NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: Reforumed — Best Used By …

Not hiring older workers is a great strategy … especially if you don’t plan to get much older yourself.

I borrowed that line from one of my heroes, New Yorker humorist Andy Borowitz. But it’s been on my own brain lately, too, especially after bumping into two of my much-loved former students in recent days.

Of course, age being what it is, I didn’t recognize either of them. Once they’d (re)introduced themselves, though, I quickly placed them among the corps of scholarly “offspring” who make me proud long after the fact: Smart, talented, accomplished, wry and still virtually free of wrinkles.

But then, each shared something that brought me up short. Though barely past my referring to them as “kids,” both confided they’re on the edge of becoming “too old” for their careers.

Now, that might have seemed a bit more sensible if either had become a bikini model or teen heartthrob. After all, even those peach-cheeked boy bands of yore do come with a “best used by” date.

These women, though, are in fields where dewy freshness has always seemed secondary to experience and skill — media journalism and public relations. Yet, they tell me their biggest obstacle to moving forward in their careers is that they’re nearly 40.


As a newly minted member of the Medicare generation, I’ve become familiar with the perils of excess decades. For example, my friends and I trade sarcastic observations about the Right’s campaign to raise the retirement age for Social Security, when the workplace settled it long ago. In the working world, “ever after” — via retirement or, more often, outright disposal — is now set at 60, or 55, or even (according to a brilliant younger friend who finally scored a job after more than half a year of rejection) just past the tipping point of 49.

Now my peers and I are mostly circling our 60s. Karma is a you-know-what. Mine is the generation that thoughtlessly urged each other not to trust anyone over 30. Oops.

We didn’t actually believe that, of course. In journalism, we were surrounded and guided by crusty adults as we explored the amazing excitement and power of interpreting our world to itself.

Sometimes indulgently, sometimes cruelly, the Old Guys initiated us relentlessly into the wonders of mature judgment. We learned. We aged (those of us who’ve been lucky enough to still be here). And we always pictured ourselves someday in that once-exalted role of the Wise Old Farts shaping those who come behind.

That’s not how it seems to have worked out. Many, many of my friends in the media have been slid to the sidelines. And it’s not just us: The same story is repeated in all kinds of disparate fields, from accountants to schoolteachers to manufacturing plant managers.

Though still productive, effective and with all their own teeth (if not all their hair), they’ve watched successful careers mysteriously expire. When the recession fairy first wrought her dastardly magic, the old mantra was twisted to “first in, first out.” Most seem to not have been drawn back in now that the old economic engine is back to pumping.

Will you have fries with that?

Myself, I’ve been lucky. My career adventures long ago took me beyond the reach of the corporate harness and plunked me down where I could chart an independent course. My unpredictable compass brought me back to the college campus where I was spawned — presenting me with an opportunity that I’d trained for since I was a teen. Given the privilege of teaching young media writers at Minnesota State University Moorhead, I do get to be the crusty old fart, occasionally wise, I once implicitly aspired to become.

As for my “babies,” though — the intelligent, funny, talented and achingly naive young men and women among whose legion I was numbered an ocean of years ago — I am terrified for them.

Too old at 40? Or shall we put it more honestly — too expensive, too experienced, too wise to blindly follow dictums that their experience has taught them to doubt?

Push them aside at your peril, World, or you’ll get what you have coming: An endless cycle of cheap, innocent beginners doomed to learn the same lessons over and over and over. And those of us on the farther side are doomed to watch — and discover at last how those crotchety elders we remember came to be.

2 thoughts on “NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: Reforumed — Best Used By …”

  • Katherine February 8, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    Good stuff.

  • Barbara La Valleur March 7, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thanks for giving me a heads up on this site. Will post photos and occasional musings.


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