The beauty of flipping a calendar page is that as much as we are opening a new chapter, we are also closing an old one. Here are seven things I hope mid-lifers can leave behind in 2014:
1. The uncertainty about our financial futures.
Many mid-lifers continued to squeak by financially in 2014. We lost our financial footing -- our jobs, our homes, our retirement funds -- in the Great Recession and today are getting by, but just barely. We rob Peter to pay Paul each month when the bills come in; we bounce from part-time gig to part-time gig; and some of us count the days to eligibility for Medicare and Social Security, even though we know in our hearts that likely won't change our situation much. A 2013 Fidelity report found that 48 percent of boomers were not going to be able to afford basic expenses in retirement, a figure echoed by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), which declared in 2010 that 47 percent of the oldest boomers were at risk.
2. Age discrimination in hiring.
It zaps our mojo to apply for a zillion jobs and never get as far as a foot-in-the-door interview. And those so-called "failure to hire" cases are notoriously hard to bring and even harder to prove, say the legal experts. We all know age discrimination is going on. We just don't seem to know what to do about it. An AARP study says that two-thirds of older workers reported experiencing age discrimination. A 2009 Supreme Court decision put the burden of proof on workers, who must prove that age was the main factor in a demotion or firing. Having a handful of companies pledge to give older job applicants a good hard look feels like such a drop in the bucket -- when what we should be doing is chasing their tails in court for not doing so in the first place.
When it comes to the employment scene, sadly 50 may be the new 65. Workers in their 50s feel vulnerable because of their higher salaries. According to a 2013 AARP survey, 37 percent of older workers thought that if they were laid off, they wouldn't find another job without taking a pay cut or moving. Of that group, almost 20 percent perceived age discrimination as the reason why.
3. The myth that people over 50 are afraid of technology.
No, we really don't all still have land lines, VCRs or try to order Tabs at the drugstore soda fountain. And yes, I know that drugstores don't have soda fountains anymore; frankly, that's a crying shame.
Some of us do prefer to have actual phone conversations to text exchanges, but everyone does know how to text. We are on social media -- albeit talking amongst ourselves on Facebook. I make no apology for not wanting to spend every waking hour in front of a screen or saying that I prefer faces to screens. But please don't suggest that when I do have a screen in front of me that I don't know what to do with it.
4. The "old worker who won't get out of the way" talk.
Can we please dispense with this already? I grew up being taught to respect my elders. When important family decisions were made, my grandparents were consulted. When my grandparents grew old, they moved in with their adult children who shared the responsibility for their care because to do so was considered an honor. So all this talk about pushing folks out the office door to make room for younger workers eager to start their careers is just, well, bad form at best.
I like to think that we live in a country where age is equated to experience and wisdom; instead, I frequently see disdain for older people. Just last week, I stopped to assist an older woman using a walker. A colleague and I were walking back from lunch and the woman appeared stuck trying to get down a steep driveway. I watched several young guys, cell phones glued to their ears, step around her without stopping. Never mind without stopping: She was totally invisible to them. How did we ever let this happen?
I suspect that the "old worker who won't get out of the way" talk comes because there aren't enough jobs to go around and younger people want someone to blame. Fair enough. But blame the job-creators, not the people who happen to occupy the office you think you want for yourself.
Trust me, most employed people in their 50s and 60s spend every waking moment dreaming and thinking about retirement. Then they look at their savings account and pack a lunch for the next day on the job. We will all move on one day, but be careful what you wish for: That's going to be you supporting us with your tax dollars if you don't let us work and earn our keep. Unless of course you just keep stepping past us on the street like we're invisible.
5. Stupidity, especially the kind that hurts people.
A friend says that asking for an end to stupidity is kind of like asking for world peace. You can hope for it, but it isn't likely to happen in our lifetime. I'd like to start with reality TV shows, especially those that shame people who are fat, untalented or make bad choices. When did we become a culture that got off on embarrassing other people? It's ugly.
Stupid has become a national past-time. We watch cat videos instead of reading books. We let our kids spend hours shooting up people on video games instead of sending them outside to play. We spend entire weekends binge-watching TV shows and then entire lunch hours talking about them with our work friends. Whatever happened to real conversation?
6. Our intolerance of those who disagree.
It used to be that people could have a conversation -- debate, even -- without resorting to name calling and insults. Now, we go from 0 to 60 on the hate scale in seconds. It isn't just politics we argue about; it's everything. Divisiveness reigns. Nobody comes to the discussion with an open mind. It's "my way or the highway and let me scream profanity at you because what are you going to do to stop me anyway? Ha-ha, you asshole."
People! Enough. Stop with the insulting. Stop with the profanity. Stop watching fake TV shows that shame fat people in the name of reality and start getting in touch with your own feelings. And anonymous commenters? Please just go away. Maybe websites can stop chasing reader engagement numbers long enough to own up to their role in contributing to this pickle of ugliness.
7. Judging us by how youthful we appear.
I will be 65 in 2015. You are not complimenting me when you say I don't look my age. You are really saying that it's a good thing not to look 65, even when I point out the obvious that if I'm 65, then this is what 65 looks like.
Aging isn't a bad thing, although I wish someone would design a pair of stylish shoes that were comfortable enough to wear along the aging road. But aging happens to everyone. When I see people my age or younger sticking needles in their faces or undergoing surgeries to look younger, it breaks my heart. I would much rather feel good than look good. I would much rather be able to think clearly than worry about whether I'm getting a turkey neck.
We need to redefine what is beautiful and include ourselves in the definition.
Would you add anything to the list? Let us know in comments.