There has never been a better time for women to work as much or as little as they want—for as long as they want. If you need to play catch-up with your retirement savings, there’s no hard stop for work at age sixty-five. Corporations are seeking out seasoned experts who can consult on a wide range of topics—and myriad small to mid-size businesses are always looking for smart people to work part-time. Not to mention the fact that more than half of small businesses are launched by women age 40 and older.
So why do so many women in their forties, fifties and sixties still think their career ship has sailed? It’s a combination of outdated notions about being “too old” to start a new career path and a simple lack of confidence.
There’s no lack of confidence in my 88-year-old father. Despite the fact that he inches forward with great trepidation, his back leans in more than Sheryl Sandberg and the wrinkles on his face rival the dog known as Chinese Shar-Pei, he still dons a blue blazer and thinks he can attract women who are much younger in age.
It’s that same confidence—that same “age be damned” defiance—that propels my father to the stage. At about age 60 he left a career in office technology behind and followed his passion to sing. He formed a band that includes musicians with impressive global resumes, and redirected his marketing skills toward big city gigs.
Today, to the amazement of my family, he still balances high-profile performances at big corporate events and entertainment venues with the occasional medical procedure. Despite the fact that the music business is a magnet for twenty-somethings, my father just barrels ahead—believing that all potential opportunities are fair game.
This octogenarian I call Dad doesn’t think about age discrimination, but it is a phrase that is hinted at or deeply discussed over and over again in my coaching practice—and by some of the most unlikely people.
A woman who has a powerful resume and contact list that reaches into every nook and cranny of the corporate world told me she did not get a desired job because of her age (never considering that her skills just might not have been the perfect fit). Women in their 40s and 50s routinely tell me they can’t fathom returning to the workforce because “no one” would hire anyone their age (based possibly on only one uncomfortable interview with a hiring manager in sneakers). Both women and men see a late career layoff as the end of the line (because lots of people still mistakenly believe that no one can find a job after the clock strikes 50+).
The spirit and determination I see in my father, I also see in many 50, 60 and 70-year-old women who continually reinvent themselves in and outside of corporate America. All of these negativity renegades avoid making assumptions based on very limited—or no—research. They never let age define their job search or think that a certain birthday closes certain doors. They have energy, enthusiasm, ideas, perspective—and the confidence that their expertise will be needed for years to come.
Unless you’re prone to reciting a list of your current ailments, you wear a business outfit that screams 1982 or you stare blankly when the interviewer discusses current industry trends, you’ve got a shot at lots of jobs. As a former recruiter I know that some industries, companies—and hiring managers—may favor the young, but these represent the shortsighted few among thousands and thousands of possibilities.
It’s way too easy to blame your age—when, in reality, it’s all about having the confidence to translate wisdom and experience into very current solutions to very pressing business needs.
Don’t put yourself out to pasture or give in to believing you’re an old dog with only a few outdated tricks. It’s attitude, not age, that defines all you are and all you can continue to be. —KAS
“You’ve Got A Long Runway Ahead: There’s No Age Limit on Work” is a chapter in my book, Ambition Redefined: Why the Corner Office Doesn’t Work for Every Woman & What to Do Instead and order here.
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