It seems a staple of most trade magazines to run an annual story featuring 20 Under 20, or 30 Under 30, or 40 Under 40 — purportedly identifying the best people in their jobs, in that industry, who are under the featured age limit. Most of the lists are highly subjective and often overlook a true up-and-comer because the reporter fell in love with the guy who wears the funky hat to work, or started a garage band with a couple of others in the IT department, or with the woman who brings her dog to spin classes. Interestingly, no one tracks the career progress of those folks to see if in 10 years they live up to the “Under X” hype.
Sadly, no one thinks about honoring 50 Over 50 or 60 Over 60 because 1) the lists would be too long; and 2) by then, if people don’t know who you are without more press coverage, you have pretty much failed in your career; and finally: 3) nobody likes old people.
I never thought much about getting old until about 20 years ago, when I was at a dinner party with a top NBC Sports exec and we were talking about how much fun it is to walk down the street in New York because every once in a while you pass a fashion model or some other gorgeous creature, which cheers you up (and straightens your posture). He agreed, then added: “You do know that at your age, you are utterly invisible to those girls?” I hated to admit it, but he was right. The eye contact had vanished — and unless you clutched your chest and fell to the ground, there was NO chance they would even know you existed.
That’s kind of what it’s like in the workplace, too, when you realize that for a host of reasons (including not wanting to work yourself into an early grave by battling to be the very top person in your field), you have gone about as far as you’re going to go. So you settle in and serve as the adult on each account, parsing out wisdom that helps younger workers get a little more perspective. But you have lost eye contact with management (unless, of course, you ARE management.) This by no means indicates you are no longer contributing — in fact, you are often just the right mix of experience and contacts to be your MOST productive in your 50s and 60s. But you are also taking up a step on the ladder that those behind you aspire to climb — and you keep saying annoying things like “What ever happened to real music like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young?” and “Nobody ever got fired for buying CBS.”
You haven’t posted on Facebook in eight years, you have yet to set up an account on Instagram, Pinterest, Pericope, Snapchat, or Meerkat — and you keep trying to reach your kids on email, wondering why they only answer by text. Your tweets are so lame that you have only 43 followers — and 35 of them are automated bots reselling your traffic to advertisers. You shave every day. Tuck in your shirt. Wear leather shoes (and socks!) And still think a great lunch is a 42-ounce porterhouse. You look like a moron when you wear biking pants (or Lululemons), and are the only one in the office who belongs to a country club.
On the other hand, you have been there and done that. What looks to everyone else like something new under the sun is only a variation of something you saw 12 years ago. You know how to manage up as well as down — and when you do something truly odd like make sure phone call, someone actually answers it. You don’t freak out and throw tantrums, you just work around the roadblocks and get the job done, not caring who gets the credit. You stopped gossiping about 15 years ago — and have so much on your resume that the hard times are not as catastrophic as they are to some of the younger kids around you.
You never refuse the colleague whose kid just graduated and needs some help with his resume or introductions. Instead, you listen to their career goals and make the phone calls that change their lives — and don’t get terribly upset when they fail to thank you.
When the building is on fire, you are the only one not running over everybody else to get to the door. Instead, you’re the one who stands on a desk and says, “Everyone calm down and walk to the sound of my voice. We will all be okay.”
You are one of the few in the office who has managed to balance work and life away from the office — because you have kids, and they need you more than the clients do.
So here’s to everyone who is over 50 and over 60. You don’t need your photo in a magazine to know that you have done just fine.