A friend asked me a while back, “Will there come a time when your age is unacceptable to the people who hire you?”
[Aside: I consider myself mostly retired but I do take on periodic assignments to keep my writing/strategizing skills in shape and make some money.]
The answer is yes and no.
First, the “yes.”
I believe that I already hit an expiry date. At 62, I was hired as a freelancer to blog for one of the world’s largest technology companies. My work seemed to please the people I was working for, but the age difference was spectacular. And because meetings at the company’s Canadian office were required, that difference hit me one day like a tsunami of obviousness. I walked into a massive cubicle array, maybe half an acre of employees, all under the age of 35. I scanned in vain to spot anyone remotely close to my age. Not normally bothered by such things, I suddenly was. I thought, “Good work or not, this might be a signal.” My guess is that as the months wore on and I worked for a few others in the organization, all of them around age 30, they also received the signal. And if I was to put myself in their (expensive fashionable) shoes, I too might be uncomfortable with the father figure at the edge of the cubicle farm.
But there's a flip side.
In my line of work, most clients have great difficulty finding suppliers who supply what they need. So who cares how old you are? If an 80-year-old can write quickly and hit the target, why not?
I learned that lesson early. When I was in my twenties, I read an elegantly wrought travel story about an experience in Canada’s far north. I wanted to write like that. In under 1,000 words, with just the right mix of color and insight, artfully concise, the writer transported me to a cold, beautiful Arctic village. I found out later that he was over 80 at the time, a career freelancer, and so evidently still the man for the job.
Here's another inspiring example: My wife recently had lunch with an 81-year-old designer friend who said, “I’ve never felt better. I feel like I’m in my forties.” He has always kept fit. He still goes skating with his grandson and cycles long distances. He has also never stopped working. He still travels the world meeting clients and designing important public landscapes, primarily for governments. In his late seventies he was commissioned to design a major park in a large Canadian city, a landscape of great value to millions of future visitors. Apparently, he did a outstanding job.
So will there come a time when time runs out on our ability to deliver whatever it is we offer? Invariably.
But in the meantime, we are living in an age when age is more of an idea in motion and less of a braking system. Stop. Go. Shift gears. We can choose.
What good fortune.