Becoming a Modern Elder by
(149 Stories)

Prompted By Ageism

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

In the Silicon Valley, I was extremely fortunate to find a full-time job at age 53. Biomedical industry workers tend to be older than those in high tech. Even though I had been consulting for nearly 25 years, I had a resume that checked all the boxes, and I knew people in the department where I wanted to work. There were some anxious moments when I filled out the application with my entire history and realized that the companies I’d previously worked for no longer existed, and even if they had, all my supervisors there were deceased.

At first I did worry about what to wear (torn, skinny jeans look great on a 30-year-old but on me, not so much), and whether I knew enough about my smart phone.

About nine years later, I found myself questioning trends in the company (see the story “Surviving a Workplace Bully”) and wondering if I should try to find a new job, at age 62. After performing surgery on my resume to successfully hide my long experience but remain literally accurate, I got some interest. For a very promising job, I passed the phone interview and was invited to the company in person. The first two people, senior managers,  seemed very encouraging, and I thought everything was going well.

Then I talked to a younger woman who would be a coworker. She kept asking questions about how hard I was able to work, and was I at the top of my game. The next day I heard from one of the senior people that they were rethinking the job and really weren’t sure what they wanted. The job had vanished.

This experience repeated several times. Everything was fine until hiring managers saw me, and the temperature dropped noticeably. Message received, and I rethought my strategy. I toughed it out at the job I had, and when I retired, went back to consulting, with age less of a factor. One client is a newer company that fits most stereotypes of the Silicon Valley: a big warehouse room with open offices and dogs hanging out under desks. Most people are in their early 30s. At first I did worry about what to wear (torn, skinny jeans look great on a 30-year-old but on me, not so much), and whether I knew enough about my smart phone. Also, I looked for the rare person (and there were a few) who had gray hair.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised about how respectfully I’ve been treated, and have come to like my millennial colleagues. One weekend, at a concert in San Francisco, I talked with a bright young woman who had just started a company and mentioned how muchI liked my client. She said, “Oh, you are a modern elder.”

“A modern elder?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s someone with a lot of experience who can lend wisdom and perspective. It balances the energy of the younger employees.”

Ageism at work is real and tough to fight, so I feel especially lucky that I could move back into my consulting role and blossom into a modern elder!

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Laurie Levy says:

    I love the description of you as a “modern elder,” Marian. You do have so much to offer and companies that passed on you because your hair is gray or your resume is too long really missed out on a great opportunity.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, I’m really pleased with the term and it bodes well for all of us who want to keep working to some extent, on our own terms, though. I just wish there were more “slots” available for modern elders, but I think diversity efforts could help the situation.

  2. Love it!
    (From one Modern Elder to another!)

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I love the term “Modern Elder”, Marian. It speaks to knowledge, understanding and respect.
    I’ve been involved with the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis for 30 years and on the Board of Advisors (not a fiduciary board) for 22. There are term limits; I did step off once, and during the crisis 11 years ago, when the president closed the Rose and thought about selling the art work during the crash to salvage the hole in the University’s deficit, the board was essentially disbanded (I was technically on it, be we didn’t meet for about 5 years). Now, my husband is no longer interested in collecting art, we don’t go to galleries or shows, but I do what I can to stay current and just love this museum. What I bring to the table is institutional memory – years of it. I’ve worked with five Directors and seen every show for 30 years. No one else around has that sort of knowledge and that is my value-added. For this museum, I am the Modern Elder.

    • Marian says:

      That’s awesome, Betsy, that you have been able to lend such value to the museum. You have earned the “Modern Elder” term. It was gratifying that a 30-something woman was the one who told me about it.

  4. Suzy says:

    I agree that the “modern elder” term is a great one, and especially nice that it was bestowed on you by a woman in her thirties. When my mother died, one of my sisters kept saying that she and I and our other sister were the elders now, but I have to say that I don’t feel much like an elder. I’m too young for that!

    • Marian says:

      At first “elder” doesn’t seem very nice, but then it’s more like a village elder, who is a wise leader, and that’s probably what your sister meant. My mom is still alive, but my brother and I have taken over holiday meals and the like, so we have assumed leadership in that sense, too.

Leave a Reply