U.S. government, public domain
Source: U.S. government, public domain

We all know people who look and act younger than their chronological age. Indeed, I have clients 50, 60, and even 70+ who are as or more productive than most much younger people. Such people also tend to look younger—cell robustness doesn’t stop at the dermis.

While even such people may experience age discrimination, it can often be countered by their selling their age as a plus—especially their knowledge and wisdom that accrued over decades.

Alas, for some of us, our genes and lifestyle haven't smiled on us as beneficently.

So the first step in deciding how to handle aging and your career is an honest self-assessment. That will help you decide how ambitious to be in job responsibilities, compensation, etc. These questions, honestly answered, should tease out your reality:

Compared with your colleagues ages 30 to 50, how would you compare:

  • How quickly you learn new things?
  • Your ability to hold multiple thoughts in mind so you can solve complex problems?
  • Your short-term memory?
  • Your ability to put in a fully productive work day?

Now let’s look at some not-physiological factors:

  • Are you reasonably up-to-speed on the technical material needed for your work: software, scientific knowledge, etc.?
  • How willing and able are you to fit into a younger workplace culture?
  • How accepting would you be of a younger boss?

Scoring rubrics impose false precision, so simply rate your employability overall across all those questions.

  • Should your work goal be more ambitious than in the past? If so, how?
  • Should your work remain at your current level of ambition but perhaps be ambitious differently, for example, more management and less technical, or move to a new sector: non-profit, government, or for-profit?
  • Should you be less ambitious? How so? 
  • Or should you retire? We all reach a point when we’d be wise to pass the mantle to the next generation, thereby giving ourselves more time for other activities.

Staying in the game

Assuming you want to stay employed, don’t be defensive about your age. To the extent it’s true, do sell it as a strength: that aforementioned enriched knowledge base and wisdom that often comes with all those wrinkles.

For both perception and substance, it's important to keep current with need-to-know and perhaps good-to-know knowledge in your field. Should you read more articles? Attend webinars? Conferences? Hire a tutor, perhaps on software or other technology? Take a course? Even a certificate’s worth? Focused, on-target learning is a wise investment at any age but especially so if you're worried you might be viewed as obsolete.

Lookist that homo sapien is, it also helps to look vital, not like deadwood. That means dressing well but not too well—old people do that. Also, dress in a style that’s timeless or is reasonably current although certainly don't try to look like a teeny-bopper. Looking young also means striding rather than trudging. And it means posture: Old people hunch, young ones don’t. When speaking, especially when nervous, breathing tends to be shallow, which makes your voice sound weak. Breathe. And it can’t hurt to use “The Obama Chin:” Especially when he was saying something controversial, he raised his chin slightly. It gives the appearance of strength and confidence.

Pain enervates, so if you have, for example, back pain or arthritis, be sure you’ve optimized your pain management: Do your exercises and if you don’t have good ones, should you visit a physical therapist? Also, if needed, take the optimal pain medication and if you’re not sure what that is, see your doc or get a consultation with a pain management specialist.

Change career?

Perhaps it’s because I’m an inferior career coach but I have had limited success in helping people 50+ to make a major career change. Usually, they end up just pivoting: changing their job description to emphasize their strengths, moving to a more felicitous workplace but doing similar work, and/or augmenting their out-of-work life: avocation, relationships, replacing substance abuse with more salubrious recreation.

Retire?

Some people retire cold-turkey while others use a glide path: They offload onerous tasks or cut back to part-time.

As you find yourself with more non-work time, you may find you fill your days effortlessly.  If not, which, if any of these, should you pursue? Volunteer work such as board membership or mentoring, for example, through SCORE or your alma mater, writing a blog or the Great American Novel, visual art, more time with friends and family,  home improvement projects, reading, watching TV and movies, playing or watching a sport, or travel?

Can you afford to retire? More people could, if they're willing to cut expenses. The most likely sources of saving are housing and education. Should you downscale your housing, not only in size but in quality of neighborhood? That could save you a fortune and, in reality, your risk of getting attacked is trivially greater in a not-great neighborhood. Another major way to save is on education. Fact is, it matters far more whether a student makes the most of a school or college than which s/he attends. Community college, for example, offers most of what expensive colleges do. Yes, the average student is weaker but even at community colleges, there are patches of Ivy: honors programs, difficult courses, and extracurriculars such as the student newspaper and student government. And courses tends to be better at community colleges because the faculty is hired mainly on teaching ability not how much esoteric research they conduct.

The takeaway

One size does not fit all. Your chronological age only moderately correlates with your physiological age. And your work experience could compensate: Some people have learned a lot over the decades. Key to aging well—in and out of the workplace–is honest self-appraisal. If you can’t do that well enough yourself, consider asking for candid feedback from trusted colleagues. You can do that anonymously with Checkster's Talent Checkup.

HERE is the link to an article for employees 50+ that focuses on landing a job.

The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.

You are reading

How To Do Life

Terry’s Tale

A career searcher’s saga

Hands-On Careers

The fourth in a series on interesting careers.

Careers for Data-Oriented People

The third in a series on interesting careers.