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Opinion: Breaking down ‘ageist’ barriers

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Film Director, Luis Bunuel is credited for once saying, “Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese” During his 83 years, life expectancy almost doubled to about 60 years, today his longevity is something that has become quite normal; Euphrosene Labon looks at our battle with age perception and wonders why workplaces continue to crunch the numbers.


Ageism is a classic form of restricted thinking but despite more and more companies abandoning their pension schemes, it is shocking to read that forty – yes 40 is too old for some employers.

Yet life expectancy is expected to rise to the scary ‘chronological factor’ (CF) of 200. Scientists even talk of life cycles reaching 1000. Forty, and even seventy-year-‘olds’ will be mere youngsters. So why not start planning ahead now?

We should be addressing future employment needs now with truly flexible and unlimited thinking. After all, who would want to work in one job for what seems like a gazillion years?

Yet by implementing flexible portfolio careers, our bills can be met, we can fund any burning desires, and the root economy can still tick along nicely. The employee enjoys variety and change and employers have their needs met. So why is this concept so difficult for employers to accept?

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), one in five people are discouraged from applying for jobs because of age restrictions. However, paradoxically, the fastest growing area of employment is among men over 65 and women over 60. With their pensions being squeezed till it hurts, these job-seekers have taken off their limited blinkers. Despite ageism, they are still finding employment.

Need fuels desire. Desire triggers creativity and energy.

The Tomorrow Project has posed two scenarios: one where retirement is postponed – not an attractive proposition if the job is unexciting. Or, creating flexible patterns of work; mix and match working, what the authors call having ‘liquid lives’.

So the idea is starting to take root.

Just as well, as the world’s population is ageing, and ageing fast. By 2050, there will be more old people than young people for the first time in our history. This will mean massive changes for everyone.

British business should be in the forefront of forward thinking. Tragically though, we are mentally imprisoned by stereotypical beliefs about ageing, though youthfulness is not just physical.

While chronological factors are useful as a growth indicator, why is revealing one’s age so necessary?

The media, God bless them, does like to pigeonhole. No article is complete without a qualifying age. Why? There is an unnecessary over-emphasis on age which inevitably influences employers’ thinking. We are pigeonholed as ‘past it’ by employers, media and bureaucrats lacking self-awareness. One day, they too will be ‘old’!

According to Live Long and Prosper, a recent documentary series, Icelanders do not know the meaning of retirement. They work for an allotted period of time, and then change careers.

Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Ageing likened it to other forms of bigotry such as racism and sexism, defining it as a process of systematic stereotyping and discrimination against people because they are old. Today, it is more broadly defined as any prejudice or discrimination against or in favour of an age group (Palmore, 1990). But just what is ‘old’?

Our chronological factor (CF) relates purely to our earthbound years, and is a measure of time during which our cells have been programmed with wanted and unwanted thoughts. However, not everyone with a CF of 40+ is lacking in energy, passion or enthusiasm.

There is a perception that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. That though is the very antithesis of unlimited thinking. If the old dog wants to learn new tricks, it will. Age has nothing to do with it. It is down to attitude and willpower.

Anyway, what is age? It is purely a series of biological events that take place over a measure of time. (And in spiritual terms, time is an illusion anyway.)

Our biological and physical age can really only be identified by how we react to physical, emotional, intellectual and psychological factors.

Our lives are controlled by the way we think and how we react – the first measure of unlimited thinking. Physical age might be indicated by a fragile body, greying hair and wrinkled skin, but our cells are continuously replacing themselves and therefore have different ages.

Our functionality and viability to society can be measured by fitness and energy, memory and the ability to concentrate, the ability to reason and think critically: being flexible and curious about life. All the elements essential for an unlimited thinker.

We can learn to reprogramme ourselves and create new patterns in our behaviour and also our physical appearance. Ageless thinking is unlimited thinking: being open and flexible. It is realising that limitations placed upon us may be inappropriate.

By uncovering hidden potential and recognising uniqueness and capability, no matter what the ‘age’, we remove mental and potentially physical constraints. We can redefine personal and business goals for the good of the whole.

It is something the business world should be actively addressing in our brave new world.


Euphrosene Labon is the author of several books including Profit From Unlimited Thinking and A Little Book of Self-Coaching Tips. See her personal blog at www.floreo.org

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