Ageism and age discrimination are real. A colleague who is over 50 shared a question that she was asked in an interview, “Do you think you have the energy for this?”. She is well-qualified, with years of experience. Plus, she was clear about what the job was and, because of that, she chose to interview. Yet, this interviewer assumed because of her age that she could not do it or, perhaps even that she might not know herself well enough. The interviewer had lumped her into a set of assumptions about people over a certain age.
We get angry at this kind of obviously ageist behavior, but there is also an insidious flip side. How often have you heard someone in middle or older age make those assumptions about themselves? “I’m too old for that.” We have internalized ageism.
Just like the sound of the tree falling in the forest, ageism needs a sender and a receiver to become real. Sometimes the sender and the receiver are the same person.
Stop internalizing ageism
Our society thinks about aging in a most unbalanced way. Yes, aging absolutely comes with challenges. But, that is not all that aging is. It also comes with skills, accomplishments, and insight that only years of living can provide. Yet we do not hear much about that.
Everyone does not experience aging in the same way, so why lump everyone into one pile? People age in different ways and on different schedules. Our experiences are varied. Sample any two 60-year-olds and they may be in very different places in terms of health and experience. You probably do not fit all the stereotypes.
Still we continue to put ourselves in a box. We mock our own “senior moments”, as if we didn’t ever forget things until we became older. We act as if it is impossible for us to learn something new, even though studies show that older people absolutely can learn new things (for example, see this and this). Our limited beliefs about aging – ageism against ourselves – make aging worse than it is.
Let’s not perpetrate discrimination on ourselves. Instead of the default assumption that you are too old for something, honestly consider whether you have what it takes. Maybe you do and maybe you don’t, whatever your age is. If we can overcome our prejudices and fear of what we think we are supposed to do, the real answer may surprise us.
We do not have to buy into the idea that aging is all bad. We do not have to stop learning and growing. When we are ageist, we needlessly diminish ourselves. The choice to live up to our potential starts with each of us and that does not diminish with age. The fight against ageism starts with us.
Sara Breindel, Changing the Narrative blogger