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Competing against the young

January 9, 2012 | 11 Comments

To the host:

Today, I heard a commentator say that young graduates entering the work force will have to compete against people their parents' and grandparents' ages. I am one of those older folk needing to re-invent myself & I hate the thought of posing a threat to young people. What is a good way to proceed to keep out of their paths, while creating steps of my own?

Kathryn Cogswell
Ashland, OR


We older folk who aren't ready to retire are indeed competing against the young. I, for example, am standing squarely in the path of some 22-year-old who wants to be the host of a Saturday evening variety show. I have no qualms about that whatsoever. The old lion comes to the carcass of the wildebeest and feeds and bats away the young cubs and yearlings until, one day, they shove him away and he crawls off into a canebrake and perishes. It's the way of the world. Comedy is a young person's game and nobody is very funny past the age of 40. I am hanging onto the ledge by my fingertips and one day some punk with hard soles is going to stomp on my aged fingers and I will drop to the rocks far below. But I refuse to jump.


Well said. Never give up. Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten. This would be Mrs. Lightner's kindergarten where one's ear was pulled if one did not finish our milk. If I did not use my glue, someone else would eat it for me. We were taught to compete. Losers did not win trophies. I can multiply numbers in my head faster than a kid can text "OMG". So to Kathryn I say: take your path and teach the young folks to compete for their own path, don't give it away to them. After you create your path, mentor the young folks. Good luck.

It seems to me there's room for everyone! New "jobs" are being invented daily. It's about wanting to succeed and being willing to work. I'm 61 years young and beginning work on my Master's Degree so when I can no longer get on the floor with my pre-school class, I can teach others what I learned. Reinvent yourself -- the world is wide open!!
San Clemente, CA

On the other hand, many employers have shown themselves only too willing to replace the older, experienced worker with a younger and cheaper one, so I doubt that anybody is having too great a time of it lately. A lot of jobs appear to be gone for good, so the worker who can reinvent him- or herself will be ahead of the game -- and older workers have an edge here with a lifetime of experience in self-reinvention. Besides, most of us oldsters don't have parents' basements to move into, so we have the edge in motivation as well.

Graduate of the School of Hard Nuns
("Where None of Us Was Above Average")

I am an old philosopher yearning to retire and contemplate great truths under spacious Western skies. And there are ever more philosophy PhDs chasing ever fewer jobs, because of senescent fools like me. But my dissertation students won't finish with their dissertating, so that I can move on. And too many undergraduates couldn't recognize a fallacy if they fell over it, not to mention complete sentences or grammatical subjects, even main verbs. Instead of welcoming the younger generation, as we are supposed to do, I fear Pope's dismal vision: "Lo! thy dread Empire, Chaos! is restored; Light dies before they uncreating word; Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall, And universal Darkness buries All."

Don't think jobs - think fulfillment! In my 70's I have discovered my artistic side. Actually, I knew it was there all along, but didn't have time to nurture it. Now I do, and have become a rabid painter of scenes and faces, becoming more daring and experimental as I progress. I am also up to my elbows in mud, most of which turns into dishes, busts, sculptures and assorted thingamajigs. I have let my inner child run wild, and in exchange, every birthday, I subtract a year. I also write poetry and have read at poetry slams with no ill effects (nobody threw anything) It's a good life!

Learn in the Spring of life. Teach in the Autumn and relax and enjoy in the Winter. Does this help?

Much to my chagrin I began my own reinvention shortly after turning forty, by returning to college and becoming a skilled and inventive information technology administrator. Unfortunately, the skill and inventiveness of tens of thousands of inside traders, housing lenders, and ponzi kings like Bernie Madoff wreaked such havoc on our economy that all my professional hard work was rewarded with a pink slip in the crash of 2008. And whilst every hiring manager is cognizant of the truth of my situation, that I was “last-hired, first-fired”, in every interview the gray hairs on my 50-year-old head relegate me to second-class status. I admit the kids are fast and furious technicians, having grown up with X-Boxes and Apple laptops for nannies; but that’s not everything. So how does a middle-ager like myself profit today from old-school talents, like relationship-building, that these youngsters will likely not learn for another twenty years? Does working smarter, not harder, still apply?

When I worked for the Dept of Social Services doing three caseloads of work instead of one, I was always told I was one of the best men they'd ever hired. This over-work for one paycheck, went on for nearly thirty years, however, without promotions, raises in pay or better benefits. Those of us who hung in there were devoted to their jobs and the families whose lives they continually improved. Our own lives, on the other hand, always stayed the same. It was like working on a mission field in Africa. Every member of our families had to work, for us to make it from month to month. We never qualified for food stamps or unemployment, but almost. Then in the early 90's came downsizing and outsourcing in government work. Very young supervisors were hired who had no experience whatsoever. They began to tell all the older staff members like me that we'd never known how to do our jobs effectively, so we would now have to learn the new ways from them or leave. Retire early, or be fired. Anyone who appealed their decisions was immediately ridiculed, bullied and given even more work to do. Eventually, one's mental and physical health began to suffer and fall apart. It was no use. They were taking my job from me without reason, in order to give it to an 18 year niece of one of the bosses who wanted the job. She didn't want to wait or have to work at McDonalds or Walmart, it was beneath her. She wanted to start at the top. She didn't quite manage that but she did slip me out of my 30 year job, ruin my health, and make me angry and bitter. I never dreamed of acting that way when I was young; you just didn't do it, it wasn't proper. You also didn't tell everybody who was over 50 that they were worthless and ought to be dead. I grew up in another world. Now my family is proud that I've become a fulltime artist and writer, something I've always sought to do. I am 67 and we rely on our fixed incomes, and now the young people want to do away with that! When is someone going to tell them, they are going to have to wait for their turn, just like everyone else? Or, are we way too early, turning over this country to a bunch of hooligans? What would people have said in 1960 if we'd turned the Congress over to the hippies? You probably know. John D.

Well said Kate.

As have many, many of us, I've watched political campaignes, especially for "president," since the 50's and it's difficult to totally agree with no one being funny past the age of 40.

Being 26 in a world that is changing very quickly, I too feel old. I'm a musician who needs my 18 year old brother to put clips on youtube for me! I've a friend whose mother was laid off for not keeping up with technology- that's a stressful situation to be in and I'm sorry that it's a struggle for you. I can lend you my little brother if you want :) All the best to you,
PS GK, if anybody is doing that to you, my brother is big and useful in that department as well- although OSHA would say, in standing so close to the edge, we should be tied off anyway. :) we love you.

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