Unplugging and plugging back in, if there’s an outlet.

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Welcome to the second installment of ‘Now We Are 50’ a new monthly column about the stage in life when children are grown, careers have happened — or not — and we wonder, ‘What’s next?’

Twice this summer my younger son’s smartphone has mysteriously stopped working, and he’s had to get replacements through snail mail. As a result, he’s been without a phone for a few days at a time, most recently six in a row.

He had to drive himself to his job in Columbia without GPS. On the commute, he had to rely on the radio where he didn’t have total control over the playlist. And once at work, he had to do a few menial tasks on his own in silence, no ear buds dangling around his neck. His friends even had to go hours without a Snapchat story from him.

It’s almost as if it were olden times.

Although he thought this was a real bummer, I didn’t throw him a pity party. Imagine, I told him one morning, I survived every day like this when I was your age. But it isn’t about me. I am a mom, old, and he’s at an age where my reminiscences may be quaint but mostly seem irrelevant.

I am not totally without sympathy, however. In this day and age the pace of technology, of information, is so fast it can feel almost frightening to be disconnected, especially as a teenager. But also as an adult, from olden times.

I am thinking about this because recently I too have unplugged, albeit voluntarily. I’ve stepped out of the workforce – from a job I’ve had for ten-plus years — to catch my breath. This seemed like a good idea to me when I made the decision back in the spring. To take a little time to think about the next chapter of my life.

But it’s dawning on me this summer – as I cruise Linked In, as I read articles about the economy and employment – that I’ll now be looking for a job as a different candidate than I’ve ever been before. I’ll be 50-something. Stepping back into the market, making a sale, may not be so easy.

If you’re fifty-something yourself, you may think like me that your age is one of your greatest assets. You have experience. A track record of success. You are wise, practical. You have twenty-plus years more to give at work, to produce. And you’re excited about it.

Apparently, the workforce might not be AS excited, especially if you’re a woman and looking to make a change, or try something different. In one of her studies, economist Joanna Lahey discovered that “younger workers were about 40 percent more likely to be called back for an interview for entry-level jobs than older workers.” Younger than 35 that is. So much for all that wisdom.

Ageism is a thing. Google it (or use your Google machine, as an elderly acquaintance calls it). According to a recent article in the Washington Post, “At a time when conditions have vastly improved for women, gay people, disabled people and minorities in the workplace, prejudice against older workers remains among the most acceptable and pervasive ‘isms.’” 

I have certainly seen this to be the case for “older” folks. I’ve just never considered myself one of those, or that this issue would potentially be mine one day. How is it that we think we can avoid the inevitable? I look in the mirror, and I’m still me. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m meant to do; how I’ll make a mark in the world; how I can help solve problems. Same as last decade, and the one before that. Only time’s catching up, and the world might no longer be interested.

When I turned fifty, a friend of mine posted on my Facebook page (the platform we old folks enjoy though I’m considering a boycott after reading that Mark Zuckerberg once said “Young people are just smarter”) all of the accomplishments of people over fifty. It made me happy.

Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50. Ray Kroc bought McDonald’s when he was 59 years old. And Charles Darwin was 50 before he wrote, “On the Origin of Species.” A few nights ago a 54-year-old Olympic table tennis player prevailed in a match against his opponent, all of 19.

There’s still hope!

I have a young cousin who is a headhunter in New York. We joked this past spring about my upcoming job search. If I take the dates off my graduations, my former jobs, and subtract the ten years I was a stay-at-home mom, my resume looks pretty spiffy. Hopefully, no one would notice that the places I worked for in the 90s no longer exist.

Photo retouching is easy — there’s an app and I know how to use it! Subtract my wrinkles and spots and pan out, I don’t look so bad. Maybe I could get forty. Not quite a digital native, but certainly savvy (I won’t admit that I don’t understand some of the lingo in the job descriptions she posts.)

But don’t worry dear future employer – I will not actually try to fool you. Because I honestly believe every moment of my journey has helped me to be a better job candidate.

Mark Zuckerberg stressed ten years ago “the importance of being young and technical” as a condition of employment. But even he’s maturing. He’s married with a child. His giant Facebook has proven to be more popular with people my age than his, the “longevity market” as we’re called. According to comScore, “The aging of Facebook is more apparent than ever. Less than two-fifths of Facebook’s adult user base in the U.S. is aged 18 to 34.” Facebook’s selling products full tilt to the fifty-plus crowd online. They could use our insight!

Zuckerberg will get here one day too. It’s inevitable Mark! Maybe he’ll even reminisce about the olden times with his kids when their technology – something some “smart” kid is dreaming up as I type – fails for a mysterious reason.

My son learned a few things without his smartphone this summer. Mostly, that he could navigate with his own brain, without being plugged in; that he could get himself where he needed to go, where people were counting on him to be.

It’s a skill I have too. And it’s a good quality in an employee at any age.

P.S. Dear future employer – I also know how to use GPS and SO many other technologies when necessary!

Christine Kouwenhoven

Christine Kouwenhoven is a local freelance writer.She writes the column "Now We Are 50" every second Tuesday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. You don’t have to compete with young people entering the workforce. You have such an advantage over them. How do I know? The answer is in “Roland Park Reflections on The Riots” that you wrote last spring. It begins, “From my bedroom in my big house at the top of a hill.” Your neighbors are all relatively rich and have big jobs around town. Let us all know how you get your new job. I’ll bet you a dollar, your resume will be a formality because a friend, relative, neighbor, or business associate will hook you up. That’s how it works, but I’m sure you know that already.

    • Pam you made a mockery of a well-written piece that makes an important point. But I’m sure you already know that

    • Hi Pam: Rules for comments in the Baltimore Fishbowl are no name calling, no vulgarity, and no personal attacks. This comes very close. Please be kind.

    • Snarky? Maybe, but it’s true. Yes, the writing is good, however; there’s stuff that just doesn’t add up. If you quit your job with no job lined up to replace it, you are making a confident statement about your ability to get a new one. And if you live on a street for many years where the homes are sold by Christies and Sotheby’s it is more than likely that you know some rich and influential people who can help you get a job. Sorry, that’s the world we live in.
      Susan Dunn: It is not an attack to acknowledge a person’s cushy station in life, if she wrote about it herself.

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