I’m turning 49 on Saturday. It’s one of those awkward ages, because when you tell people you’re turning 49, they often respond with “Oh yeah? How many times is this now?” The implication is that people (women) stop aging at 49, refusing to admit to 50, going into a holding pattern of #49ForLyfffffe.
I’m going to be honest here. This will absolutely, 100% be me.
I don’t want to turn 49, because I don’t want to turn 50. I have reasons for this. Some of them relate to vanity, some to my mortality. All of them are silly, but there you have it. I have become one of “those women.”
The only other age that has bothered me in all my years is 25. For some reason 25 was the worst, way back when. Actually, not “for some reason” I know why it was so awful. At that time I really felt I had nothing going for me. I was underemployed, still sort of in school (my post-BA diploma) but only on a part-time basis. A lot of my friends had moved away, some had career jobs, many were in long-term (or even short-term) relationships and were focused on living their lives. I had none of those things, and while I knew these things, these statuses, were not the be all and end all, at the time, they seemed to be. And so 25 sucked. At least that’s what I told myself. And because I told myself that, it probably did. I mean who really knows, right? That was a long time ago. I don’t actually remember it being so terrible. I probably had as good a year as any other year, but that number, man. Halfway to 50. Quarter of a century. I hated that number and everything it seemed to represent.
I feel the same about 50. Admitting to 50 is admitting to that half century. I suppose I should look back on 25 and think, my god, at least I’m probably going to make it to that half century I was so worried about. Not everyone does, and isn’t that something to celebrate? Well, sure. And also, no. And yes, I’m being pissy and difficult and probably stupid, but um, have you met me?
You can tell me until you’re blue in the face that age is “just a number”, but the reality is that in society it’s not just a number, it’s a signal that you’re losing value. As a person. As everything.
When I worked at the local college library as their career information specialist, I participated in a government-run program that assisted people in getting back to work after losing their jobs through downsizing, company closure, layoffs, whatever the issue was. Most of these people were in their late 40s and 50s, and most of them had worked at the same place for a long, long time. Or at least in the same field for a long, long time. A lot of their situations had to do with the types of jobs they did – ones that were on their way out due to modernization, etc. They had to retrain for the same kind of job they’d always been doing, and hope to get hired someplace else. Or upgrade, head back to school, and become something totally different. A lot of them were angry, bitter. Some were sad, depressed. A few saw it as an opportunity, something about doors closing and windows opening or whatever. But most were just worried about what the future held for them. I did my best to help, to put a positive spin on their situations, help them do their research, prepare their portfolios. And I felt for them, but at that time, I couldn’t really understand. I was 30, I was just starting out in my career, the possibilities for me were endless.
Now though, I get it. I’m not in (clear and present) danger of losing my job, but over the past few months I’ve been looking around to see what else might be out there. I’ve taken my current position as far as I think I can, and I’m up for other challenges. I have a great deal of experience in my field, and I have a good decade or more left in me for setting new work-related goals and rising to challenges, but I feel the rest of the world doesn’t always see it that way.
I recently interviewed for a position for which I was very qualified. In fact, it was for a job I had done in the past, at the same institution. The posting asked for a certain amount of experience, and I had that, and then some. I wasn’t selected for the position, and in talking to a friend who works there, she told me that the person hired had no experience and had yet to even complete their education. Huh.
I understand that this is one position, and one hiring manager, and I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet, but I can’t help thinking it’s part of a larger issue. That when someone my age submits a resume listing their education in a completely different decade – or century as can be the case – youth may trump experience. We see it everywhere, really. In Hollywood where actors, particularly women, can go from ingenue to crone – or worse, unemployed – practically overnight. An older woman who tries to fit in with youth culture is pathetic, while a woman who embraces her age and all it stands for is a “Mom” – whether she has children or not. There is no possible way to win here. Which, ok right, welcome to being a woman I guess? Why would anyone think that anything would change across decades?
So the next time you hear someone attempt to placate a middle-aged person with “Remember, you’re only as young as you feel!” “50 is the new 35!” “The best is yet to come!” or some equally ridiculous platitude to make them feel better, please remember that none of it is true. It’s all bullshit.
Having said all that, I guess I will still plan to eat the hell out of some birthday cake, drink massive amounts of wine with family and friends, accept birthday wishes and gifts and accolades, and really rather enjoy myself this weekend. In other words I will indeed be celebrating the fact that I made it through another year on this planet, imperfect as it – and I – may be.