DEAR KRISTIN: I work in a small company, and I’m the oldest employee by far. My colleagues are certainly pleasant and professional enough, but I’m beginning to feel like they don’t see me or listen to me with as much care and intention as they do their younger contemporaries.
This is happening at home, too: As I age, my children and grandchildren are beginning to treat me -- what’s the word? -- more “gingerly,” almost like a fragile porcelain figurine or a piece of crystal that could break (or at least crack) at the slightest impact.
The worst part? It’s getting worse! The older I get, the more gingerly I’m being treated -- either that, or ignored completely. At work and at home, when I say something relevant or interesting, everybody looks so SURPRISED, as if they’re thinking, “Wow! Did that great idea or astute observation just come out of HER mouth?”
I’m feeling increasingly demoralized, insulted and resentful. I might be getting on in years, but dammit, don’t throw me out to pasture just yet. I have wisdom to share. Ideas to express. Warnings to issue. Grandchildren to enlighten. Life to live. I know I can’t stop the aging process -- even if I could, I wouldn’t want to -- but this “Handle with Care” crap is getting on my last nerve. I refuse to go gently into that good night. Take my hand and lead me from this place of frustration and resentment. -- I AM NOT INVISIBLE!
DEAR “NOT INVISIBLE!”: First, keep that fire in your belly -- just redirect the flame so that it’s burning positive energy, not negative. Stoke those feelings of frustration in a way that works for you and keeps you focused on remaining seen and heard by others. Try to kick the anger and resentment to the curb, though -- none of us are getting any younger (including you), and we don’t have time to waste carrying around resentments.
You must refuse to become invisible. Do not become complacent or accepting of this treatment. Whether you’re in the office or with your family, speak up. Stand up. Use your words.
Communicate clearly -- and without always being asked or invited, but simply because you feel like you have something to say. And once you’ve said it, if you feel like you’re being ignored or disregarded, share it again, this time more forcefully. (How about something like, “Maybe you didn’t hear me the first time I said it, but ...”)
Remind your colleagues and family members, through your words and your actions, that you do exist. You do matter. You are relevant.
The moment you begin to hang back, to become quieter and more complacent, to lose that fire in your belly and that determination in your spirit, you’re blending into that opaque horizon of invisibility.
Also remember that the folks around you might not even realize what they’re doing. Society has for so long been conditioned to listen to the loudest, the leanest, the strongest and most vocal, that it’s almost instinctive behavior -- so it’s your responsibility to shift this mindset.
I fully realize that not every aged and/or aging person is capable of stepping up with such gusto and flinging the condescension we so often receive back into the faces of the flingers. This is why it’s important for those who can step up to step up ... for all of us.
Remind the people around you that the aged and aging have precious wisdom, experience and knowledge to share, and that this segment of the population brings value and vision to the rest of the world. This population also has tremendous buying power, so to hear us and see us also makes good business.
Getting older should not feel like a punishment, but like the privilege it is.
So stoke that fire, Beloved. Refuse to go gently into that good night. Keep giving ‘em hell. We’re behind you a thousand percent.