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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

Professional Boomers Aging Badly

Did you read that baby boomer who was whining in The New York Times last Sunday about – surprise! - getting old? More particularly, about those damned other people who insist on being younger.

It is not the real-life issues related to aging that bother Michele Willens. It's that she's not the center of attention anymore:

”Friends are dying, joints are aching, and memories are failing,” writes Willens. “There are financial issues, with forced retirement and unemployment, children needing money and possibly a bed, and dependent parents.

“But for many of us, it is a psychological quandary that is causing the most unpleasantness: looking around and suddenly being the oldest.”

Because professional baby boomers have always believed they are more important than anyone else, Willens tells us that getting old is more painful for her age group than others before them.

And then she consults – who else in professional boomer land? - a psychiatrist who is, apparently, a fellow baby boomer eager to encourage Willens' delusion:

”'It’s a huge issue,' says Dr. Anna Fels, a psychiatrist in New York. 'I see so many who are trying to adjust their lives to this new phase, which for some reason none of us really pictured ourselves going through.'

“Why didn’t we?” asks Willens. “We knew that eventually more people around us would be younger rather than older. But it still rankles. The image of a room filled with younger people is the perfect symbol.”

Willens supposes that her generation of old people divide themselves into two categories: those who hang out with younger people (age deniers of one kind) and those who hang out in retirement communities where they are sure to find people even older than they are (age deniers of another kind).

The latter group includes Willens who cannot resist an opportunity to take a smack at the older people she seeks out:

I — as of this moment a fit 65 — do my lifting and stretching at the 92nd Street Y, where they still lament that Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis broke up.

“This is one of the last places I am considered a kid. My 90-year-old aunt accuses me of showing up at her assisted living facility so often because I am far and away the youngest person on the premises.”

Smart woman, that aunt.

For the remainder of her story, Willens perambulates around the edges of her new-found seniority without once getting anywhere near conceiving of the idea that old age might be an engaging time of life with its own merits equal to and at least as interesting as every earlier stage of life.

Instead, she gives us an anecdote about the approval she received from some young college students for being a fan of Sam Cooke, and then quotes a retired former CEO of a local New York cable TV channel who, she supposes, proves her point about how awful it is to be the oldest generation:

“'I used to color my hair, now I don’t,' says Mr. Rodgers, who is serving on some boards. 'Yes, being the youngest person in the room was more exciting and empowering. This is not the same, but it’s the new reality.'”

I would be angry if both of these people and that psychiatrist were not so pathetically incurious and bent on proving how superficial many people believe boomers have always been. Instead, they make me tired.

In fact, Willens et al in this piece are so self-centered, they don't realize there are a lot of us – millions – who are even older than they are. But don't let that get in the way of a professional baby boomer's narcissism.

This Times story came to my attention via Marc Leavitt who blogs at Marc Leavitt's Blog. He was pissed off big time particularly when he realized comments were not allowed on the story. So he took out his ire in an email to me. I'll let him have the last word today:

”Stop whinging about getting old. Did you wake up this morning? Enjoy your coffee? Decide to call a friend?

“Guess what? You're alive. Billions of people aren't. If you have to feel apologetic about your age, and wear that apology on your sleeve, too bad for you. You’re born, you live, and you die. What you do in-between, at every stage, is what counts...

“Old people have done more and learned more than younger people; that’s why wisdom is often associated with age. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, 'I’m in my mid-seventies, and this is what the mid-seventies look like.'

“Get a life.”

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Henry Lowenstern: A Fearful Prospect


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Well, shucks, I love the baby boomers! I am related to so many of them, and I barely missed being one.
Life is hard and maybe we have fogotten what we felt, and what we hoped, and what smacked us in the patoot when we began our decline. I say to all boomers, "Welcome aboard! It is a ride unlike any you have taken before!"
Boomers have taught us so much, and they will hopefully continue to teach us by the honest expression of their feelings, whatever those feelings are. Aging IS shocking!

I haven't read the whole article but maybe you're being a little hard on her. Think about how we smile at those know-it-all teens. They'll learn. She's just transitioning between what she was and what she is becoming. It's a jolting experience but in time I think we learn to relax and enjoy the benefits of being older.

I am riding my bike straight over to Marc Leavitt's house today, so I can deliver a huge two kiss Montreal greeting for his knock out comment.

Get ready, Marc.

So glad you wrote about this Ronni. I felt the same. And Marc -- your rock!

"”Stop whinging about getting old. Did you wake up this morning? Enjoy your coffee? Decide to call a friend?

“Guess what? You're alive. Billions of people aren't."

Amen! and good for Leavitt

Change sometimes sucks swamp water, especially for those who really like being the center of attention and have, in the past, found that their primary source of affirmation and self-worth. Kind of like when the family welcomes a new baby and the older sibling realizes she no longer rules the roost. It can be one of life's hardest lessons. Thanks for sharing this Marc and Ronni. It's an illuminating post.

Here is my view. We don't like being lumped into one big "old age" stereotype; so why would we lump all Boomers in a stereotypical category? I'm a Boomer, and I have adjusted to old age fairly well, I think. I was a professional, though not well paid or high status, and I don't feel that people should pay attention to me in any particular way.

Perhaps the article reflects the author's personal viewpoint, and nothing else.. Why it would be published by the NYT, I don't know.

Most of us hate change, and getting old is change, with a capital C. Some of us handle it better than others.

Ya know. I'd love to have less chin, but instead I do the pool, the orthopedist, the books for the ACS thrift shop here, and things around town. The Osher catalogue arrived for the first time, and I am excited about taking a class. Right now will do well.

Well generally, many boomers are sissies. But in time they get it, sooner than later, I hope; & they too will join us.

I am 77 & I am not overjoyed about being old & getting older. But I'm doing the best & can & trying to find joy anywhere I can especially with that morning coffee & the paper as Marc pointed out.:) Dee

There are no amateurs in our generation, except by choice.

As someone who compiles stories about baby boomers for a blog, I get many news feeds and Google alerts every day. The trend, as I have observed it, is that there is an anti-boomer movement growing among the younger generations. Their anger seems to focus on the fact that we (baby boomers) are stealing their future by using up the services , or as they put it, entitlements, that WE boomers worked for all these years. Some of the vitriol is quite amazing to say the least. However, the only group that hates baby boomers more than the gen- xers, are the older baby boomers themselves. they are angry at not having enough money for retirement.They are angry that nobody will hire their tired old asses any more. But mostly they are angry at the fact that have become redundant fossils in a world controlled by young whippersnappers.

Ronni, I do think your reaction is a bit harsh. At 63, I am struggling how to do this aging thing well. I don't want to be a denier, I don't want to act like I'm not 63, but I find the transition is daunting. And, I appreciate when others share their trepidation.
What's wrong with admitting this is hard for some of us? It doesn't mean we won't get older. It just means we feel very vulnerable and not quite sure how to show up as old. We are a generation that is very competitive. I suspect, that what you are seeing is a desire to succeed at being an older person and not quite sure how to do that. Just as we have done throughout our entire lives, boomers will create a new definition of old. We're a work in progress and not afraid to share our emotions. I think its a good thing. I am interested why admitting this transition is hard is so offensive to you.

I didn't interpret her comments as complaining about a lack of attention. Her realization is something everyone goes through and everyone handles a bit differently.

"Because professional baby boomers have always believed they are more important than anyone else ..." That kind of generalization does not reflect well on you, Ronni.

I simply don't understand why some people need to
'figure out how to be old". We start aging the minute we were born and did we ever in the 60+ years that followed try to learn how to move from one transition to another?

Our lifestyles changed when we left home, when we got married or started a new career, or became a parent. Then they changed again when the children left home, the mate left either through divorce or death and so on.

We obviously survived each change and adapted as the need arose. Why is retiring and becoming old any different? You just take it a day at a time until you are able to adjust to the new lifestyle.

I compare it to rooms and I like the old maxim that when one door closes another opens up. If you stop being narcissistic and look at this new room as an opportunity to do all the things you never had time for before it can be the best time of your life.

I don't want to be a Pollyanna, but Marc Leavitt is wise when he says "Get a life."

"There are no amateurs in our generation, except by choice." Great observation.

One thing that occurs to me - I'm still working, and I'll be 63 on Sunday - is that, if you're working, you are dealing with this on a daily basis; most of the people with whom you interact are decades younger than you. You are frequently invisible; it is a real challenge to process that without feeling either diminished or resentful. Your age is never in the background for very long. At workshops or professional meetings,you find yourself looking out a sea of faces that are sometimes more than half your age; it's impossible not to see it.

I struggle very hard on a daily basis with how to present myself as an older person. I try to model some things that I know my younger colleagues will need themselves; I try to share my observations without saying, "In my day..." In short, I try to use the life experience I have to shed a little light on what people can expect. I do this as a way of acknowledging my own age without getting defensive about it,and to let people know it's OK for them to acknowledge it, too.

But it takes a great deal of thought and effort.

There are plenty of things about me that I share with some of my younger colleagues: living alone, being a single homeowner, having a dog, being a writer. And I have found that having such situations in common tends to put the age difference in the background.

But all this really does take work and effort and reflection.

Ronni! If memory serves, you blogged years ago about the EXACT same experience--looking around your last office and being the oldest. And weren't you called "dearie" by a kid (and patted on the arm? Ick!) during a bad job interview?

So I think you're being a little harsh on this woman. The first few years of the "I'm OLD" transition DO have weird moments which eventually morph into frequently delightful freedom from others' expectations. But, c'mon--it takes awhile to get there for everyone.

As for the generalized boomer hatred, has it never occurred to you we're used to it? Not only have we faced shark tank competition for education, jobs, and now health care throughout our lives, we have been blamed since the cradle for a population explosion, enormous school budgets, moral breakdowns, and civil unrest--and that's just before we got out of high school.

No other generation has EVER liked us or seen anything good in us, even when we were infants! Good thing all those other generations are perfect, or the world would be even worse off.

Everyone else is free to hate us now, too, and will. But I would take their woes more seriously if, every time they enter a store, bank, or government office, they deliberately and happily pick the longest, slowest line with the nastiest clerk. No one would ever do this, because any sane person knows not to invite certain frustration if they can possibly avoid it.

That's just it, though--we didn't control when we were born. Being part of this giant crowd is not a fate anyone would choose, but most of us will make the best of it, which makes us pretty much like everyone else after all.

When did the definition of baby boomer change? I was a war baby (tho that was mainly reserved for children born to American soldiers(?)overseas) as was anyone born til 1946. Then the troops came home and baby boomer time began, understandably! It was to have ended in 1949. Now I read the designation goes into the 60s.

I think it's because they cause divisions that I don't like those designations - gen-x, badass-z, yuppies, etc....I know some 20ish people who have more wisdom (per my definition) than elders. Elders have more knowledge and breadth of experience - not necessarily with wisdom. More likely, tho.

I'm all for accepting where we are by how our life is at any time and having a general, descriptive framework of what that and future time MIGHT entail (mostly for life planning purposes).

Other than that, living life purposefully with an open mind, heart and hand works for me.

I thought this blog was for ALL elders, including the boomers.

I thought this blog's purpose was to keep us ALL informed of changes in legislation that affect ALL of us, including boomers.

I thought this blog would encourage solidarity, equality, and amity.

Sure, we're all individuals and we all approach challenges in our own way, but to single out an age-group for criticism, tarring us all with the same brush because one of our number went public with her trepidations about aging does not advance the supposed purposes of this blog.

Crabby Old Lady indeed!

The last time I can remember being unhappy about my age was when I couldn't pass for 21 in a San Francisco bar. That was about 60 years ago. Now I'm 80 and "loud & proud". I brag about my age (to anyone who will listen) and delight in belittling my juniors who don't know what it's all about- yet!
Mine is the silent generation- born in the Great Depression growing up in wartime America. The war was over before we had a chance to be heroes. They didn't have ticker tape parades for the GI's returning from the Korean "Police Action" or whatever they called it. Yet we soldiered on and on and...

Whining is for kids. When my husband passed 12 years ago, I quickly learned no one wants to take the recovery trip with you. Put on a smile and get on with it was the silent message. Bottom line....when no one holds your hand you grow quicker and become more creative and eventually much happier, if you let yourself.

No one likes the wrinkles, brown spots and bulges of growing older. But I'm not up (or down) for the other alternative.

Getting older is what you make it!

Maybe this blog is too young for me! At 86 pushing hard on 87 I still don't think of "age" as a way of life! I enjoy and like many people and stay away from others. Of course if you have a dog--that's always a plus!
Darlene as usual said it best as far as I am concerned--you go girl! May your comments rule!

I am thinking she wrote the article, tongue-in-cheek. Yes, the Boomers have been the center of attention for a long time. Yes, they are getting older. So, let's make that next stage of life take center stage as the Boomers have done with every other stage of their life.

Carol Washko said it well, 'getting older is what you make it.' This Boomer is making it a good thing.

Today's rant about attitudes of aging boomers strikes me as wholly unjustified. I was half a generation before the boomers but I've always thought the term itself used as a pejorative was from a slightly jealous perspective. Yeah, seeing the signs of age on ourselves is sort of shocking, but most people get over it. The whole generation naming "thing" is really media born, A handy, generalizing shortcut. It saves the writer from having to look at people as individuals. When I was in my teens I was always trying to be older, even to the extent of changing my passport by adding a few years, It took some effort to finally correct that. Now, in my 80's, I'm almost always the oldest in the group
and no one seems to care, including myself. And I too suspect that the writer Ronni castigates, in such a nasty way, had a part of her tongue in her cheek.
Lighten up! Get a life as the man said!

I hear enough criticism from my mother(age 86)about how easy we boomers had everything compared to her generation. And, yes, I think there's some truth to that; however, I, too, am getting a little tired of the constant blaming us for everything. Also, I think the author was trying to be humorous & didn't mean to be taken so seriously.

I remember the first time I was at a party and I realized I was the oldest person in the room. It was a rude awakening that had nothing to do with expectations of being the center of attention---never have been, never wanted to be. It was more like: how did I get so old so quickly? It was a real downer for several days.

For me, Estelle (up above) nailed it in her comments about the article: "Think about how we smile at those know-it-all teens. They'll learn. She's just transitioning between what she was and what she is becoming. It's a jolting experience but in time I think we learn to relax and enjoy the benefits of being older."

Enough with the boomer bashing, already! I am sooo sick of reading stuff that seems to blame us for everything from lowering society's moral standards to ruining its culture. And always, always the accusation that we are selfish!

For Pete's sake, can't you see that we are all individuals, neither better than nor worse than the generations that came before us or those after us. If this woman in the NYT article was serious, then she is one person with a bad attitude. She does NOT represent me or any other boomer. For a woman who hates the stereotyping of elders, Ronni, you sure did a good job of stereotyping today!

So the war between generations continues. All my children are boomers so I have a lot of empathy for them, considering the tough historic times in which they grew up. My only gripe is their penchant for consulting---and recommending that others consult---psychiatrists for every hangnail. I certainly don't begrudge the writer of the NYTimes article her reluctance to enter old age. TGB seems to be divided into those who embrace old age with a serene optimism that defies belief and those of us who resent the hell out of it but, knowing there is no cure for it, accept it, like it or not.

I, too, generally prefer the company of younger people, not because they are young but because they are more hip, more open-minded, often more knowledgeable. Too many older people have embraced "oldness," and not in a good sense. Unlike TGB readers, too often they have turned inward and view with suspicion those who are different, younger, darker complected, gay. I have no interest in being around people who have not kept up with the world, whether in current events, technology, or culture. One doesn't have to put on a mini-skirt (or the fashion of the moment) to keep up with the lives of people of all ages with whom we share the planet.

The battle continues with the emergence of that strange (to us) generation popularly known as Generation Y, and one can only imagine how these spoiled, entitled young people are going to navigate entering old age. I subscribe to a very funny and engaging blog written (and drawn) by a 33 year old Gen Y-er. Check out www.waitbutwhy.com and click or search "Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy" in which he gives passing references to both the "greatest generation" and "boomers," but focuses on the group he calls "Gypsys." Interestingly, my 32 year old grandson, a spoiled, entitled Gypsy if there ever was one, found the post to be very offensive. Go figure.

My problem is not that I am aging badly but that I am, in fact, aging. I constantly forget that fact. So sometimes I get funny looks from kids who think I am doing something inappropriate for my age.

Having two daughters who are Boomers, but much too busy with useful activities to be worried about aging (which they know they are doing), I've not experienced the pity parties. Only my friends of my own age are fidgety about their aging. But...that's their personal bents. In our 70s, I'm not going to be able to influence the way they feel!

I was surprised to see the name Michele Willens show up on another article on my FB today. It would not have meant much to me, except that I realized I had just seen the name earlier this morning in another context. Th post on my FB was from the LA Times and credited Willens as being a Guest Blogger. Here is the link if anyone's interested: "The feminist in me applauds any 'mature' woman who lets her years of accomplishment, and lines of experience, speak for themselves," writes Michele Willens. "The narcissist in me wishes Hillary would lose 15 pounds and get to the dermatologist." (via Los Angeles Times Opinion) Apparently she gets in print a lot. Here's the link to the article if anyone's interested: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/opinion-la/la-ol-hillary-clinton-president-2016-20140902-story.html
s

Sorry for the double reference to the link in my earlier post. Copied and pasted when I should have cut. Additionally, I read the entire linked article after posting the link and learned that Willens is a freelance writer for a few papers, including the NY Times.

As a baby boomer, I am in the majority. Similar to white privilege, there is also a middle age privilege. As you move from being middle age to being an old person, you become a minority. That is, you are judged on your appearance and more often negatively judged. An example, I now routinely am asked, “Do you use the computer?”. I agree that the healthiest reaction is to shrug it off. But the first few times it happened to me I was surprised, amused, annoyed, etc..
I admire the few people I have met that are not self-centered. I do not believe any generation has cornered the market on that human trait.

I have no opinion.

I'm 77 and I'm STILL "transitioning". Like Dee, I'm not all that thrilled about being old and getting older. I don't like being "overlooked" by salespeople and being asked if I use a computer. (I used a computer when all we had was the c:>!) But I, too, am doing the best I can to execute the transition with as much grace and energy as I can muster. And I do enjoy that morning coffee & having time to actually read the paper most days.

Mia's and Elizabeth's comments about computers make me smile. Although I am never questioned about having a computer, because I usually have my iPhone out, using it, but I find many young people startled to find that I have twitter, Facebook, and instagram accounts as well as a blog. A lot of the younger folk, meaning the 30s and 40s, don't have those and are not connected with social media.

I hate the generational stuff. This segregating of people started in the 60's with the creation of the 50+ marketing category. Before that advertising was based on volumes not who made it up.

If you watch old movies from the golden age, check out the 30s, 40s and 50s, watch closely at the nightclub and street scenes, even the worker mix in the offices. Lots of "generations" dancing, even going to the same parties at the country club. The dressers and makeup artists in Hollywood were often working well into their 70s.

It's only with the advertising belief that 50+ people, so say a full-time working attorney and her nana in the LTC home behave exactly the same, did we actually create this horrible fear of aging. Before that people were not pushed aside to the same degree. Even stuff like fashion belonged to the matrons, the ones who had more time to devote to it.

A linguistic explanation for what many of us, including me, felt to be another jab at boomers:
"professional has been used at least since the '50's as as snarky put down of certain people who protest too much. e.g. a professional virgin,professional mourner, professional complainer, etc. Add your own "professional
as you've come across them.

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