I wonder if any of you caught David Wimsett’s powerful essay on CBC Radio’s Sunday Edition with Michael Enright on January 25th? It was entitled, “64 and unemployed: One man's struggle to be taken seriously as a job applicant”. If you did, I hope you were as upset as I was. Hearing this man’s story was the epitome of what so many older adults experience and yet few people call out. His story reveals blatant ageism, the one remaining “ism” that hasn’t yet been addressed and will affect us all one day, if we live long enough.
In brief, David is a 64 year old experienced and qualified man who has had a stellar employment record for 4 decades. He spends days and nights crafting his cover letters and resumes to meet the criteria of the job for which he is applying and he sometimes gets called in for an interview. Then, the shattering experience follows. No one says anything about his age or his experience but there is always an “acceptable” reason for not being the right fit. Age is never mentioned.
At this point he has been without work for so long that he has had to sell all his assets and is behind on all payments. He answers threatening calls from banks and creditors daily. He is experiencing deep emotional stress and feels isolated because he is ashamed to speak of his misfortunes. He has begun to question his abilities and self-worth and it is affecting his mental health as he realizes that he is heading for depression. Soon, not only his mental health will suffer but his general well-being will decline and he could become another lonely, older individual who depends on the government.
I can’t tell you how many times I hear a version of this story as I try to raise awareness about how pervasive ageism is. David is not a one off. He is the norm in a North American culture that is youth obsessed. Instead of valuing the assets that this generation of Boomers has on offer, their potential is often being minimized by so many of us who are unaware of what ageism is and of our own self-directed bias against ageing.
Are you conscious of your own bias? Try this quiz which will give you some insight into your beliefs and how they might be influencing you without you realizing it.
Not unlike a good wine, many of us over 60 improve as we age. We mellow out, become more compassionate and less competitive and generally have a broader perspective on life. We are interested in the well-being of future generations and have a desire to give back in one way or another.
Well, at long last, there seems to be increasing acceptance of this truth, especially as it pertains to older women. If any of you have watched the recent Golden Globes or seen the NY Times article on this topic, “I am (an Older) Woman. Watch me Roar”, you will understand why I say this.
When women over 60 gain power in positions that traditionally were held by men, the public begins to notice. In many ways it’s unfortunate that they have to gain acknowledgement in the public domain as “powerful” before anyone notices, but if it helps fight ageist bias against older women, I’ll take it.
This January has been an extraordinary start to what I believe will be a new movement. There’s a natural nexus with the women’s liberation and feminism movement of the 60s and 70s, the #Me Too movement and ageism. Nancy Pelosi at age 78 has become the most powerful elected woman in US history; Glenn Close, 71, won actress of the year for the Golden Globes; and Susan Zirinsky, 66, takes over CBC news in March.
These women are all terrific role models and will help start the conversation about how perceptions of age influence decisions that affect hiring, re-employment and general engagement of all older adults. It will help destigmatize some bias, but it isn’t and won’t be enough to penetrate other less privileged socio-economic groups.
It is incumbent on all of us to participate in breaking down these barriers in order to fulfill the real potential of older adults. Everyone has a role to play no matter how small. Starting conversations with younger folks, confronting older friends and relatives about their own internalized biases, and proclaiming with pride how old you are just a few ways to combat the negative understanding of what it means to age.
When my 21/2 year old little grandson started crying when his mother referenced growing up and getting older, he whimpered: ”I don’t want you to get old, mommy, and I want to stay a little boy”. Where does this perception come from so early in life? Obviously, we have to start this conversation at a very young age.
Happy holidays! In keeping with the season we’ve got some great resources for you, but first a bit on how we came across them. In December Helen and I graduated from Impact Academy, Citymaker Edition. This is a 3-month immersive and experiential learning program for creative and entrepreneurial change-makers. The academy is delivered by The Hub Ottawa, Synapcity and the City of Ottawa. The organizers were well informed, very helpful and full of great insights. We recommend the Impact Hub if you are looking for a shared space to work and an opportunity to engage other entrepreneurs and social innovators. You should also check out Synapcity if you want to build connections among city makers. To learn more about Synapcity you may want to attend their free (though donations are always welcome) gathering the third Tuesday of every month. Now, onto great resources.
During our three months, we had the pleasure of learning with a diverse group of creative city makers, people who are using their ability to be innovative to develop a stronger, more caring city. We not only got to learn from the other participants, but we got to explore the many different assets available to Ottawa’s social enterprises, non-profits and for-profit businesses. Below we have shared some of those great resources. You may be familiar with many, but sometimes it’s useful to take a look again with fresh eyes.
Makewell Executive Coaching: Our very first workshop was with Jeffrey Edwards and Cathy Malcolm Edwards of Makewell Executive Coaching and they were a great start. Jeffrey takes a systems approach to executive training. He focuses on all of you, not just the part that shows up at work. They extend that thinking to how they suggest building great products or services. In our workshop, we explored design thinking, always a powerful tool when developing ideas and solving problems. To assist our efforts in this area they provided two great free resources you may find useful, the IBM Design Thinking Field Guide and The Field Guide to Human Centred Design from IDEO.org. We also watched an excellent video on empathy by Brené Brown you can find HERE.
Funding & Market Info - Ottawa Community Foundation (OCF): If you’re thinking I’m a for-profit entrepreneur so they don’t matter to me, think again. Among the many things the OCF does, it collects and organizes tons of information on Ottawa. Information good marketers would find useful and its free. They do this on a site called Ottawa Insights. You can learn about everything from Ottawa’s economic diversity (or the lack thereof) to demographic information on our residents; facts such as 36% of Ottawa’s population is over fifty and 15% are over sixty-five.
For the not-for-profits or soon to be not for profits, you can apply for grants through OCF by partnering with a charitable association. If you are a charitable organization then there are several options available. You can learn more by visiting OCF.
Equity (Yumi Kotani) & Business Modelling (Impact Hub’s Gina Babinec): In this session, we explored what it means to create an equitable organization and develop a business model that reflects your objectives. Yumi helped us to explore the true meaning of equity and some of the equity pitfalls we might inadvertently, fall into, notably confusing equity with equality. Equality assumes that everyone starts off with the same benefits or assets and equity reflects that different people have different requirements. One of the tools Yumi used in the workshop that you may find useful is the diversity wheel. The City of Ottawa has developed a free Equity & Inclusion Lens Handbook you may find useful. The lens can be used to incorporate diverse perspectives in order to strengthen the capacity of work teams, to create a positive and respectful work environment or to address systemic barriers among other things. Yumi also shared a link to the Project Implicit website from Harvard where you can get an evaluation of your implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics.
In the second half of this session, we looked at business models and the importance of building and adjusting our model to be responsive to markets. We also looked at various hybrid models and the flexibility they allow. One of the resources you may want to check out is an Entrepreneur 101 course offered online by MaRS for a price that will fit most budgets.
Social Enterprise Consulting - Social Delta: If you are part of or are thinking of creating a social enterprise and feeling stuck, then you might want to consider talking to Jonathan Wade at Social Delta. Social Delta provides consulting services to individuals and organizations wishing to conceive, design, launch or expand a social enterprise. We found his insights useful and Jonathan is friendly and most importantly, he knows his stuff. You should take a look at their free downloadable business tips and tools here.
Telling Your Story - Adrian Harwood and Mohammed Shaheen: Many of you may be familiar with Adrian Harwood, host of CBC News Ottawa. Adrian provided great insight into how to tell your story and while I can't capture everything he had to say, the concept that stood out for me was the importance of keeping your story simple. Each word should be needed or get rid of it. It's an idea that is a lot easier in theory but so important to clarity in storytelling.
Mohammed Shaheen, founder of the Silk Road Institute also spoke about the power of stories and prompted us to 1) clearly identify our audience and 2) reflect on where we are trying to take our audience. What emotions are we trying to achieve, negative, positive weak or strong? It's important that we know what we are trying to achieve before starting or we may inadvertently misdirect or lose our audience altogether.
There were many more tools and insights, more than we can list here. As you consider the year ahead and make your plans for an engaging and purposeful 2019, I hope you find these links useful and you take advantage of the many opportunities to which we all have access. All the best!
If “gratitude” is one of those words you regard as too spiritual or “new age-ish”, it’s time for a serious rethink especially if you intend to age well both physically and mentally.
It’s actually all about the 'attitude' part in GRATITUDE. Your attitude is observable by others and they react accordingly. When you pull up to the drive-thru at Dairy Queen and the young woman at the window has made a mess of your order, she might understandably expect you to be ill-tempered. When you smile unexpectedly instead of growling at her, she feels better, is grateful and is more likely to pass on your sense of well-being. The impact of gratitude is far reaching. It can be contagious in the same way that random acts of kindness and forgiveness are but gratitude definitely has the greatest impact on you.
The positive psychology movement has much to offer, even if you are a bit skeptical. It has been scientifically proven that those who score higher on the gratitude scale tend to be in better moods, have a better quality of sleep, experience less anxiety and less depression. Appreciating the good in our lives actually causes a change in physiology by balancing the rhythms of our heart and nervous systems which leads to beneficial changes in our immune systems and hormonal equilibrium. Interestingly, the same principles apply to older adults as to the young.
A healthy sense of gratitude deepens our capacity to live well--- both physically and mentally, however, it requires awareness and attention. This often translates into slowing down, being mindful, observing carefully, and truly celebrating your life as you live it. It involves being satisfied and being accepting of life as it plays out.
Instead of lamenting older age, try to think of the experience it represents! It’s much more positive to say I have 69 years of experience than saying I am 69 years old. Being grateful that I wake up each morning is a gift which I appreciate.
Fortunately, learning how to be more grateful is one of the easiest skills to learn if you’re willing to practice. Science has proven that even these two simple exercises will make a difference in your life. It’s worth a try.
Find a little notebook which you entitle “Gratitude Journal”. Every night before going to bed enter from 3-5 things that you were grateful for during the day. You need to do this for about 6 to 8 weeks.By focusing on the positive, you will feel the difference. It will help shift you into a healthier, happier mindset.
Think of someone in your life who has had a positive impact on you. Identify some of the qualities that this person has and focus on how grateful this made you. This person’s kindness and help contributed to a positive feeling in you which affects the way your brain fires new neurons and develops neural pathways. If you try to emulate some of those character traits, your sense of gratitude can expand equally.
Gratitude has everything to do with your outlook on life. How well do you observe and appreciate those small, positive details of your life?
Opportunity surrounds you everywhere as long as you can spot it! If you subscribe to “out of the box” thinking, it will be easier. This kind of thinking requires creativity and, by this, I am not referring to becoming a painter or performer. Creativity is a skill that anyone can learn at any age.
In a fast-paced world amid rapid change, individuals tend to ignore the immediate and the present. They live in the future of deadlines and appointments. A wonderful way to overcome the natural propensity for being on top of everything is practicing mindfulness; it represents an understanding of living in the moment, a task that requires effort unless repeated regularly. If we can train ourselves to focus on the present, it helps slow down the outside world and provides time to reflect. Reflection is an activity that is critical to almost everything undertaken, especially when spotting opportunity.
Ideas spring both from within and from the outside world. If you have ever spoken to a child who hasn’t yet attended school, you’ll find that their imagination is resplendent with original thoughts. They are exploring the most basic concepts with awe and wonder. They are in constant “discovery mode”. It is this state of mind that we all need to adopt when looking for opportunity. We have to adopt a beginner mindset to break down the complex and come up with something new and untried.
Sometimes, it’s easiest to think through your day and journal it in its entirety----the good, the bad and the not so bad. Identify what has been frustrating or disappointing; it could be with a person, a process or a product. In order to turn this negative thought into a more optimistic message to yourself, can you think of creative ways in which you might remediate the problem? Sometimes the craziest idea is doable although it might need massaging to make it a reality. This could be the start of a new opportunity.
Another way of trying out new ideas is through association. Let your mind wander and write down any thought that comes to mind that is associated with the original idea. Take post-it notes and just let it flow; then rearrange or chunk them according to the subject matter, feasibility, innovation. Think of the absurd, the challenging, the unusual, the seemingly impossible. Very often, the most brilliant solutions come from making associations.
The idea doesn’t always need to be original. It can be a solution to an existing management problem, a manufacturing issue, a human resources issue or a customer relations issue. The most brilliant solutions come from turning ideas on their head and coming at solutions from another angle altogether. The birth of Airbnb comes from thinking about hotel accommodations without any hotel. Anything goes.
My favourite means of spotting opportunity comes from random encounters with people. It can be the passenger next to me on the plane, the pharmacist in the local drugstore, or my child’s homeroom teacher. Conversations spark creative thinking and I often find that I can come up with new ideas. Being in a certain place at the right time is pure and utter coincidence but it sometimes is a way of making disconnected ideas gel. Every meeting, conference, intentional or unintentional encounter is an opportunity to find a positive connection that moves you forward if you are of an entrepreneurial (learning, discovery) mindset.
Whether you think so or not, you are always part of the opportunity spotting process. Make sure personal biases and preferences don’t act as a block. If you have an aversion to online activity, force yourself to participate. Who knows, this may result in finding opportunities which you typically wouldn’t consider. Most importantly, stay positive. A pessimistic mindset focuses on and finds failure. An optimistic perspective looks for and finds opportunity everywhere.
Following a recent TV interview I found myself reflecting on the implications and challenges of finding oneself on an entrepreneur’s journey post first career. I was invited to be a guest on the show, “Ottawa Experts”, hosted expertly by Barbara Balfour. As callers reached out with questions, I was struck by how many people were struggling to find their feet following retirement. Several young people and spouses called in to the show to ask for advice on behalf of newly retired parents or partners. They expressed concern as they watched a growing despondency in their loved ones as retirement began to take root.
Again, it became clear to me that “retirement” as we once knew it is a double-edged sword. If you are lucky enough to have a healthy pension, your new found freedom can be intoxicating----you might travel, indulge in hobbies, volunteer for favourite charities or maybe just enjoy sleeping in… or not! For some people that level of open time can feel daunting, aimless if not overwhelming.
For others, the daydream of endless hours of relaxed time simply isn’t possible for financial reasons. The idea of countless years without a steady income can take on a nightmare quality as panic about how pending unpaid bills begins to sink into reality.
If unlucky and you have lost a needed job in later life, you may struggle to find meaningful, let alone, any work. In many cases looking for a job can take more than twice as much time as it does for younger counterparts. It doesn’t help when job experts say that ageism isn’t the reason people aren’t getting hired; “its about your attitude, not your age”. This is a refrain I’ve heard numerous times. It makes me want to take those experts aside and explain that a negative attitude results from searching for five years and watching less qualified candidates take roles you were chasing.
This is when I remind myself of some core principles of an entrepreneurial mindset. There is power in patience and in perseverance. Whether searching for work out of necessity or trying to find your footing post career, perseverance and patience are required.
Once I decided to find another venue to put my energy into, it took years before the idea of building an organization that could help older adults reinvest their passion with purpose came to me. I tried all kinds of things, from travel and volunteering to volunteering that involved travel. It took more time still until I could rally the resources to get started; then more time in development and piloting processes and programs.
Now on the cusp of a formal launch as a membership organization, I need patience as we develop an offering and build a sustainable membership program. I need to persevere in the face of learning all kinds of new “stuff”. Building a website, learning how to use social media, finding free images to put on blogs and in ads, understanding how to use our membership site to take full advantage of it. I never needed to know these things before but I do now which means I often have to remind myself how exciting it is to be learning new skills, even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.
Whether the work is in rebuilding self-confidence that has been eroded by rejection or about putting personal power behind an idea that you held for years, you will need both patience and perseverance.
Tips for Building Perseverance
Find moral support from friends and/or family. Starting anything new requires commitment, loyalty and all kinds of support.
Engage with others who are experiencing similar challenges.
Set realistic timelines. If you are not sure how much time it will take to get something done, talk to people who have done it before or read about the experience of others.
Make sure you have the needed resources. It can be very disheartening to start something and not be able to finish it due to human or financial restraints.
Envision the challenges as part of the journey and enjoy yourself.
While living in a world that tends toward individualism, it is increasingly important to figure out where we “belong”, especially as we age. Many people, if and when they retire, lose a job, or have been unemployed for extended periods of time, realize for the first time how much they relied on their work colleagues as their most important community. What they fail to realize until much later is how much they had come to depend on these individuals or groups for friendship beyond the realm of work.
A common refrain from both men and women is that they experience a loss of identity and purpose on leaving employment and they never understood how much this would impact their sense of well-being, peace and comfort as they entered this next stage of life. An equally important consideration is the health factor and how loneliness, solitude and isolation affect mental well-being and the quality of our lengthened lives.
The term “community” refers to a group of individuals who share common beliefs or values, who support and encourage one another, who advocate for a common purpose and consequently experience a sense of belonging. Positive communities enable their members to discover their individual and shared strengths, promote self-awareness and harness the synergies of the collective; they are safe places where differing opinions are tolerated and respected. Positive communities work to foster a feeling ofauthentic connection among members by providing plenty of opportunities for interaction, learning, and possibility to achieve a goal.
Tips to avoid isolation and loneliness later in life:
Participate in a walking group
Volunteer to provide a neighbourhood service
Consider becoming a member of a faith community
Become a member of an interest group, book club, movie club, historical society or the Top 60 Over 60.
Although these activities are not necessarily communities, they may become communities if the right norms are created. For more information on the effects of loneliness and isolation, please see my blog, Linking Ageism and Loneliness.
As St. Patrick’s day approaches, I look forward to all the fun that follows. Green beer, green hair, green clothes and I’ve no doubt that someone, somewhere will be serving green eggs and ham. Best of all, we can hope for some of the luck of the Irish; perhaps a stray four leaf clover. But the truth is, if you are running a business or thinking about running a business in Ottawa, Ontario or anywhere in Canada, you’ve already accessed a fair bit of luck. If you weren’t born here, then you have been lucky enough to make your way to one of the best countries in the world, not to mention living in Ottawa, one of the best cities in the world to live.
There’s no question that luck plays a role in how you access available benefits, but location, place of birth and time of birth aside, if you’re waiting for luck to resolve your business challenges then chances are you won’t be in business for long. As much as entrepreneurial activity brings you freedom, it also requires lots of hard work and the ability to spot an opportunity or make the best of bad outcomes.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes working at something for 10,000 hours before reaching expertise. What that breaks down to is that you will have to be in business for five years before you’ll have nailed the complexities of your own business. That, of course, presumes that the business, customers and the market remain static and unchanging during that period. Right. When was the last time a market remained static? The beauty and terror of globalization are that the movement of ideas is effortless. It’s no longer enough to figure out one way of doing things, you need to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. This isn’t about being dissatisfied, it’s about always staying open to new possibilities and new ways of doing things. In this way, you can avoid being blindsided by disruptive technologies. In fact, if anything, you are more likely to bring about the disruptive technology.
Tips for building luck:
Be open to new ideas: This involves deep listening. It’s not enough to pay lip service to new ideas. You have to really look at the possibilities, weigh the pros and cons and determine what would happen to the business if someone perfected the idea and entered your market.
Have a positive mindset: This is not about becoming a Pollyanna, but it is about taking a few lessons from an optimistic view of the world. Very few problems are resolved by wringing your hands and crying over the unfairness of things. You will feel better and are more likely to resolve challenges when you are in a positive frame of mind.
Learn resilience: When a block occurs take it as a learning opportunity. Every time you overcome a barrier you become better at it.
Embrace change: Change is always happening. It is inevitable and non-negotiable. Rather than fight it, embrace it. Look for the opportunities that come with change and take advantage of what they offer.
Use determination and focus: Nothing brings you luck like digging in and working hard. Build your vision, create a plan for achieving it, identify the opportunities and go after them.
This is about making your own luck; then when you succeed you can smile as people call you lucky.
The excitement of starting a business coupled with the demands of being an entrepreneur, family responsibilities and financial pressures can leave you too busy to even consider thinking about yourself. Before you know it, stress steps in and poor sleep leads to fatigue, fuzzy thinking, indecision and a whole host of other problems. Stress doesn’t only wear away at your health but it’s contagious and travels to employees and family members. Before things spiral, give yourself and your business a break.
A moment to pause and recentre can take as little as a minute of your time. Simply close your eyes and take a deep breath, counting slowly to four before releasing. Do this four times. If you want a little help with your focus, consider downloading the Headspace App for free. Headspace will walk you through short meditation exercises to help you stay in the moment and understand how the way we think impacts the way we experience the world around us
If you have more time, take a walk. You will actually be more productive if you take the time for a proper lunch break, especially if you move away from your desk to do it. Lunch time is also a good time to bond with coworkers and build rapport, but make sure not to turn lunch into a business meeting.
Socializing is another great way to relax and get your grounding back. Spend some time with grandchildren or go out for dinner with friends. Socializing doesn’t only relax you but helps mental health by increasing a feeling of well-being which in turn reduces the the risk of dementia and improves physical health by strengthening your immune system.
Quick Tips for Managing Stress
Do more exercise.
Take care of your body.
Get more sleep.
Encourage positive self-talk.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
Maintain connections with people who will love you no matter what.
Try relaxation techniques such as prayer, meditation or journaling.
Don’t underestimate the power of your mind. Nothing is fixed. You can increase your adaptive capacity.
This Valentine’s day give yourself and your business the gift of loving yourself.
The Top 60 Over 60 launches its first signature program.
In early 2018 a research project, ReSet, will be launched by the Top 60 Over 60 in partnership with the Ontario Centre for Workforce Innovation and supported by Ryerson University and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skill Development. The stigmatizing effect of ageism on older workers has a direct impact on productivity, innovation and the wellbeing of older adults and society. ReSet is a three module learning program designed to reduce internalized ageism and support participants as they explore their personal and professional potential.
The program challenges the youth centric beliefs that diminish the value and contribution that the older generation has to offer and introduces basic entrepreneurial concepts. ReSet is designed for people 55 and older who are approaching retirement age, or are in retirement and dissatisfied with it; or those who have been pushed out of jobs in later life and are now finding it difficult to re-enter the labour market.
ReSet will hopefully increase the confidence of older adults by framing their experience and knowledge as positive so that they, too, start to believe in themselves and their potential, possibly as entrepreneurs. As there has been little or no exploration of how self-directed ageism affects older Canadians’ view of themselves, we hope to gain a better understanding of the role of internalized ageism and identify gaps and challenges facing older workers.
The inspiration for ReSet originates with the Top 60 Over 60’s mission to provide support, advocacy and a learning community for entrepreneurial activity. Currently in its first phase of development, the focus is on de-stigmatising ageing and working with older adults as they explore and innovate later in life.
Volunteers will be needed for this research project which is currently undergoing the Ryerson Ethics Board review. For more information please see the ReSet tab on this website or contact Helen@topsixtyoversixty.com