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Boomers Balk Over the Final Battle

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If there is one thing I hate, it’s admitting I am a victim. I’m such a control freak that I can’t stand the thought that forces beyond my control are impacting my life. But when I saw an article in the Washington Post about ageism, it sounded so familiar I had to admit I’ve been a victim.

I was laid off in my late forties in a reorganization of the marketing function at a global consulting firm. I had survived many corporate culls before, but this time round I wasn’t sure it was worth putting up a fight since the firm’s vision for the future of my department didn’t look very attractive.

And besides, I had long planned to leave corporate life at age 50 and start a consulting business of my own. Fifty wasn’t very far away, and the severance package gave me a nice head start. But I had one lingering dilemma: I wanted to move, and a newly self-employed person isn’t going to qualify for a mortgage.

I had bought my condo when I relocated for my job at the consulting firm. Aside from being close to the job in San Jose, the location didn’t have much to offer. As I started working from home the location became more and more annoying.

So from time to time I would explore a job opening in the hope that I could accumulate some additional retirement benefits and qualify for a new mortgage so I could move.

I have never failed to get a job I went after. And by now I had some impressive credentials, so I thought a job search would be easy-peasy. But it wasn’t. Over the course of a few years I had exactly two interviews, and I wouldn’t have taken either position.

Like most befuddled Baby Boomers, I chalked my lack of success to the fact that I couldn’t master the technology. I had been recruited for every job I had had since my late twenties. Submitting resumes online and maximizing key words was a new world to me and one I quickly came to resent.

Time went on and I was eventually able to buy a new condo in a more agreeable location despite my self-employed status. I resolved that my unsuccessful job hunt was the result of my insincere motives: I didn’t want the jobs for the right reasons, and the algorithms that were screening the resumes must have somehow recognized that.

Alas, after reading the Post article I realize it’s much more likely that the algorithms recognized the fact I’m over 40.

Having been born towards the end of the Baby Boom, I’ve always relied on the earlier cohort of Boomers to ease the way for me as I transitioned from one phase of life to another. They ended the draft, they liberalized universities, they started assimilating women into the workforce and took on sexual harassment in the workplace.

But they are not taking up the battle against ageism with the same gusto. Many took the occasion of the great recession to retire early. Others set up shop as consultants. Others fight the good fight with Botox, hair color and “minor” cosmetic procedures.

As a ‘self-employed consultant’ I can afford to be self-righteous when it comes to letting myself look my age; I only see my clients a few times a year, and no one in HR is calculating how expensive my benefits are becoming every time they cross my path in the hall.

But I would like to see the Boomers stand up and be seen in the workplace. It’s ironic that the generation famous for standing up to its parents is now intimidated by its children.