January 4th was my 60th birthday.
It’s an achievement I’m very proud of. Your fifties are the time when you start to notice the ages on the obituaries you read or hear on TV—and it’s uncomfortable to watch those numbers veer too close to yours. (Admittedly, it’s actually terrifying when a few of those ages are actually younger than yours!)
There’s only so far denial can take you. And at 59, I realized a handful of friends and colleagues didn’t make it to 60. So, I’m ecstatic to be here—in good health and with a family I love, and lots of caring friends around me.
But there was one telling, frightening moment. As I prepared my Facebook post announcing I’d made it to the starting line of my seventh decade, my fingers froze in the air. I tend to be thoughtful and careful about my career—I know that there are things that can damage years of work in less than a second, especially on social media.
I had to ask myself: Was I really ready to post my age for all 9,000 of my followers to see?
When I wrote my editor’s letters for More magazine, I had a wonderful executive editor who would read and edit my work and try to save me from my blatant honesty. She would ask: Do you really want to tell the truth about a management clash that could make your boss mad? Do you really want to expose the antics of a cover star—or her handler—that might take More off their list of magazines for the future? I tend to walk right up to the edge of dangerous truth-telling and came to rely on the wonderful Judy to keep me from slipping over it—and potentially losing my job.
So, I’m ashamed to say that my finger hovered above the “post” button Wednesday for one reason: I knew that if I posted my age, I’d be killing my chances of ever getting a job in corporate America.
Very few companies will take on someone five years from retirement who could run up their healthcare costs or become too hard to fire because they’re a “protected class.” Of course, no one will admit that you’re too old to hire to your face—and corporate HR departments have been taught to twist themselves into pretzels to make sure no one hints that age is a problem.
But anyone who’s walked the corridors of corporations knows the truth: that once you cross 50 you notice that the air near the top of your profession begins to thin out, and you might even be the only one in your age group left in your division. The staff working around you starts looking noticeably younger, and you start to worry that when times get tough and management is hankering for a speedy Q4 downsize that the salary you killed yourself to attain could be a big red bullseye.
I also remember the hundreds of More readers who wrote to me after The Great Recession that said they’d been downsized from their prestigious corporate jobs. They’d sent resumes to over 400 job openings, only to receive zero responses.
I didn’t have the heart to tell them what I knew even then: that women over 50 were never going to be welcomed back to corporate life, that their only option for making money going forward was as an independent entrepreneur. It’s no surprise to me that a 2015 Kauffman Institute Index notes the number of new entrepreneurs between ages 55 and 64 rose from 14.8% in 1997 to 25.8% in 2015.
Though I’ve never hidden my age, I look younger, and so people tend to forget it. So, when I ultimately decided to press the button on that Facebook post, I was accepting that my time as an up-and-comer had long ago expired—and that independence was going to be my only direction forward in the future.
But push it I did. Of course, the overwhelming response from my friends and colleagues was of joy and good wishes. One friend who’d already “crossed over” mentioned her delight at the “end of striving.” Many others—both male and female—spoke of the opportunity to finally be “free” to be themselves.
All the research I’ve read—or had done at More—pointed to the sixties being everyone’s happiest decade, and I was getting that message. I definitely have the sense that I’m stepping onto an uncharted pathway that’ll be challenging but fascinating.
I also know this: Part of my happiness will come from changing just one person’s mind about what 60 looks and feels like—and perhaps convincing just one person in charge of hiring at some business somewhere that age really is just a number.
It’s time we said ta-ta to this last taboo.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn. It has been republished here with permission.
Photo of person working courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Lesley Jane Seymour has been an Editor-in-Chief of four magazines, including More and Marie Claire. She is reinventing herself as an entrepreneur trying to disrupt the media business for women 40+ with her new platform called www.CoveyClub.com that aims to connect women who want to live their most authentic lives. Follow her on Instagram, LinkedIn, or Facebook.More from this Author