Maybe it’s because I’m old, or prideful, or envious, but if I see one more article with a headline that reads something like “The 40 Under 40 to Watch,” or “30 Difference Makers Under 30,” I might just light my hair on fire.
Perhaps it’s the company I keep on the Internet or the magazines I read, but there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t see at least one of these stories chronicling the exploits of the 30- and 40-somethings. To me, not only is it ageist, it also smacks of lazy journalism. Should we be shocked that someone is able to process higher thought just because their birth certificate dates before 1984, or doubt that a person old enough to have voted for Ronald Reagan is capable of mastering a Twitter account?
The other day, the fine folks at Fortune offered up “40 Under 40: ‘What I would tell my 20-year-old self,’” by a fellow named Michael Casey. The first comment posted came from Ivanka Trump, business woman, former model and heir to the Trump fortune.
Wikipedia informs me that Ms. Trump graduated summa cum laude from the Wharton School at Penn, but I still can’t repress the feeling to throw up in my mouth when I hear the heiress (or her ghost writer) pontificating on life lessons learned and what she’d tell the 20-year-old Ivanka.
I’m a big fan of the hard-working, ambitious 20-somethings out there who just need a chance to show what they can do, so I don’t want you thinking I’d throw all the millennials under the same bus. These folks generally do their jobs with little fanfare or selfie postings, so chances are you’ll never see them on a 30-under-30 list.
There are some big thinkers in the Narcinnial Generation, no doubt, just ask them. But there don’t seem to be a lot of tangible results – at least not of the sustainable, job-creating kind, coming from this group. It’s not all their fault. They don’t ask to be put on the it lists. Maybe it’s the list makers and not the people on the lists we have to blame.
If we have to lump people together by age, what I’d really like to see is a story under the heading “50 Over 50: The Walking Dead.” The past six to seven years have seen a lot of primary breadwinners put out on the street after 20 or 30 years with companies they gave their hearts and souls for. I’ve seen dreams crushed and careers ruined by the downturned economy. It doesn’t matter your race or gender, there are some good stories to tell about the people who not only survived but thrived despite all the adversity.
To me, it’s pretty easy to come up with a list of 30 under 30 media darlings in this age of startups and windups, now that everything’s all blogged up. You show me 30 startup entrepreneurs, and I’ll show you 25 people living in their moms’ basements and five more that are couch surfing waiting for their next big thing or the local tech incubator to have an opening.
For the love of good journalism, somebody needs to go out and find the stories about the 50- somethings who lost their careers and have had to start over again at a time when most folks are starting to wind things down. They need to find people who at 50 turned an idea into a new career.
In my 40s, I always thought if the layoff bug came around my startup company would be a pinewood derby race day experience. You know those little cars that Cub Scouts build and race? I was going to take it to the next level and provide catered, corporate pinewood derby outings for execs who wanted to regain their youth in the name of team building or simply kick the crap out of the junior execs. I’d have a fleet of trucks taking race tracks and cars to high-rise office buildings all over town.
But I wasn’t that brave. My entrepreneurial spirit didn’t run that deep. My startup was mostly chat up. I’d never qualify as a 50 over 50, but somewhere out there are these kinds of people. The world is littered with street smart individuals who have ideas and take risks. There are countless people who cobbled together two and three jobs to survive the recession and have since grown back stronger.
And besides, at 50 your kids are mostly grown, and you start finding time again to scheme and dream. The startup gene that lied dormant within you for oh so many years begins to rekindle. At 50, you’ve got a lifetime of savvy that lets you know what’s important and what’s just a fad. You know that today’s Pinterest is tomorrow’s SnapChat.
50 Over 50 might not be sexy (unless your shilling for Viagra or Cialis), but it sure would be interesting, and it might just keep me from setting my hair on fire.
Oh yes, Ivanka’s sage fortune cookie advice to her 20-year-old self, “Ask questions and listen more than you talk. You can’t be an expert at everything—and at 20 you’re more likely to be an expert at nothing! That said, with inexperience comes fresh perspective.”
Somebody hide the lighter.