January saw the “10 Year Challenge” circulating social media sites—an invitation to post two photos, side by side, one from no later than 2009 and one from recent years. More often than not, the aim seemed to be sharing images that demonstrated how little you’ve aged, though some took the opportunity to share pictures they deemed comically unflattering—extreme comparisons that didn’t accurately represent then or now. Both extremes betray our culture’s ongoing obsession with aging and agelessness—the search for perennial youth, rather than embracing the dignity and honor of growing older.
But consider what that’s saying—that each passing year we’re only succeeding if we manage to defy the reality of time and its imprint on our bodies. Gravity, weathering, growth, and change, all which bear themselves in the fine lines and subtle shift of our features, are badges of our acquired wisdom and journeys forward, yet our mainstream culture says those signs should be hidden.
Ageism isn’t relegated to time-hopping selfie challenges—it’s imprinted in the fabric of our society. Research shows that over half of older working Americans are laid-off or exit positions under financial duress. This is not because the moment you turn 50 your skills and aptitude diminish—there is no science backing up the decreasing value with which many employers tend to view and dismiss their older employees. Rather it’s a damaging and illogical social norm, and one that is rightly earning increasing pushback.
From growing numbers of firms like ours, which place older experienced workers in relevant fields, to the gradual change in initiatives to be more age-inclusive at major companies like General Mills and Pfizer, our country is moving toward capitalizing on what aging laborers have to offer—a breadth and depth of wisdom that comes from decades of experience, a motivation and investment in their field, and the desire to continue contributing and earning a meaningful income.
Our societal view on age diversity and inclusion has changed in large part because of a growing movement to challenge the voices of ageism in media representations and civil conversations. Older employees have always been valuable resources—we’ve just been much more disparaging of them in the past. The pushback against ageism began and builds in momentum with us as individuals—in how we value ourselves as we age—and ripples out into our society as it recognizes our self-worth, our pride in our years, and our confidence in all that we have to contribute.
So, do that selfie “10 Year Challenge,” and make sure you share a picture where the sun catches your wrinkles and laugh lines, along with the body you’ve cared for and sought to keep strong and healthy through the years, the smile that shows just how truly grateful you are to be ten years older and wiser.