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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Getting Older Is Cool—Everybody Is Doing It

“Getting older is cool—everybody is doing it.” 

That’s what Nora Moreno Cargie said to me earlier this year when I was interviewing her for a LeadBoston program. 

As I celebrated my birthday yesterday (happy birthday to me!) I remembered that quote and cracked up again.

But then I thought about it, and I realized it’s funny because it’s, well, a joke. Aging isn’t cool. At least, it isn’t treated that way in our culture. Women especially seem to drop in status as we get older. 

This phenomenon comes up sometimes in my workshops. Recently I was working with a group of new managers, discussing the behaviors of managers they had experienced over the years. Which would they want to emulate or avoid? 

I was listening to one small group discussion and heard a participant share how frustrating it is when a senior member of a team isn’t willing to use technology. Failure to use it makes more work for everybody else. 

Others at the table piped in with comments implying that age made it harder for them to learn, that they didn’t want to put in the effort, and that they were stuck in their old way of doing things. 

Now, I can certainly understand the frustration. But I wondered if these young managers were making assumptions about why their older colleagues weren’t using the technology. 

Back in the large group discussion, I probed a little. The participant acknowledged it was possible that the senior colleague had had a bad experience with the tech. Even she admitted it didn’t always work well.

I probably recognized that potential bias because it’s one I’ve caught myself experiencing. Not long after the workshop, I was at the grocery store heading for the checkout lane. When I saw an older person in front of me, I thought for a moment, “Uh oh, this lady will be slow, confused about the buttons, and needing a lot of assistance. I’d better switch lines.”  

Then I paused. I was doing it again—jumping to stereotypes I’d picked up and judging someone unfairly. 

When I stopped to look at my fellow shopper, I could see she was moving with agility, quite able to lift the detergent bottles to the belt, and already had her credit card out to tap on the machine. 

Other cultures revere their elders, and the wisdom they have to share from their experience. What is it about our culture that we have so much trouble embracing this idea? Like all biases, ageism makes us miss out on people’s inherent value. Why sideline people who still have more to give? 

I guess this question feels especially resonant today, as I am a year closer to being one of the elders!


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