I’m clear about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. What I realized this week, though, is that isn’t the whole story, especially at work. What matters in that arena is how others perceive me – correctly or incorrectly – and to a large degree, that isn’t up to me. I suppose that’s true in all areas of life, but to me it matters less in those other areas. I can do without friends; I can’t do without a job. Not now, anyway.
Acme Health Services hired a new Public Relations person, or in our industry-speak, a Public Information Officer, a couple of months ago. She’s really fabulous and enthusiastic and young. She’s brimming with great ideas and on fire with the desire to succeed in this job and spread the great news about AHS. I’m excited to work with her. She is not my boss, but I take direction from her regarding many of my job responsibilities, as I do the website and social media and all the promotional publications.
We went to a class together on Thursday to learn about using Instagram for business. I’ve wanted to add an Instagram account for a long time, but couldn’t really wrap my head around how our business would translate to that platform, but our new PIO has a great idea about how to go about it and she got admin staff approval and so we’re full speed ahead! The class was in a town nearby, and lunch was provided. I was looking forward to learning something new, and also the chance to get to know my new co-worker a little better outside the office.
So, the first thing I noticed when I got there was that I was by far the oldest person in the room – by at least 20 years. Whatever, right? Being older doesn’t make a difference in my mind, except I’m more experienced in business than any of these other people. A positive, as I see it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m thinking, cuz were all just trying to navigate this new way of marketing, so what does age or experience have to do with any of it? We’re all beginners.
And the fact that my new co-worker is at least 20 years younger than me? Why should that matter? We’re just people working for the same company, wanting to do the best job we can. We want the same thing, so we’ll work together! It’ll be great! I’m great! She’s great! We’re going to be GREAT!
Yeah, so I can be pretty naive.
First, before the class started and we’re eating our lunches, the two young women at my table, my co-worker and someone who had taken the third chair, knew each other, and are talking, talking, talking, about their kids and all the people they know in common and blah blah blah blah blah. I smile and eat my lunch, pretending that I’m listening and that I care and that it doesn’t bother me at all that they are completely ignoring me.
Then class started and it’s okay, though I actually knew most of the information the “social media expert” was giving us. Still nice to be out of the office for a while and to have lunch out, not something I get to do very often anymore. And then two things happened simultaneously:
- I felt sick. Really sick. Did I mention the name of the restaurant is the Cheese House? Cool! Did I mention I’m lactose-intolerant? Yeah, you can guess where this is going, right? It wasn’t pretty.
- When I excused myself, with a smile on my face, and absolutely no indication of why I had to leave, my co-worker looked at me in a way that let me see exactly how she sees me: old and irrelevant. See ya.
And so began one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my life, and I had to get out of there FAST. Fortunately, the class had run over the scheduled time at this point, so other people were leaving, too, and I scurried out of the room and straight to the bathroom. I was in there for about 20 minutes, trying to get my breath and waiting for the dizziness to pass, and when it did finally, I slunk out of the restaurant and out to my car, which was not very far away, fortunately, and collapsed in the driver’s seat. I sat there for another 20 minutes or so, and when I felt like I could drive, I headed out toward my town. As I passed a hospital on the way, though, I started to feel dizzy again, so I pulled into the ER parking lot and contemplated going in.
Not my first panic attack though, fortunately, so I knew I probably wasn’t dying, and I sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so. Finally the pain in my chest, the tingling in my limbs, the sweating and the dizziness passed and I put the car in gear and headed back out again.
One of my favorite old songs came on the radio and I was singing along, trying to feel better, until all of a sudden I was overcome with memories of when that song was popular, when I was young, and pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I had to pull over again, and wait until the worst of it passed. I started out again finally, cried all the way to my office parking lot, pulled myself together, walked in and continued my day.
Exhausted. Bone weary. But I was there. Damn it. Because that’s who I am. That’s age and experience. I’m committed and loyal and I see things through. I had work to do and even though I felt like crap, I went back and did what needed to be done.
As the afternoon went on, I kept thinking of all I wanted to say to that super fantastic clever and bright young woman:
I WAS YOU.
25 years ago, I was you. I was the super fantastic clever and bright young woman ready to set the world on fire and LIVE A FABULOUS LIFE! Despite years of depression, despite utter fall-on-my-face disasters in other areas of my life, I was always good at my work and for the 5 years I had my business, I was golden. I was smart and innovative and creative and soaked up information like a sponge and turned it into Wonderful! Brilliant! Amazing! projects for my clients. And when I came to Acme Health Services 20 years ago they were thrilled to have me, and I was amazing, and wonderful, and brilliant then, too, until…well, I don’t know.
When did I get old? When did I become irrelevant?
I didn’t imagine it. It was there. It was in her eyes and in the eyes of all the other 15 year-olds in the class. I said something I felt was relevant to what was being discussed, and they all turned around and looked at me like they were amazed I could speak, including the teeny-bopper conducting the class.
So, I’m comfortable in my skin, and I’m confident in my abilities and ready to go everyday. What worries me, is that it may not be enough. As someone pointed out to me the other day, I’m almost 60 (sounds so much older than 57, doesn’t it – gave me chills) and I guess there is probably a lot I don’t know about the generations behind me and how they think.
They’re running the show now, and that is as it should be, I guess, but they don’t appear to be interested AT ALL in what went on before they came along, or how much experience someone older has; in fact, I think most of them think there must be something wrong with someone who stayed in a job for 20 years. An eternity! My god, how could you stand it?
So there were other factors in the panic attack (one being the never-ending plumbing issue we’ve been dealing with at home that FINALLY was resolved yesterday after much stress and aggravation all week), and I’m going to address the 24/7 care-giving stress issue with my doctor in May. I’m thinking some good drugs, but I’m open to whatever she suggests. I’ve had my fill of ill-timed panic attacks and almost constant anxiety.
I have no idea what to do about work, though, and I’m really afraid at some point the bean counters are going to look at me and look at her and think, why do we need both of them? This is not the first time I’ve experienced the age handicap at work, and I know a lot of people have gone through the same thing. I get that my experience is not unique.
Somehow, I just never thought it would happen to me. Naive, I know. But that’s who I am – ever the optimist, ever the idealist, wanting always to believe the best about people and hoping that things will work out if I just work hard enough and try as hard as I can.
So, back to be here now, and one day at a time, and just doing the best I can. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’ll deal with whatever it is.
Ultimately that’s all there is, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever is. Doing the best we can. Hoping for the best.
Life goes on.