• Fri, Mar 4 2011

Bullish: How to Use Your Age to Your Advantage (at Any Age)

OMG, this is why people start injecting things into their faces!

I don’t want to talk out my ass about aging. I’m 32. I did write in Bullish: How to Age with Panache and Strategic Awesomeness that I found the little lines at the corner of my eyes charming, even though I know I’m not supposed to like them. I think they make me look trustworthy. But I don’t mean to paint over the issue with glitter- sparkles: while many people agree that crow’s feet are sexy on men, and some people like them (or don’t mind them) on women, absolutely no one thinks that droopy jowls are attractive or indicative of any positive personality quality.

Aging is full of indignities. That’s why I believe in collecting, well … dignities. To balance it all out.

I also don’t want you to think that I think thirties = old and that everyone else falls off the map, like when the fashion magazines blare “Beauty at any age!” and then there’s a picture of a starlet for every age, one per year, beginning with Selena Gomez and ending with however old Meryl Streep is that year, and then that’s just THE END OF BEAUTY. Not okay. If you advertise “Beauty at any age!”, I want to see a baby wearing makeup and a 116 year old woman in repose in a bed made of
solid diamonds.

So, let’s take for granted that it’s really a turning point when you can say that you have ten years’ experience in something without cheating your way back to some part-time job you had in high school. In your thirties, you should have a bitchin’ resume and money in the bank (all the more so if you want to have kids — see also the Bullish about emergency funds). In How to Shut Down Street Harassers, I wrote about using my Schoolmarm Voice of Shame to shut down grown men acting like pathetic, shouting (horny) little boys. So, there are some obvious benefits to hitting one’s thirties, provided that you own it. If you spend all of your thirties trying to look Forever 21 (god, do I hate that stupid store name), you kind of get the worst of both worlds — you shake off the benefits of your real age while trying to compete at something you can never, ever get better at, only more pathetic.

If I have anything useful to say about ages I have not yet reached, it is from the perspective of a thirtysomething who knows she is working with incomplete information — just as a fifteen year old could probably convince me that she knows how to market my wares to high school kids, a fifty year old could probably convince me that she knows all the decisionmakers at all the other companies I need to do business with. I’m not suggesting that anyone lie. I’m suggesting that I would be duly impressed by someone who gave off an air of having gone to college or hosted holiday parties for lots of people I’d
really like to meet.

Also, people over fifty (as in, in O magazine) regularly comment that they’ve “mellowed,” and little things don’t seem as important. There are some times that it can be beneficial to play to stereotypes. For instance, if there have ever been times that people have assumed maybe I wasn’t good at teaching math because I’m a woman (I think this has barely ever happened, but maybe people have thought this before I started talking?), I think I’ve probably benefitted equally from the assumption that I would be more empathetic or welcoming. I mention that here because being mellow — and, even better, having a calming effect on others — is a great asset.

While we are all individuals, of course, if you asked a random sample of people what they would most want from a 50+ coworker or employee, I think that having a calm, dignified, rational “big picture” would come up a lot. Might as well play to stereotype.

Everyone has deep within them memories of some horrible, intractable problem from toddlerhood — you don’t remember it, but one time, you peed your pants and were standing in a puddle while holding a stolen cookie that you knew you were going to get in trouble for taking and then you started feeling cold and wet and bad and you were worried you would get punished and your parents wouldn’t love you anymore. And then (hopefully) Mom or Dad came along and worked it out and what seemed like the absolute end of the world to a three year old actually wasn’t a big deal at all!

Our psyches are built on that shit. If I were Mom-like, I would exploit that. Oh look, you pissed all over your Powerpoint presentation? I can help you. And you will spend the rest of your life trying to win my approval and avoid the shame that I can dole out at any moment. Take that!

And that’s a column. Here at Bullish, your glass is so half-full it makes all the other glasses dump out part of their water so they can be just like it.

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