I quipped the other night when speaking to a local women’s networking group that one of the good things about getting older, is that I care less and get braver about calling things out. If I’m honest, I don’t always walk the talk in this respect as am aware that in an older woman this behaviour can come across as aggressive, rather than assertive.
I have a wealth of life experience yet I am increasingly conscious of how I am perceived in an industry that seeks out new young acts. Maybe we can change perceptions by encouraging more older women, post 50, to stand up and perform comedy? This will also help people to realise that we have vibrant productive lives whether we are the CEOs of large corporations or caring for grandchildren, just as our male contemporaries are ‘allowed’ to do.
A few weeks ago, I was subjected to an unpleasant verbal beating by a young man who I very much like and respect. he shouted at me down the phone, would not let me get a word in edgeways and then told me to stop shouting at him. I wasn’t. To be honest, I was too shocked to speak. He was angry about something I had allegedly said about him to ‘people’. I hadn’t. He wouldn’t even accept the apology that I proffered in respect of what he thought I had been saying about him.
I was left shell shocked and had to take some time to process what actually happened and a few days on from the episode I finally confided in a good friend about the exchange. I remarked to her that I didn’t think he would have behaved in the same way if I had been a younger woman, and that he wouldn’t have spoken like this to another man. She responded that if I had been a younger woman he probably would have patronised me instead.
Now I’m out and proud about my age and accepted my own kids shouting at me in frustration when they were younger but was shocked that being an older woman might have triggered an oddly ageist reaction. It did feel like I was dealing with an irate teenager of the you-don’t–understand-me, toys-out-of-the-pram variety. The young man in question only saw and heard what he wanted to believe about me and refused to listen.
I really work hard not to succumb to the invisibility cloak of middle-age so I am saddened by the prospect of not being heard as well as not being seen. As you get older, do your opinions and reasoning have as much validity as those of your younger contemporaries? Or are we just a ‘system’ to be railed against by the next generation? Is it only a female thing?
I was brought up to respect my elders, in particular the people that I worked for and interacted with during my early career who gave me great advice and passed on invaluable information still valid today. I also hugely respect the fact that today’s generation have new knowledge and skills to pass back to us so I welcome any opportunity to learn as much as to instruct. I am really keen on the concept of reverse mentoring to help us communicate effectively across the generations.
I am putting this to the test by mentoring an amazing young woman who set up her own PR consultancy earlier this year. We met at a networking event which I had previously been nervous about attending based on the fact that I thought it was aimed at young, creative entrepreneurs. Its founder encouraged me to attend and although I was probably the oldest person there, I was welcomed warmly and made the connection with my new mentee. I have 25 years of running a PR business to exchange for her skills and experience of a new world of communications fueled by social media.
Yes, I am twice her age but I recognise her passion and vitality for life on the cusp of new adventures both personally and professionally. It made me realise how lucky I am to have had similar opportunities and the support of my elders when I was at a similar crossroads in my life. We had more in common that I could have ever believed.
I am still smarting from my encounter with the younger man so this is my way of calling it out. I really care about my working relationships with people of all ages and I largely remain open minded about how they respond to me. We all have bad days after all.
The biggest gift we can give anybody is to listen to them, whatever their age, opinion and ability in the hope that they will listen back to us. If they don’t then they will never find out what we really think about them, will they?