Paolina Milana, Author & Founder of MadnessToMagic.com
Dismissed, discarded, devalued, discouraged: The injustices, inequities, and challenges of aging are very real. Body image and identity – especially in women over the age of 50 – are negatively skewed with every birthday we celebrate (or keep secret). Even self-made millionaire and social media influencer Gary Vaynerchuk has championed the conversation around getting older and ageism. The fact still remains, however, that in the rise of technology, youth and perceived agility are prized over the number of years one has lived and the stereotype that senior status equates to technological illiteracy. Age discrimination in the workplace happens with regular frequency, and while recruiters and employers and officials acknowledge it, at least in private, the discriminatory practices continue, causing anxiety and fear among those no longer considered to be in the prime of life.
Add to that the isolation and loneliness that this pandemic has delivered with its social distancing safeguards and being “seasoned” in today’s society may leave us with a bitter taste.
My book “Seriously! Are We THERE Yet?!” is a product of my own experience with having been unceremoniously dismissed and discarded from my job, the very thing I thought defined me. At the age of 52, I unexpectedly found myself the one place I never thought I’d be: Unemployed, without a plan or even a paycheck, questioning my purpose and my worth. I sat quite uncomfortably between what was no longer and what was yet to be. Compounding the issue was the fact that I had risen to the level of corner office, fancy title, working as part of a team, in a position as leader and in a season in life when I expected to hear something similar to my GPS proclaiming, “You have arrived.” Instead, what rang in my head were the words I whispered to myself: “You f**ked up” and “Who do you think you are?” It’s why this book started out as a bit of a rant with its original title being, “Are We The F**k There Yet?!” as the constant war within me of why I wasn’t where I thought I already “shoulda”, “coulda”, or “woulda” be raged on.
While writing the book, I quickly learned I wasn’t alone with my thoughts and feelings. My coaching clients, colleagues and friends – people of all ages – shared that they, too, felt the same way, which then led to work on a documentary about the challenges of aging, parts of which have made it into the book trailer.
One of the people who loved the book saying: “A terrific reminder to those of us who’ve been knocked down that life is still happening! It’s here and now! So time to get out of our own way and ‘Go. Do. Be’ !” — is Sue Scott, Creator of “Island of Discarded Women” podcast, public radio veteran, and Character actor. She’s also someone who knows first-hand about being dismissed due to age and about reinventing herself to bigger and better. As quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sue’s self-esteem took a serious hit when she was let go from her “Prairie Home” radio show. “You are banished, you and your decrepit, old-lady voice,” she joked. But that event led her to create “Island of Discarded Women.” The podcast that in pre-COVID times is performed in front of a live audience and is part throwback radio show and part cabaret is one of my (and so many others’) favorites.
Turning the tide on ageism and feelings of being devalued, dismissed, all on your own, and discarded is done by remembering who you are and valuing what you are worth. Experience is not to be discounted. Someone else’s inability to see your worth doesn’t diminish your value. And it isn’t your age that matters at all. Nor is it what latest tech tool you’ve mastered. What it really comes down to is the life you’ve lived in as many years and the lessons you’ve learned that have made you YOU and that you can pass on. And just because one chapter has come to an end doesn’t mean your story is over.
The International Day of Older Persons (October 1) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Its aim is to raise awareness of the impact of an ageing population and the need to ensure that people can grow old with dignity and continue to participate in society as citizens with full rights, and to recognize and celebrate the major contributions older persons make to society. Too many seniors are forgotten and even shut away, their wisdom and learnings lost to us by doing so. Likewise, too many older persons accept being tossed aside, giving in and giving up, assuming it’s too late and “game over”!
But this much I know to be true: Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying. This famous line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption underscores our available choices in any situation. We can be proactive and do something (get busy living) or accept things as they are and do nothing (get busy dying). The beauty of being older, in case this point isn’t already clear, is that we have a lifetime full of experiences upon which to draw and use to launch us into whatever the next chapter of our lives might be. It isn’t over ‘til it’s over. There’s so much more ahead, no matter where you’re at right now. The journey is, indeed, still on.