Oppression Series: Ageism

Introducing a new food-for-thought series about oppression encountered all across the globe. Whether you are impacted personally by this type, or you know of someone impacted by this, a greater understanding can change the way you communicate or interact with others, ending the cycle of suppressed identity and sparking a rise in empowerment.

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Oppression Series: Ageism

What is ageism?

Ageism is the stereotyping or discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age whether in a casual conversational way or systematically, for example through a hiring processes.

Examples of this:

  • The idea that after a certain age, going back to school isn’t possible or changing careers isn’t an option.
  • When doctors look past a senior patient and speak to the younger person in the room, as if the senior isn’t even in the room.
  • The notion that young adults in their early 20s don’t want to make an effort, and expect everything to be handed to them.
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Why is it important to end ageism?

Note: this article relates to oppression mostly in change of career and entrepreneurship, but can be applied across the board. For example, I refer to starting your own company, but it can easily be applied to interviewing for a higher-powered position in a company or asking for a raise after understanding your worth. Ageism really has impacted me these last few years, but most specifically these last few months. As a 20 year old, it’s expected that I’m only looking for a good time in life: going to the club until the wee hours of the morning, cutting class to sleep in, not wanting to put in the effort but expecting it all to work out. When asked about my blog, my business, or my work, it’s met with the idea that they are all simply stepping stones, little projects, or just something to tide me over.

Mark Zuckerberg was about 20 years old when he first started writing code for The Facebook, soon to be known as Facebook and affording him to be a billionaire in 2008. He was met with a lot of doubt as well as a lot of fame as his creation exploded into the social media world and became the number one form of connection around the globe. Yet there were people unwilling to financially back him or support him because they thought it was too risky to invest in someone so young and quite possibly reckless. His success and triumph over any doubt placed upon him has set a precedent for young men and women all around the world. If he can be 20 years old and kickstart the social world, why can’t someone else do something equally powerful in their own right?

Pretty soon there was public mention of 30 Millionaires, Billionaires, fill-in-the-blank-successes Under 30 and the question of how old CEOs or CFOs of companies were began to surface. It became a younger and younger game; who could be the youngest to succeed despite the usual odds and oppositions? And while there are hundreds of highly successful men and women, mostly men, that are grossing higher salaries than anyone in his or her company, there is still the stigma that someone young doesn’t have the gumption, the fortitude, or the understanding of what it takes to be successful.

I am 20 years old and I am a full time blogger; I own my own holistic health coaching business, Bridal Coaching by Emily; and I am a Registered Yoga Instructor with Yoga Alliance that affords me the knowledge to instruct for athletes. I go to Wake Forest University for a degree in Mathematical Economics which took a passenger seat as I earned my 200-hr certification for yoga and my 40 week certification course to become an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. My titles are not little, and I’m not lucky that I know what I know any more than Zuckerberg is for being able to write code and create incredible websites and content. I didn’t wake up one day and say, let’s give it a go and if it fails, it fails, but I'm so lucky my little mind is working. I am a woman that has had to empower herself in a world determined to tell her that it’s everything but hard work and effort that's gotten me to this point.

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We don’t account for the hard work that people put in. We don’t account for the unseen sacrifices or trade offs they have made. I’ve never been in love. I’ve spent more time on the weekend working than I have going out and partying with my best friend. I’ve woken up early to get my work done before classes, and have stayed up for 20 hour days months after months to fit it all into my life. I am passionate about what I do. The only luck that surrounds my success is that I discovered my dream careers at a young age. What I do is not insignificant because of my age or because I’m still in school.

It is no less insignificant than the woman or man that wakes up at age 50 and says what. the. f***. my whole life has to change. Call it a midlife crisis or call it an awakening, but recognizing that life isn’t what you want it to be and actually doing something about it doesn’t deserve to be looked down upon. It needs to be respected, encouraged, nurtured, and given hope. Whether you’re 20 starting your own future, or you are 70 changing your career or getting a degree for the first time, you rockand you can be successful.

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We as a society need to change the way we inquire about someone’s career and we need to recognize the impact words have on others’ frame of mind and eventual success.

How can you do this? Some examples:

  • Avoid using words that are defeating to someone’s entrepreneurship like little, just, or luck.Why? Phrases like how’s your little project; or oh, you’re just working on your site; or you are so lucky that the information fell into the right hands are detrimental to someone’s self-esteem and worth. It’s as if his or her work or choice is insignificant.
  • Assuming it’s unimportant or insignificant or impossible if the person is above or below a certain age limit. Why? Age doesn’t matter at this point. The resources afforded to someone at such a young age in regards to the internet or networking are catalysts for early success. It’s not Gen X's crazy hopes or dreams, it’s a reality, and down-playing it only hurts the future of our society. Same goes for someone older. You are never too old to learn something new. There are newer studies every day about the power of the brain. You’ve got the power. When you apply it, it will do what you wish – obviously, medical or mental states can be hindrances, but I am explicitly referring to those wanting to make a change that have encountered push back.
  • Allowing personal insecurity to cloud our celebration of anothers success or growth. Before you downplay someone else’s dreams or success, recognize if you’re secretly wishing for a change in yourself or hoped that you would have more fame or fortune or fill-in-the-blank at this point in your life. If you wish you had done some things differently, it’s never too late, ever. If someone close to you succeeding threatens you, ask yourself why? What about their growth is impacting you? Sometimes ugly feelings come up because of our secret desires. And that’s okay. But allowing them to halt or hinder someone else’s success is just as ugly as not giving yourself the opportunity to thrive.
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Small action steps you can start implementing today:

  • Offer your ear to someone you know who is setting their sights high and working towards accomplishing their dreams with hard work. Listen to their concerns, their issues, their successes through a non-judgmental lens, and just give them a space to chat.
  • Tell someone that their continued effort does not go unnoticed, and that you recognize all of the effort that comes into pursuing their passions and making their dreams a reality.
  • Lend your expertise, even if it was self-acquired, or offer them a night off of simple worries so they have more time to put into their business. Similarly, offer them a night to go out and take a deep breath, because most likely their to-do list is never tucked too far back in their minds.

Ageism doesn’t have to be a type of oppression that doesn’t ever change. By being respectful and conscientious of others embarking on their successful journeys, we can create a society of thriving individuals in the world. By paying attention to choice phrasing, personal insecurities, and assumptions of an emotional nature and not a backed-up claim, we can reshape the way others see themselves and how they can approach their dreams. You never know if the only support someone has is within themselves and how close they are to thinking it's no longer worth it. Your willingness to see them succeed might be just the push they need.

+ have you ever been affected by or contributed to ageism? what do you think you’ll do to reverse this kind of oppression?

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