How not to be a victim of ageism

How not to be a victim of ageism

There was a workshop I attended this week entitled, “Ageism and Feeling Invisible.” The organization hosting the event was one of the networking groups I joined since arriving in Chicago. This group is specifically for women over 50.

This subject was particularly interesting to me because I have felt as I look for jobs here (corporate coaching or consulting with non-profits), it feels like my age is working against me. There was a time in my career not long ago that I had no trouble working with a recruiter, being recommended for numerous jobs, and being offered a position after every interview. Now it seems, just getting the interview has become a major challenge – I have even been dismissed by recruiters for fundraising jobs!

Last week I had a phone interview with a consulting firm that works specifically with non-profits. I felt with over 20 years’ experience in the field (more than half in C-level positions), I would have a lot to offer this organization and their clients. Doing my research, I came across a photo on their LinkedIn page of a recent group of new hires. No one in the photo appeared to be older than 25. Furthermore, from the photos of key staff on their website, aside from a few of the senior partners, their staff appeared to be under 40. While I felt I did an adequate job outlining my qualifications during the interview, their youth was prominent in my subconscious for sure.

During the workshop, I learned that I am certainly not alone in my fears of ageism in my job search. The room was filled with women in their 50s and 60s with numerous stories that bordered on age-discrimination. The discussion, however, did bring me to consider another perspective. When asked to address the question, what will you do if you experience ageism? I told a story from much earlier in my career when I felt I was perceived as “too young” and not taken seriously. I also noticed as many women told their stories of experiencing ageism, they were in fact expressing some biases against a younger generation.

This got me thinking that the youth feel undervalued as well and perhaps the solution is to bridge the gap; maybe we can get more respect if we’re willing to give it. While there are certainly times I want to smack my “knows everything” teenager upside the head to bring her down to reality, most of the time – and especially now as she matures – I value her knowledge. The fresh new awareness college class discussion creates is always something I look forward to her sharing with me.  Plus, she is my go-to person for questions about social media, new music, what I should watch on Netflix, and celebrity gossip. Knowing her keeps me well rounded.

While I first thought “age-discrimination” when I got the dismissive e-mail from that consulting firm after my phone interview, this workshop helped me see it differently. I once had a boss who said, “If you can’t fix something, accentuate it!” That’s perhaps where we are falling short as people over 50. By succumbing to our fears of being victims of ageism, are we not becoming our own worst enemy?

I recently applied for a job at a local running retailer. It seemed like it might be a nice way to get out of the house, meet new people who shared my passion for running, and the small paycheck could support my habit. When I went in to interview with the store manager, I didn’t feel like there was a lot at stake and that helped me be less guarded in the conversation. I chose to hit the age-issue head on: “From what I’ve seen from shopping here, I imagine I am older than most of your employees. I’m in my 50s and this is why that’s a good thing for you…” I proceeded to demonstrate that I understood who their customers were and what I knew about the field of masters (over 40) runners. I got the job.

As I sat in the workshop this week, I started to wonder why I didn’t take that approach in my interview for the consulting position. What if I had acknowledged the photo of new hires from their LinkedIn page and went on to explain the value I could bring to a diverse team? What if I showed respect and admiration for their young staff, and added the value that a seasoned, non-profit executive who’s been in the trenches could contribute? Well the outcome wouldn’t have been any worse that it was, right?

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This what (almost) 54 looks like. Diversey Harbor. Chicago, Illinois. March 2019.

Someone pointed out that ageism, is probably the only “ism” (sexism, racism, etc.) that everyone will experience, although in the context of why young people should try to be more understanding. It would seem that we all need to be more understanding. I received a text message from my daughter the other day (she had no idea I was attending this workshop). It went like this:

Daughter: “I’m so ageist I hate old people”…”but I hate a specific kind of old person so you don’t fall into that category yet”

Me: “Yet :)”

Daughter: “it’s old people who think they’re smarter than me cause they’re old”

I remember those days early in my career trying to be taken seriously. Now, after a number of  years in a thriving career, I feel I’m back to lacking self-confidence. I don’t think I’m alone. And that’s just wrong! If we do not believe in our value, we’re playing the victim and doing nothing to help our cause.

Does ageism exist? Absolutely! So, steer clear of those organizations. You don’t want to work with them anyway. Let’s hold our heads high. Believe in our abilities and communicatee that value. The right people will take notice! But also have respect for the contributions of every generation. We all have so much to learn from one another. Diversity of all kinds makes our experiences so much richer.

And if you need some incentive, go back and look at my post from two weeks ago and the links I shared to stories of some “active seniors” defying their age.

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Last week, I also promised to be accountable to you and report back on my workouts for this week. I’m happy to report I did get out for 2 runs (total 5 miles) outdoors and 1 lap swim (800 meters) at my new gym. Warmer temps this week helped. Thanks for reading and keeping me motivated.

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

Running, dopamine, and surviving winter

Running, dopamine, and surviving winter

March was the month we were all supposed to finally commit to our New Year’s resolutions. How are you doing with that? I will be the first to admit, not so well. I will actually admit to running just a little over 2 miles in the entire past month. What’s going on?

It might be some seasonal depression. Are all my New Jersey friends happy about this? Are you all saying “I told you so” – I told you that Chicago was COLD – as you sit staring out into your frozen snow-covered landscape? Aside from that crazy couple of days in January where Chicago saw -21*F, it’s been just as cold in New Jersey. And Northern New Jersey has seen more snow. There.

Let’s face it. It’s probably – relatively speaking – cold where ever you are (it was only in the high 50s in Southern California today!). Who’s got the worst winter isn’t a contest, although I will admit – as most Chicagoans will tell you – this winter has been extremely harsh. Of course, it has. Although the upshot is that this will be the benchmark by which I will judge all future Chicago winters.

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Above Lake Shore Drive. Chicago, Illinois. January 2019.

Anyway, back to running. Or wishing I was. I did a solid two weeks of runs on the treadmill at the end of January when conditions were at their worst. I then went to Southern California for a long weekend and have had trouble getting motivated since. First it was some aches and pains left over from the half marathon that made me think a week off was a good idea. One week turned into five.

I had planned to get back out there this week to celebrate my 23rd “runiversary” which was March 4th but I was a little sick. A valid excuse, although it got me thinking that it might actually be the result of not running. In an effort to get back on track, I finally joined the local gym, just a short walk from my apartment. If running on the treadmill isn’t appealing, perhaps a mile swim will be more so. Need to get those endorphins and dopamine up!

This is a lesson I learn over and over again (I wrote about it here), and yet still wind up in this place every couple of years (pretty sad when I have to go back to read my own blog for motivation, huh?).  One thing I now know is that as we – women – age, restoring healthy levels of dopamine is a key factor in maintaining mental health.

Decreases in Estrogen are linked to the decrease of dopamine cells in the brain. Dopamine, along with endorphins, serotonin, and oxytocin, is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Specifically, it’s the one responsible for motivation. So yeah, pretty important for a runner. As women enter menopause, estrogen drops significantly. For breast-cancer survivors like me, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) isn’t always an option, and others would prefer a more natural way to increase the “happy neurotransmitters” anyway.

This is a pretty strong reason for every woman approaching middle-age to take up running, and more specifically training for a goal race. “Physical exercise stimulates a spurt of dopamine and is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for ‘runner’s high’” (Alban, D., “Dopamine Deficiency, Depression, and Mental Health” BeBrainFit.com) and  since “any form of accomplishment that gives you that ‘Yes, I did it!’ feeling will increase dopamine” training for and completing a distance race will help even more, right?

The first step is always the hardest. It usually requires a real push. Although, we know that the biggest factor in correcting a problem, is admitting to having one. So yes, I will the push myself out the door to get my dopamine, which will hopefully motivate me to get moving on some other projects that have stalled lately. To hold myself accountable I will report back next week.

I’m also signed up for 2 races later this month. A St Paddy’s Day 5k next weekend (yikes!), and The Shamrock Shuffle 8k the following weekend. In between, spring officially arrives. Surviving my first Chicago winter alone should give me that “Yes, I did it!” feeling…even if the “real feel” isn’t quite there yet.

 

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

On becoming an “Active Senior”

On becoming an “Active Senior”

Several years ago I was looking though the YMCA brochure that had come in the mail. After seeing all the wonderful activities in a section titled “active seniors” I said to myself, but out-loud, “I want to be an active senior.” My husband who had been in ear-shot acted like it was the funniest thing I ever said. I was still a few years shy of 50.

I have always believed that we should never stop growing, and learning, and must remain active. “Sharpen the saw” is one of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People according to Stephen R. Covey, and I couldn’t agree more. Whether we are talking mind, body, or spirit, if we don’t continue to feed growth, we die.

There are plenty of stories about “senior citizens” who have defied the norms and accomplished some amazing feats late in life. Runner’s World had a story about Julia Hawkins who not only took up competitive cycling at age 81, started running competitively at 100. Orville Rogers still weight trains and runs at 99 and didn’t start running until he was in his 50s. How about 107 year old Fauja Singh, who is thought to be the oldest marathon finisher? He didn’t start running until he was in his 80s. No excuses for the rest of us, right?

I will admit that in regard to some activities, I have said something to the effect of “that ship has sailed.” We all have physical limitations, and our desires change. Sometimes moving out of one’s comfort zone isn’t always necessary for growth. For example, standing out in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, which sounded like a great idea when I was 25, is the furthest thing I’d enjoy doing now. Running the Midnight Run in Central Park, however…

The point is, regardless of your physical limitations and changes to what we find enjoyable, there are always new things to try, goals to achieve, and desires to fulfill. The menu of items for “active seniors” involves cultural and artistic pursuits, ways to meet new people, classes to take, and exotic foods to prepare and taste.

Those are some remarkable stories from people that didn’t start until later in life. That said, while you are still young(ish) IS a great time to work on getting fitter and stronger so you can be active physically as well as mentally and spiritually. It’s never too late should be a reason to start now, not put it off any longer.

As I age (as a runner) my goals change. At (almost) 54, I do still have some time goals (like qualifying for Boston 2021 as I enter a new age group), but some days my goal is to just be out there moving. Running keeps me fit and it keeps me doing other healthy habits like strength training and remaining more conscious about nutrition.

Being physically fit, I have also found makes everything else in life a lot easier. My grocery store is just 3 blocks away and I walk. And I walk home with several bags of groceries. I can take the stairs if the elevator is too slow. I always beat the GSPs ETA on how long it’s going to take me to walk anywhere.  And I have on occasion fit into one of my daughter’s dresses (“that’s just wrong,” she says!).

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You don’t have to run marathons to be physically fit (although they are such an amazing accomplishment that they can kick start other goals you once thought impossible).  But you do have to move.  I’ll admit I’ve been struggling through this last half of winter. Getting out to run since getting back from the Surf City Half Marathon trip has been tough. I just joined the gym near me, so I have access, in addition to treadmills, to a pool. Lap swimming has always been my go-to cross-training and a way to keep moving when, for whatever reason, my running is compromised.

So, what are you doing to become an “active senior?” What are your goals and desires as you approach midlife and beyond? Let’s start a conversation and if you want to get more active, reach out to me.

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My Team Gilda Chicago Marathon Page

The benefits of being “a dog person”

The benefits of being “a dog person”

I have a dog. I didn’t always have a dog. Actually, until I was 10, our family pet was no more than a goldfish. Then my parents allowed me to adopt a kitten. That was it though. They liked to travel and a cat allowed for more flexibility. Plus, a cat didn’t need to be walked at all hours of the day in all kinds of weather.

I considered myself a cat person. I adopted a cat when I finally had my own place that allowed pets. When I got engaged to my husband who had a severe cat allergy, I found a new home for the cat. That never sat quite right with me, because he got to keep his dog (who was his from a previous relationship). I decided I was never going to like that dog!

Since we lived in a building that wouldn’t allow dogs, the dog stayed at my mother-in-law’s and he went there to care for it. I didn’t. When we got our first house five years later, Cody, a Miniature Schnauzer, came to live with us. I was ambivalent. Then that first morning with the dog in the new house, that damn dog was so excited to see me get up! I immediately thought, “okay, dogs are different.”

In the days and weeks and years that followed, this dog tried so hard to make me love him every chance he got. And I started to care for him as much as “his dad” did. I was a dog person! Now more than 20 years and two more dogs later I have Enzo. Enzo is an 8-year-old Australian Shepherd-Poodle mix (Aussie-Poo, Aussie-doodle, or designer mutt depending on who you’re talking to).

I absolutely love this dog! When my life was taking so many difficult turns, he was there. I am never completely alone because I have him. He never quite became a runner like my previous Wheaten Terrier, Malachy, but he is so special in his own way.

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Malachy and Me. As we appeared in the May 2006 issue of 201:The Best of BergenPhoto Credit; Ted Axelrod

I have learned that having a dog is really good for people. Dogs force people to move. Walking my dog is a big part of why I’m able to make my step goal on days I don’t run. Have you ever noticed that people shopping at all-night grocery stores are buying pet food? We won’t make the effort for ourselves a lot of the time, but we won’t let our pets go without. That’s why dogs are so good for the elderly and people who live alone.

Most of the people I have met in my building since moving to Chicago are fellow dog owners. Even people in the street walking their dogs are so much friendlier and more approachable. Our dogs give us something in common immediately. With the severe cold snap we had in Chicago a few weeks ago, the only people I saw out in my neighborhood (although for only five minutes at a time) were dog owners!

There are times when having to take a dog out at all hours of the day in all kinds of weather can be a bit of a drag, but that is offset by the unconditional love they give us. He is always – 100% of the time! – absolutely happy to see me! If you live alone – or have teenagers – you need that.

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Enzo’s first visit to Lake Michigan. Chicago, Illinois. July 2018.

 

3 Reasons to Run a Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving

3 Reasons to Run a Turkey Trot this Thanksgiving

Running a “Turkey Trot” – that is road race on Thanksgiving morning – has become a tradition that started for me 10 years ago. While there were a couple years in there where injury or family plans prevented me from doing so, I’ve really come to feel that it’s not Thanksgiving if I don’t start the day running. Read more