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  • Writer's pictureShannon Sutherland

47 is the new 80

Updated: May 14, 2021

I'm 47. A single mom. 25 years of experience. I can offer things no one else can, and this is a provable, irrefutable, fabulous fact. However, in the digital era, ageism is alive and well.

Before I present my supporting argument, I would like to be clear that I did not get my degree. Any degree. In the age of applicant tracking systems, many people are finding it very challenging to get their submissions seen by human eyes. And it is to the employers' detriment. But it seems to me that a college degree is like a new car. Drive it off the lot, and it immediately starts to lose value. If I had obtained my degree two decades ago, how would it benefit current employers? I did go to college and university for four years in the 90s, and I did great. I am well-versed in Marxism, geological formations, statistical math and Taoism. I'm sure everyone is suitably impressed. I can also roll film in a dark room on two hours sleep, repair a floppy disk with packing tape and use a commercial camera press. Now I'm just bragging.

I believe we need to look for lifelong learners. The rule-follower in me can't check the degree box. That is quite nuts, considering I have four years of post-secondary, a college diploma, certificates, countless PD courses and 25 years in the trenches. That has to be equivalent. I think if we are going to examine this qualitatively, it probably equates to about 80 years of experience. But still, I can't bring myself to check the little box. I also can't bring myself to apply for jobs that require a degree. I hate wasting people's time. So if you are telling me that this disqualifies me, I'm going to believe you.

I mean no disrespect to other people who have other things to offer. Young men. Young women. Parents of young children. No disrespect. But I am not you. Here are just a few things a wise, winsome, wily, willful, worldly woman in her late 40s or early 50s such as myself has to offer .

1. No major career disruptions. Actually few minor disruptions too. I'm all yours. Babies had. Kids pretty much raised. I'm divorced, so no marriage drama. Not a home-owner, so if the furnace implodes or the roof collapses, I text the landlord. I travelled. I'm pretty done with that, although if someone wants to take me to Paris, I might ask for a weekend off. Might.

2. I've seen some stuff. Oy vey, have I now. I've been there for tragic plane crashes, police escorting politicians from trashed offices, Olympic wins, losses of life, tech companies sold for billions. I've interviewed victims of Satanic child sacrifice, been threatened by gangsters, religious leaders and a guy who makes medieval torture devices for a living (a Calgarian!), and entertained a proposal by the CEO of an extraordinarily wealthy Norwegian shipmaker. (I said no.) Why does this matter? Let's just say I'm not easily rattled, riled, sidetracked or surprised. No kneejerk reactions, anxiety or angst here, no matter what you throw at me.

3. I have learned to listen. I have practiced for 20 years and I'm very, very good at it.

4. I know quite a lot about people. You know how Jane Goodall sat in the jungle for a few decades and studied mountain gorillas and is now considered a leading expert on the great apes? (Yes, I know she has a degree but I don't think this is what has made her the expert.) I agree that you need to be hands-on to learn sometimes. But sometimes you also need to be hands-off. Just sit back, watch intently and learn. It drives my kids nuts. Mom, how did you know that was going to happen? How did you know he would do that? I know things--things I did not and could not know 20 years ago, if I had not paid close attention all those years.

5. Can I adapt? From vinyl-and-eight-track-to-cassette-tape-to-CD-to-digital-streaming. Yes. I can adapt. Can I manage change? All the way from mosh pits and microfiche to #covidsucks and TikToks.

6. My integrity has been earned. Over time. Yes, young people can have integrity. But can they hold onto it? Year after year? When people mistreat them? When life lets them down? When it all goes sideways and clinging to your self-respect seems pointless, fruitless and completely immaterial? I know I can. I have.

So no, I don't have a degree. I'm kind of old. I'm not going to lie about that (see point #6). The only questions I would implore employers to ask is: So what? So what if he doesn't have the degree? So what if her son has to teach her about TikToks, if she is willing to learn.

And so what could I, and others like me, offer that others might not?

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