Age is all in how you look at it

Age is all in how you look at it

Challenging Age Stereotypes in Leadership

When I was young, around 5 years old, my perspective on age was quite different. My older brother, who was just four years my senior, seemed ancient. My parents, both in their mid-thirties, appeared really old, and my grandparents were considered ancient, while my great-grandparents were almost extinct.

At the age of 12, I applied to be a volunteer at our local fire department. The chief gave me an appraising look and asked, “So you think you can help us out around here?” I confidently replied, “You bet I can!” I became the youngest member of their JR firefighter crew. The chief took a chance on me, allowing me to join the department two years earlier than anyone else. During my time there, I learned valuable lessons and stayed active for quite a while. What I cherished most about being part of the team was the welcoming atmosphere. Everyone appreciated any help, regardless of the task. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was learning to appreciate people of all ages, and I realized that those “old guys” could outwork me every day. It kept me humble in terms of age-related respect.

At 18, I applied for a manager position at a rental car facility. The hiring manager, after reading my resume, called me in for an interview. However, upon meeting me, she hesitated and said, “Your resume made you seem much older, sorry, but I just CAN’T hire someone so young.” Although I left the interview feeling dejected, I believed that bigger plans were in store for me. She later admitted that corporate restrictions prevented her from hiring me due to my age, and she encouraged me to return in a few years. Corporate norms, influenced by societal age perceptions, overrode her initial impression.

This pattern continued through my twenties until I joined an exceptional company. They promptly assigned me a leadership role, and I excelled. They encouraged me to advance, and I accepted the challenge. Once again, through grace, I excelled. Then, our company underwent a buyout, and the new upper leadership admired my approach and communication style. However, with the change in department leadership, the old-school mentality took over – you needed a college degree and a specific age to attain a managerial role. I was never allowed to progress further and eventually founded Eclipse DOT, working for myself.

If you’ve made it this far through my story, you might think it’s about my experiences with age discrimination. We all have stories like mine. I’m sharing this to urge us all to drive change. As we ascend to leadership positions, let’s not overlook younger candidates with great potential in our organizations. Likewise, let’s not disregard older individuals simply because we assume their ideals won’t align with ours. Treat each person as someone capable of getting the job done, regardless of their hair color or age.

Every day, we have the opportunity to look in the mirror and see what we want. If you see yourself as too old or too young, that’s what you’ll be. If you see yourself as the right person for the job, then you are the RIGHT person. Don’t undermine your chances based on age. Whether you’re the youngest or oldest, own it. Take pride in your accomplishments, and believe that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

From my perspective, I’m relatively young, but in my grandparents’ eyes, I’m still a kid, and in my kids’ eyes, I’m OLD. It’s all about perspective. If you believe you’re too old or too young for something, you are. Don’t let your mindset or age be the deciding factor for your aspirations. Go out there, be strong, and own your age because it’s all in your head anyway.

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