What I didn’t fully appreciate early on, was the reality of needing the approval of others to do what you do. This is of course true at any age, but becomes more obvious as you get older and is especially true when interviewing to become an employee. 

In my late fifties, I transitioned from running my own company to taking on a leadership role in a significant ed-tech project for ACT. As the project concluded and my sixtieth birthday approached, I faced a pivotal decision: traditional employment, with its potential layoffs, or double-down on my commitment to entrepreneurship. After extensive discussions with my wife, we chose the latter path, partly due to concerns about ageism in the job market. After all, when you're the business owner, age rarely comes into question.

Strategies and Tactics

I realize not everyone is inclined or wired up to start a company with the inherent risks, and that's okay. However, adopting certain attitudes and best practices can help you age gracefully and remain competitive in the job market.

Cultural Relevance and Adaptation

Staying relevant is essential, particularly in our ways of connecting with others. A recent chat with a copywriter friend brought up how crucial it is to update our cultural touchstones. For example, talking about storing data on floppy disks or the clunky sound of a dial-up modem in today's high-speed internet world, might get a chuckle but also highlights a gap from the current digital reality. Similarly, referencing “I want my MTV” or jamming with a Walkman may be nostalgic for you and your generation, but it can quickly isolate younger colleagues.

The goal isn't to forget the classics——from Jimi Hendrix's unforgettable riffs to Pac-Man's retro charm. Instead, it's about valuing their enduring appeal while staying in tune with today. Excited about vinyl's resurgence? Perfect, but let's frame it as the comeback it is, not as though it's been the reigning format all along. This way, we connect past and present, showing that our experiences enrich our conversations, making them inclusive and welcoming to all.

Interestingly, even phrases that seem outdated can find new life. "Not to sound like a broken record," might have felt cliché a decade ago, but today, it resonates anew, illustrating how old references can become fresh again in the right context.

The Wisdom of Robert Plant 1

Inspiration can come from unexpected sources. Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s legendary frontman once shared an insight that resonated deeply with me: while he treasures the past, his focus is firmly on the present and future. This mindset is crucial: dwelling on past achievements can overshadow what we’re capable of now and in the future. The power of now offers an important key to battling ageism.

The Irony of Ageism in Tech

It’s a cruel irony that those of us who helped pave the way for the digital age are now facing ageism in the tech industry—ironic and enlightening. It underscores a profound truth: ageism is not just misguided; it’s a blatant dismissal of the contributions that have shaped our present and a denial of our shared fate. As Socrates might have said, age is inevitable for all who live long enough. 

The story of a past mentor, Herm Saunders, a veteran television and film producer, exemplifies this. Despite his storied career, with many hit shows and movies, Herm found himself respected but no longer relevant in the eyes of younger Hollywood executives—a stark reminder that respect must be continually earned, and relevance is continually proven.

Conclusion: Navigating Ageism with Grace and Grit

Dealing with ageism is about strategy, adaptation, and storytelling. We must share our experiences, not as relics of a bygone era, but as chapters of an ongoing saga of innovation and resilience.

We can prove the naysayers wrong by focusing on what we can control and staying relevant. Our best work isn’t behind us—it’s happening now and in the future we’re building every day. 

Please comment with your thoughts on ageism, on LinkedIn.

Closing Thoughts: Layoff to Launch Series

This brings our series to an end. I trust you've found the insights, strategies, and methods shared useful. I'm eager to hear your thoughts or provide further assistance. I welcome direct conversations with peers and colleagues alike, especially those making the journey from Layoff to Launch.

Although Robert Plant might seem like an old-school reference, his career and music have remained relevant through constant adaptation, making him an ideal reference.

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