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You are Not your Age

Reflection of woman looking into a mirror

Sure, you’ve lived a certain number of years. But otherwise, that digit does not define you—or your limitless opportunities in life.

Own your smarts, your success, your wisdom, your humor, and your beauty. Not despite your age. Because of it.

It was a weird moment: I met an Instagram friend for a latte when she visited my town. Our IRL conversation was going swimmingly…until she wrinkled her nose and asked, “Do you mind my asking? How old are you?”

Inside, I flinched, I’ll admit. I was raised not to talk money or age, and besides, what difference should it make whether I’m in my late 50’s (truth!) or late 40s (which my coffee date said I looked when I did the big reveal)? Why did that number matter to her? And why did it make me uncomfortable to say it out loud?

Even if our rational minds tell us otherwise, for many of us, age does define us. We feel oddly disappointed and guilty, not proud, as the years pile up. We delight when we are told we look younger than we are. Simply put, old is not an aspiration.

Portrait Of A Mature Woman With Grey Long Hair In Movement
The root of our agist thinking

It’s not our imagination or touchy egos, and it’s not fair, but society too often ignores or disses us. Gen X women have the highest post-tax incomes and outspend Millennials by 41%. Females 50-plus live in households controlling 60% of our country’s wealth, but advertising rarely speaks to us. We’re told we’re not attractive or desirable. Take a peek at the vitriol aimed at the “Sex and the City” reboot and model Paulina Porizkova’s recent skin-baring shots. “Put it away, Grandma” seems to be the phrase du jour.“We’re conditioned by a society that celebrates youth, filters everything, fixes every wrinkle,” says life coach and author Susie Moore, whose latest book is Let It Be Easy. We’re groomed to consider turning 40, 50, or beyond a slippery slope into invisibility. The work front can be equally tough. Despite women over age 45 comprising almost 44% of the workforce, 64% of females say they’ve experience age discrimination on the job.No wonder we feel as if our age is our identity and limits us.

Full stop! It’s time we all shake off those thoughts. Here’s how to push back in a big way and own your smarts, your success, your wisdom, your humor, and your beauty. Not despite your age. Because of it.

Flip the Script at Work

First, how to lose the "my work life is over" vibe when building your career. Some strategies to try:

1. Acknowledge ageism. “Ageism definitely exists in the workplace, and it’s upsetting and detrimental,” says Lindsey Pollak, a career expert and best-selling author whose latest book is Recalculating: Navigate Your Career Through the Changing World of Work. “Don’t get in your own way and bias people against you. So, never apologize, and ban comments like, ‘I’m probably too old for this role.’ Embrace pride in your age and accomplishments. Express your energy, the uniqueness of your experience, and all you have to offer.”

2. Seek the right settings. When job-hunting, go where you know experience is valued, notes Pollak. “AARP has terrific job boards for those 50 and older.” In terms of on-the-job life, don’t hang back. If younger colleagues organize outings and—oops!—fail to invite you, be the ringleader and organize your own drinks night. Or if you’re running out for coffee, invite a coworker to come along.

3. When passed over, speak up. If you weren’t given that prized data-heavy task at work and think it’s because your boss assumes your mature brain can’t handle anything digital, don’t sit for it. Use curiosity to push back. In a private meeting, say, “I noticed you gave the project to so-and-so and would like to hear more and learn about those kinds of responsibilities,” says Pollak. Admittedly, this may take a little bathroom-mirror practice to avoid coming off as insulted or snide. Tone of voice is everything here.

4. Unpack the limits you feel personally. Love, sexiness, confidence and other facets of your life are primed to thrive, so let's ditch any self-restraints.

5. Hit the rewind button. “Remember your 20-something self, and how insecure you may have been; how you may not have known your worth or how to stand up for yourself,” says Moore. “Wisdom is only gained by life on this planet. Celebrate knowing yourself better now, which is what leads to true happiness and confidence.”

6. Revel in role models. Open your eyes to the amazing women over 40 who are revising perceptions. Not to fawn but as a way of pressure-testing your beliefs. “Deflate your massive generalizations that hurt you,” advises Moore. Think about how many of our “rules” have been proven wrong, like “You can’t make good money without a college degree.” Um, hello, Bill Gates! Whether your role model is Shonda Rhimes, J. Lo, Gwyneth Paltrow, or Stacey Abrams, focus on how no one is saying they can’t be talented, sexy, or powerful due to their age.

7. Be on your own side. Often, when we are upset or disappointed, our interior monologue piles on the bad feelings. “Of course, you didn’t get asked out on a date; you’re too old,” Your inner voice is also capable of offering support and solace when you train it, says Moore. Next time you encounter a setback, tell yourself there’s plenty of good stuff ahead. Remember, whether you’re 18 or 58, your age isn’t a guarantee of anything. Younger people aren’t ensured that things will pan out any more than older folks are. Break away from viewing yourself as a number, and start seeing yourself as the unique and wonderful person you are, forever full of promise.

Janet Siroto
Janet Siroto is a writer and content strategist specializing in lifestyle and wellness topics. She’s held senior editorial positions at Good Housekeeping, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and other titles. She is also a trend tracker whose work has been presented on the main stage at SXSW, WSJ: The Future of Everything, Cannes Lions, and other summits.

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