Since my piece about older workers appeared in the New York Times last weekend, I’ve been deluged with emails. None touched me more than this one from a man named Tony, who lives on Long Island:
Thank you so much for your eye-opening Op Ed in the Sunday Times. I turned 65 in June of this year and I’ve been having a difficult time of it. I’m depressed, back in therapy, and struggling at work wondering why I’ve applied for countless positions internally, and externally, all of which I’m more than qualified for. If interviewed at all, all I got was “ We’ll be in Touch.” Before reading your Op Ed yesterday, I’ve never heard or thought of ‘ageism.” I now know what’s been going on at my job.
I work in a major hospital in New York with 6 years tenure. I’m a Senior Program Manger, in Quality Assurance. Over the last two years, three of the most dedicated of my colleagues, who were over the age of 65, have been laid off.
I was the last man standing. I covered everyone’s assignments for 18 months. Over time, new younger staff have been hired and now I feel I’m being sidelined, marginalized and ignored. Before reading your OpEd and visiting your web site I thought it was me, that is was my problem and that maybe I’ve been unrealistic in my expectations of wanting a promotion because I’m too old now. I’m in distress because there is no way I can retire due to financial considerations at this time.
Your OpEd may have changed my life, it’s opened my eyes to the possibility that I’ve been validated in what I see happing at work and that my concerns just may be valid. I won’t be silent about ageism or age discrimination.
This is why I do the work I do. Ageism is still so pervasive and unchallenged that lots of people, like Tony, don’t even know it exists. They’re unlikely to realize that feelings of personal inadequacy, like the ones that have mired Tony in depression, are actually a result of being discriminated against.
This is why consciousness-raising (CR) is so important.Think of it as a mindset alteration. Consciousness-raising is the tool that catalyzed the women’s movement. It uses the power of personal experiences to unpack unconscious prejudices and to call for social change. Participants meet in groups that use personal testimonies—combined experiences—to understand concretely how they are oppressed and who’s doing the oppressing. CR groups allow participants to express feelings they may have dismissed as unimportant, or unique to them. By sharing their truths, vulnerabilities, and experiences, participants become more aware of how they feel and what forces shape those feelings. This shows us how “personal problems”—not being able to land an interview, being ignored or passed over, feeling marginalized—are actually widely shared political problems that require collective action.
Download Who Me, Ageist?, my guide to starting a CR group around age bias. If groups aren’t your thing, read my book, This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism. Read the reviews if you need convincing that it’ll change the way you feel about the rest of your life. All change starts with awareness. Once we start to see how ageism making growing older in America so much harder than it has to be, we see it everywhere. And there’s no getting that genie back in the bottle.