In this episode, Marc interviews Ashton Applewhite. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite has been recognized by The New York Times, The New Yorker, National Public Radio, and the American Society on Aging as an expert on ageism. She blogs at This Chair Rocks and speaks widely at venues that range from the United Nations to the TED main stage. Ashton has written for Harper’s, The Guardian, and The New York Times, and is the voice of Yo! Is This Ageist? The author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, Ashton is a leading spokesperson for the movement to mobilize against discrimination on the basis of age. Marc hopes you enjoy this episode.
[1:11] Marc welcomes you to Episode 118 of the Repurpose Your Career podcast. Career Pivot brings this podcast to you. CareerPivot.com is one of the very few websites dedicated to those of us in the second half of life and our careers. Take a moment to check out the blog and the other resources delivered to you, free of charge.
[1:43] If you are enjoying this podcast, please share it with other like-minded souls. Subscribe on CareerPivot.com, iTunes, or any of the other apps that supply podcasts. Share it on social media or just tell your neighbors, and colleagues. The more people Marc can reach, the more he can help.
[2:05] Next week, Marc will have a special interview with Queen Michele. Queen is a former schoolteacher and administrator who chucked it all in her mid-fifties to move to the North Shore of Lake Chapala and has now written a book called Considerations: A Guide For Moving Abroad, by Queen D. Michele.
[2:19] This week, Marc is interviewing Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism.
[2:30] Marc introduces Ashton and welcomes her to the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
[3:29] Ashton believes short bios are always best. Marc loves her book, This Chair Rocks. Marc is writing a series on ageism and a lot of it comes from Ashton’s book.
[3:45] Ashton self-published her book three years ago, and sold it last year to a new division of MacMillan, which is bringing it out on their inaugural list on March 5. Ashton started thinking and writing on aging about 12 years ago because she was afraid of getting old, although she didn’t recognize it at the time.
[4:17] Ashton started interviewing older people who work and researching longevity. She learned “in about 30 seconds” that most of her ideas about what it would be like to be old were wrong.
[4:35] Ashton shares some facts about aging. When she started her research, 4% of Americans over 65 were in nursing homes. In the last decade, that has dropped to 2.5%.
[5:13] Older people, in general, have better rates of mental health than the young or the middle-aged and are better at dealing with negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and fear. The awareness that time is short does not fill older people with dread. They are less afraid of dying.
[5:45] Ashton was surprised by the U-curve of happiness. People are happiest at the beginnings and ends of their life. The psychological underpinnings are that children live in the moment because that’s what they know, and the oldest do it because they are aware that time is running out, so they cherish the moment and appreciate things more.
[6:13] There are exceptions. Ashton was very skeptical of these findings at first, thinking they interviewed only happy people. It turns out that the U-curve of happiness is independent of culture, health, wealth, or marital status. It is a function of how aging itself affects the healthy brain.
[6:50] Ashton started to feel a lot better about getting older and she became obsessed with why so few people know these things.
[7:00] Marc reminds listeners that Jonathan Rauch, the author of The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, was a guest on Episode 78 of this podcast.
[7:11] Ashton expands the dictionary definition of ageism. We are being ageist any time we come to an assumption about a person or a group of people on the basis of how old we think they are. That they are “too old” or “too young” for whatever the assumption involves. Ageism cuts both ways and younger people experience a lot of it.
[7:58] People think ageism is “an old-person problem.” Older people bear the brunt of ageism in the U.S. Not so much in Mexico, where Marc lives. The U.S. is a deeply youth-obsessed society fueled by our popular culture.
[8:19] Ageism affects young and old. If you bridle at your boss being much younger than you, that’s ageism.
[8:35] When you are ageist, you are discriminating against your future self. All prejudice is based on what sociologists call “othering” — seeing a group of people as other than ourselves. It could be another sports team. It could be other religion. It could be other nationality. The weird thing about ageism is that the other is your own future, aging self.
[9:11] Ageism is rooted in denial. We pretend that we will not age — as if that would be a good thing.
[9:46] Marc listened to Ashton’s TED talk and admits that he is an ageist! Ashton says we are all ageist because our culture has trained us to be ageist. Ashton says the first step in confronting bias is knowing that you have it. Everyone has prejudice. What we can do, if we want to, is become aware of our bias and not use it to guide our actions.
[10:29] You can’t challenge bias, unless you are aware of it. Once you start to see ageism in yourself, that opens your eyes to seeing it in the culture around us — in magazines, on TV, and in conversations. You will see this is a widely shared issue that requires collective action and that we can do something about it if we come together.
[11:07] Marc has noted that he uses the phrase CRS (can’t remember stuff). The moment can be funny but the discrimination it engenders is not funny, nor is the way it affects our own perception of ourselves in society when we never think to challenge those values but internalize them.
[12:22] When you start seeing “the first sign of dementia” as you turn a certain age, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, all too easily. As these negative stereotypes become more potentially relevant, we tend to act as though they were true. That is really bad for us in every aspect of our lives.
[12:58] Marc belongs to a hiking club with seventy-year-olds; Marc finds them to be positive role models. Ashton says it is important to remember that most of us will not be outliers. Most of us will end up in the middle — still able to do the things we really love doing, even if we do them differently than we did at age 20. Sex is a perfect example.
[14:52] It’s important not to have a vision of “aging well” that consists only of the extremely active and the extremely healthy. Some part of our body is going to fall apart; not all of it. Some parts of our brain are likely to work less well. 20% of the population escapes cognitive decline, entirely.
[15:17] We set ourselves an impossible standard by telling ourselves, “I have to keep hiking that mountain as fast as so-and-so.” A lot of people don’t have access to the gyms and the healthy habits. Acknowledge that we all age in different ways, at different rates and there’s no right or wrong way to do it.
[15:52] The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College published a blog article “Careers Become Dicey After Age 50”. Marc says the audience for this podcast is seeing ageism in the workplace. How do you eliminate ageism in the workplace?
[16:25] Looking at the culture as a whole, diverse workplaces are here to stay. Diversity makes companies more profitable and better to work at. Let’s put age on the list as a criterion for diversity. It is blindingly obvious that it belongs there, but nobody thinks of it.
[17:05] If everyone is the same age in your workplace, question it. What is the reason used to justify it? It is not true that older workers are expensive, less creative, or less reliable. Older workers are slower at physical tasks but they hurt themselves less often. Older workers make fewer mistakes, so it’s a wash.
[17:49] Research shows that, especially in creative industries, mixed-age groups are the most effective. There are intergenerational initiatives springing up in workplaces all over. Chip Conley wrote Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, which is all about mentoring.
[18:11] Chip went to work at Airbnb in his fifties and realized he had digital intelligence to learn from younger people while they had emotional intelligence to learn from the older people.
[18:24] Marc Freedman wrote How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, by Marc Freedman. The title means we live forever if we contribute to the younger generations and those contributions live on after we are gone.
[18:41] Marc Freedman’s book talks of intergenerational housing, programming, educational issues, where people of all ages support each other, learn from each other, and tap into what each age group has to offer.
[18:59] Marc notes that the multi-generational family is incredibly common in Mexico and it’s refreshing to see. Marc sees women carrying their grandchildren as they walk.
[19:28] In much of the developed world it used to be the same and then industrialization and urbanization promoted institutions that made age important in a way it hadn’t been. We also started living a lot longer and “old folks” homes cropped up. Schools began to be divided into ages. Nursery schools were created.
[19:53] When you divide groups of people, segregation makes room for discrimination and prejudice.
[20:07] Marc talks about the young white male culture of the tech industry. The Austin Business Journal called it a real problem. Technology Review ran an article shining a light on it a couple of years ago. It has received more attention because it became a problem for people at the top of the food chain -- educated, white men in their 30s.
[20:50] Ashton says the quote that burned into her brain was a guy who went to a dermatologist for Botox, hair plugs, or both because he had a key interview and he said “I can’t look like I have a wife, and a mortgage, and two little kids.”
[21:08] What does it say about our society that being a husband and father with financial obligations disqualifies you for employment? Think about the personal consequences of being told that the thing you spent decades getting really good at disqualifies you to continue to apply what you know.
[21:39] Marc says we live in very strange times. Ashton refers back to the women’s movement that started as a grassroots movement, decades ago, that forced women to recognize that they were not at fault for the biases against them. It was a widely shared problem that required collective action.
[22:23] We will not change things for older people for the better, unless we challenge the prevailing narrative that to age is to fail. Each one of us who is interested in it needs to become an ambassador for that message.
[22:53] Marc says that the happiness U-curve is true in his life, comparing his 60s to his 40s. Ashton doesn’t know anyone in their later years that wants to actually be any younger than they are. Jonathan Rauch’s book is coming out in paperback and he interviewed Ashton for the foreword about the social and political context of ageism.
[23:46] Ashton makes some final points. She knows not everyone is an activist. One of the best arguments for an anti-ageism campaign is its benefits as a public health initiative. Attitudes toward aging affect how our minds and bodies function. People who equate aging with decline, dismay, and despair, live an average of 7.5 years less long.
[24:53] They don’t walk as fast. They are more likely to develop dementia than people with more realistic attitudes toward aging. Look around you at the evidence of the kind of lives old people are living, despite being surrounded by these messages.
[25:21] You will be less likely to develop dementia, even if you have the gene that predisposes you to the disease. Rates of Alzheimer's are declining fast. No one knows that because only the alarmists’ side of the picture gets covered in the media.
[25:44] There are more cases of Alzheimer’s because there are more aging people in the population and age remains the leading risk factor but the odds of anyone listening to this podcast getting dementia have gotten lower in the last few decades and people are getting diagnosed at later ages. Let’s tell both sides of the story.
[26:14] Ashton has been “thinking out loud” about all this in blog form at ThisChairRocks.com/blog. The blogs are searchable by topic, including sources for the facts. It’s all there, available for free.
[26:40] Consciousness raising was the tool that catalyzed the women’s movement. Look for the downloadable pamphlet “Who Me, Ageist: How to Start a Consciousness-raising Group” in the blog resources. Ashton urges listeners to download the pamphlet and think about convening a group, ideally of mixed ages, backgrounds, and colors.
[27:26] Everyone ages. Everyone faces compound layers of discrimination. If we want the movement against ageism to lift all boats, we also need to address all the other “-isms” that make it hard to grow old the way we would like.
[27:47] Marc thanks Ashton for being on the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
[27:58] Marc hopes you enjoyed this episode. Ashton has been an inspiration to many (including Marc) who are involved in the battle against ageism.
[28:07] The CareerPivot.com/Community website has become a valuable resource for almost 50 members who are participating in the Beta phase of this project. Marc is currently recruiting new members for the next cohort.
[28:19] If you are interested in the endeavor and would like to be put on the waiting list, please go to CareerPivot.com/Community. When you sign up you’ll receive information about the community as it evolves.
[28:34] Those in the initial cohorts will get to set the direction for this endeavor. This is a paid membership community with group coaching and special content. More importantly, it’s a community where you can seek help. Go to CareerPivot.com/Community to learn more.
[28:58] Marc invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.com/in/mrmiller. Just include in the connection request that you heard Marc on this podcast. You can look for Career Pivot on Facebook, LinkedIn, or @CareerPivot on Twitter.
[29:25] Please come back next week, when Marc will interview Queen Michele.
[29:29] Marc thanks you for listening to the Repurpose Your Career podcast.
[29:33] You will find the show notes for this episode at CareerPivot.com/episode-118.
[29:41] Please hop over to CareerPivot.com and subscribe to get updates on this podcast and all the other happenings at Career Pivot. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, the Google Podcasts app, Podbean, the Overcast app, or the Spotify app.