Category Archives: ageism

How to Open a Generational Conversation

0 Last night Susan Brooks, founder of Cookies From Home, whose successful exit in 2010 after a quarter century in business was envied by a community still reeling from the Great Recession, came and spoke to my Digital Media Entrepreneurship class at Cronkite. Susan, who is now a consultant to woman business owners, and her husband Barry, who is a Zumba teacher, are soon celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.

Do the math.  It’s enough to show you the difference between aging in the past and aging in the future.

Above is a photo taken by one 70+ woman of another 70+ woman. The first woman, the professor, is a user of Snapchat, an app for the “younger” demographic. The second woman, the entrepreneur, has the fiery red hair and the high energy that propelled her into a nationwide success from baking cookies, offers her experience.

As I said last night, we’re at an inflection point in our treatment of aging and ageism. We still have ageism ingrained in the culture, but more and more there’s a cognitive dissonance between what younger people consider as old and what “old” really connotes. We need a new word for this: perhaps you are not “old” until you are terminally ill? Or infirm? Or unwilling to participate in the pace of change around you?

We began to get into this question in my Digital Media Entrepreneurship class, where one of the students has a business idea that could span three generations and open up the conversation among them. I hope she gets the company launched; she could really change the dialogue. It would be fantastic if a journalism student defined one of the 21st century functions of journalism!

You Create Your Own Ageist World

screen-shot-2016-09-18-at-12-48-26-pmI don’t know if I am writing this for you, dear Reader — as they used to say back in the day — or for me. But I’m writing it to call attention to negative stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others,  and how they can influence our lives. We all do it; I’m no less guilty than you are.

Right now, changes are going on in my family because my son is getting a divorce. Those are the facts. But as I’ve been watching him and the woman he has been married to for nine years prepare to live separately, it has been amazing to see the gyrations they’ve been going through.

Here, after all, are two people who know each other pretty well, and yet the accusations fly back and forth, and all trust seems to have vanished one day, returned the next, and vanished again.

All the while, nothing has changed in the facts. He’s still the same man, she’s still the same woman, the law is the law, and they have two kids. And yet their divorce, like all divorces, has produced dozens of negative stories and incidences of negative self-talk. It’s all so clear to me that the negative stories they tell themselves are doing a disservice to both of them and probably to their children.

I’m really able to see this going on. Why? Because it’s not about me.  As soon as it becomes about me, I’m blinded by my own negative stories.

I’m reminded of two summers ago, when my daughter and her husband invited me to vacation with them and my grandson at a camp in Brittany, France.  Europeans often goin on family vacations where they camp. Most of them live in cities, and this gives a chance to get out into nature.

Any outside observer would have said, “you lucky woman! You have a daughter and son-in-law who are going to take you on a vacation in Europe. You must be the most fortunate person in the world!”

Not me! My negative story started immediately: “how am I ever going to sleep in a tent?” (We didn’t. They rented a mobile home.) “What will I do without Starbucks and a city in the immediate vicinity? I’ll be like a fish out of water.” (This was for all of one week).

And the worst of them all: “I’m too old to do all these things. I can’t swim, I don’t play tennis anymore, I can’t canoe, I don’t dance….” and so on ad nauseum, to the point where when we actually got to the place and checked in, I began to cry.

Fortunately, my daughter does not let me continue with my negative stories for very long; she runs out of patience with them. So she said to me, “every year you go to this conference, YxYY (Yes and Yes Yes) conceived by and for people who say yes. So shouldn’t you be saying “Oui and Oui Oui?”

Of course that’s true; I’d attended three of those conferences in Palm Springs dedicated to being a positive force for other people. So what was I doing now? That dissolved my negativity and I ended up canoeing, swimming, hiking, dancing, and going for a week without Starbucks.

At the end of that week, I came to yet another realization; I was creating my own ageism, directed toward myself. If I can’t face me without thinking I was old, how can I expect anyone else to do any different.

We create the reality around us. Don’t ever let anyone tell you we don’t. And if we want to re-define aging, we have to begin inside ourselves.


A Man’s Take on Ageism

Ageism works in many different ways. It’s like a lot of other destructive “isms” – sexism, racism – based on assumptions, stereotypes and projections of our own fears and failings. Some are barely subtle, like “you look good for your age.”  Other kinds of Ageism are more overt.

For instance – ever hear this one?

“The sexual peak for men is about 18 years a old, and for women around 30 years old.”

This falls under Hitler’s “Big Lie”  – (“tell a lie big enough and often enough and everyone will believe it”). There are many of these Big Lie’s in all “isms” – particularly in Ageism. But let’s start with that one.

This sexual peak quip seems to have originated from the 1950’s.  Dr. Kinsey, did you get anything right?  He wrongly equated hormonal peak with sexual prime. But I suspect this concept proliferated because a lot of men in the 1950’s embraced this factoid as a way of explaining their own behavior, or lack of performance.

Modern Research is pretty clear that the overall physical peak for both men and women is in their early 30’s. But let’s be clear about the use of the term “physical peak” and its implications:

Physical peak generally means you can be at your best in your early-to-mid 30’s – or primed  to be at your best physical shape at this age.

Think about the best professional athletes out there – not Olympiads who train for a single performance every 4 years – but professional athletes who train to compete almost continuously. While there are many who burst on to the scene like a phenomenon in their early 20s, most of the lasting-legends hit their peak-stride (their best performances) while in their 30’s.  Think through your favorite sports, and favorite legends: Serena and Venus Williams? Muhammad Ali? Michael Jordan? Derek Jeter? The list is very long. Sure, there are exceptions, younger, older – but the bell curve for peak performance is very wide for the mid-30’s.

But so what? These are professionals and outliers. Not exactly. This “peak physical shape” assertion just means that – whatever kind of shape you are in your mid thirties is like a multiplier – it will determine how fit you will be for the rest of your life. The downside is that, if you start getting sedentary and out of shape at this time of your life – this will stick, too.  Part of this is physical, and part of it is lifestyle (mental) – ie. habits, routine etc.

What usually happens to most people is, by the time they hit mid-thirties, they have major lifestyle changes:  Steady job, spouse maybe some kids, easier hobbies and habits like watching TV – that preclude exercising as regularly, or as intensely. Then it’s a downward cycle. Your body adapts and gets used to it. This was very commonplace in the 50’s and 60’s and earlier, when getting married and settling down was common, and expected.

But since the 1970’s -we’ve become a fitness society. Gyms are on every corner, aerobics classes, yoga, spinning,running, using our Fitbits, Jawbones and Garmins.  Ever look at a photo of a 40 year old from the 1950’s? They look liked a senior citizen.

Want to see what 40 looks like today? Look at Leonardo Dicaprio and Reese Witherspoon. Jennifer Aniston is 47 and Julia Roberts is 48; Hugh Jackman is 47; Matt Damon and Mark Whalberg are 45.

Want to see what 50 looks like today?  Look at Brad Pitt, 52 or Michelle Obama – same age. Think Johnny Depp is sexy?  53; Tom Cruise,  George Clooney are both 55 years old; Bruce Willis and Liam Neeson – who both still do action movies are in their 60s; Denzel Washington?  61.

Harrison Ford made the last Indiana Jones movie (The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) – doing some of his own stunts AND with his shirt off – when he was 66 years old. Robert Redford just turned 80, and Clint Eastwood is still attracting and dating much younger women – at age 86.

Remember Sean Connery? He beat out some pretty-boys and beefcakes to be named People’s Sexiest Man Alive at age 59 – and Sexiest Man of the Century, at age 69. One more: Barack Obama – 55 years old.

These are not freaks of nature. And this is not about people whose jobs are centered around being professionally good-looking. This is just who we are now.  It’s who we all are now.

It reflects how much better we are keeping in shape. Maybe it is the proliferation of fitness options, or nutritional products.  Or, maybe the bar has been raised since we’re such an image-conscious society. The fact is that we are living longer, and taking care of ourselves and are in better shape.  And if you’re keeping fit during your mid-30’s, chances are you’ll remain fit and health for the rest of your life.

The modern cliche “40 is the new 30” is passe. Today, it’s “50 is the new 30”, and in many cases 60, 70 and beyond. Ageism, well, this is soon to be outed as mere jealously, because that 20-something is nowhere near their peak yet.