Dispelling the Myths That Hold Back Seniors

Older workers are easy to typecast because the myths persevere:

  • They’re less effective on the job than younger people.
  • They don’t deal well with change.
  • They look to the past, not the future.
  • They examine and re-examine, taking forever to reach a decision.
  • They want to be rewarded for loyalty, not performance.

Like all stereotypes, these views have harmed older employees and contributed to the notion of the unemployability of seasoned people. In fact, if you substitute “experienced” for “older” and view the situation from that perspective, you can dismiss the stereotypes and turn the myths into strengths.

No matter what your age, you can dispel the myths and put your experiences to good use by demonstrating flexibility, showing the right attitude in a range of situations, remaining open-minded and keeping yourself alert to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Simply being aware of the valuable assets you’ve developed throughout your career lets you position yourself to make valuable contributions when working with younger workers. This also can help you to gain an advantage when competing against them.

You’ve certainly had many valuable experiences throughout your career. Think back to achievements for which you were complimented or perhaps even promoted. No doubt you also can recall events and situations that didn’t work out quite so well. Don’t ignore them. Realize that they too represent important learning experiences.

The key here is that because you’ve lived life and developed some level of business wisdom during your career, you can draw on your past to plan and take advantage of your future. There’s no substitute for experience. It gives you a natural advantage over less experienced workers, but only if you use it wisely.

Capitalize on Your Experience

The human brain, a three-pound mass of interwoven nerve cells that controls our activity, has an amazing capacity to store information. Still, estimates suggest that we use only about 10% of our brain’s capacity. The more we learn, the more the brain can retain for future reference.

The simple fact that you’ve been working for more years gives you a potential advantage over younger workers. Think of the times you’ve come up with a solution to a problem by drawing on a recollection of an experience that has occurred in your past, perhaps even a decade or more ago.

And don’t think that you can learn from only successful experiences. You’ve also learned from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. In retrospect, the lessons that offer the greatest wisdom come from the experiences that didn’t work out as well as we’d hoped or planned.

One of my most indelible career experiences came from my days in banking, when I recommended a loan for a customer for the development of a hotel. The development didn’t proceed as well as planned, and the customer couldn’t repay the loan. I lost a great deal of sleep over the situation, treating it as if it was my own money at risk. Eventually, I resolved the problem, thanks to significant research, meetings and negotiations. The asset was sold to another company, and at no loss to my bank. It also was good news for the customer, as we were able to work closely with this person in a supportive manner and stave off financial ruin.

The lessons I learned during those months never left me. The experience made me a better banker. From then on, I was careful to take all necessary precautions to prevent the same situation from happening again. Over time, that resulted in much higher profits for my employers. I still apply the same caution in any business dealing today. It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. It’s just that the mistakes are smaller than they otherwise might have been.

When I went back to college to complete my economics degree after getting married, I was bombarded with information. I wondered how I could ever apply so much information in real life. I remember one of my lecturers telling me it was highly likely I’d only use 5% of what I was learning in the business world. This was extremely discouraging. Was 95% of what I was learning really going to be wasted?

Following college graduation, my career exposed me to a wide range of banking in different countries around the world. Although a great deal of what I’d learned in college wasn’t relevant right away, I now look back and realize I’ve been able to draw on the majority of that knowledge, applying it at key points in my working life.

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