Make way for younger folk? No, thank you
She’s 83 years old and still the dynamo she has always been.
She works full time. She volunteers for countless causes. She jogs three miles every morning.
She’s right there to care for her husband, her grandchildren, her pets, her petunias. She’s what all of us should hope we still are in our ninth decades.
Except for her attitude about making way for the next generation. She doesn’t think she should.
We were debating this issue at a party recently, where she was — no surprise — the liveliest guest.
She was describing her latest research project. Midway through, she told me about a 30-something co-worker “who’s trying to eat my lunch.”
This young man “wants and expects me to move aside because I’m as old as his grandmother,” my friend said.
“But why should I do that? I have the credentials. I have the experience. I have the desire. He doesn’t have any of those.
“I think that any job should go to the best qualified person. And if you’ll excuse me, my 60 years of experience make me the best qualified person.”
I’ve run into much the same phenomenon myself, I told my friend. Much younger colleagues/competitors seem to treat me with respect. They hear me out. They credit what I say.
But they are also lurking in the weeds, waiting for me to forget someone’s name (guilty, sometimes) or to fumble a fact (guilty, more than sometimes).
Does that mean I should be put out to pasture, like some wayward colt? My friend says I should resist that with all my might.
I’m torn about the question, and I told her so.
The easy counter-argument: If no one had gotten out of our way when we were young, our careers would have been slower to develop, and might have been stymied completely.
A second argument: If the golden years are going to be golden, we can’t keep hammering away at tasks the way we once did. Those roses need to be smelled, don’t they?
A third: The older we get, the more likely it is that we will need to carve out time to care for an ailing spouse, or our own health woes. There are only 24 hours in a day.
And a fourth: Maybe, just maybe, we aren’t still as good as we think we are.
You’ve heard the old saw about athletes. They always say they’ll know when to hang up their cleats. But they hang on for as long as they can, to the point of embarrassment or past it, because they think that they’re exceptions.
The cringes this produces can be ugly.
A massive error on a computer that loses an entire month’s work (been there, done that).
A refusal to seek help on a project that leads to a major stumble (yup, more than once).
And the one that bites hardest, in many cases: The habit of sticking with old methods and old ideas, when newer ones are obviously needed (repeatedly guilty, your honor).
Now, I told my friend, I’d never argue that shinier is necessarily better. There’s a reason why Shakespeare is still studied, for example.
But we oldies have some social responsibility, don’t we? Even if we don’t entirely vacate the stage, shouldn’t we begin to shuffle off so that younger people can see how hot the hot seat is and learn to adjust?
The world will go on without us. Shouldn’t we help prepare for that?
My friend wasn’t having it. “What you’re arguing,” she said, “is that young people deserve a shot simply because they’re taking up space.
“What if they don’t have a good education? What if they haven’t learned how to work in groups?
“Where I come from, you earn your spurs, and you keep on earning them, for as long as you can.”
I had to agree with one aspect of what my friend was saying. She obviously loves her work. If she didn’t, she’d have fled it at the first opportunity.
“We’ve both known dozens of people who were mid-career and could always tell you how many months/weeks/days/ hours they had left until they could retire,” I said.
“That’s not me,” she replied.
“And we’ve both known people who retire and then say, ‘Now I can do what I always wanted to do.’”
“Not me,” she replied.
“And we’ve both known people who think that going to work is like going to the dentist. Painful drudgery.”
“Not me,” she replied.
I decided to fold my hand. This woman is so full of beans that she’ll outlast everyone within 300 miles.
She is the exception that proves the rule. As long as she can “bring it,” she should keep doing that.
If the rest of us can’t measure up, no shame in that. But let’s salute one woman who thinks she’s as good as ever, and keeps on trucking to prove it.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.