Today’s 50-year old woman can expect many more years of successful career advancement, or even to launch a new career. I’m not sure everyone believes this yet. But the idea is a fantastic departure from a few decades ago when middle-aged women (and even men) would expect either to reach “Freedom Fifty-Five” or get packaged out before their full retirement benefits became too costly for their company.
But this was definitely the consensus when, in early 2017, I watched a CNN panel talking about Michelle Obama and what her future held from 2017 on.
The panelists talked about her in glowing terms, as most people do: brilliant, of the moment, accessible, educated, experienced etc. All agreed she could name her next role, salary and terms – including that she could probably be elected President at some point. Of course, Michelle Obama’s experience and connections are beyond that of most women. But it was the next comment that stopped me in my tracks:
She’s still young – only in her early to mid fifties. A woman with her education, background and experience – she could be at the very start of a brilliant new career that takes her through the next twenty years.
To this panel, it was an obvious fact that a woman could start “a brilliant new career” at the youngish age of 53. I love this! There are 1001 stories of middle-aged women being out of touch, over the hill – insert derogatory adjectives here. And agism is still a big bias we’re dealing with, to be sure. But still…it’s pretty amazing that we’re now talking about women starting a whole new career at 55+.
Several factors are at play: retirement saving is taking longer; people are suffering prolonged unemployment etc. But it could also be that we have more examples of successful women to look up to. Girls and young women often need to “see it before we can be it”. And Michelle Obama represents an image young women believe they can attain. She’s saying, out loud, that we can be ambitious and assert our goals. And that our goals don’t have an expiry date.
The best part? We believe her! Now, more than ever, it’s important that we do.
This quote, from Michelle Obama’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in December, 2016, is powerful. I hope it helps women of all ages the way it helps me:
We, as women, as minorities, underestimate ourselves. I’m pretty smart. I work hard. I’m good at what I do. I have really good instincts. I have great ideas. And, I can execute. And I say that out loud because we, as women, don’t pat ourselves on the back – we’re always sort of deferring. We cede our power so easily and I want young girls out there to understand that what’s in your brain is really useful. Do not hide it. Don’t dumb it down or apologize for it. Just put it on the table and let people deal with it. Because we silence ourselves.”
Maybe this is a little too “Stuart Smalley” for some of you – “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!” But it’s important we get more comfortable with self-affirmation and the language of self-confidence.
Smart is not a four-letter word and I’m thrilled that women are confidently talking about this now. Especially middle-aged women who often have the most to contribute: experience, wisdom, leadership skills, all honed over years of working under great or even horribly incompetent bosses. Or from being the leader themselves.
I hope to continue the conversation here that Michelle and Oprah started. Let’s share ideas about how to own our confidence, stop ceding our power and silencing ourselves, and instead start using our voices.
Our voice is one of our most powerful tools!
Tell me what you think in the comments. Do you agree with Michelle Obama? Do you have your own example to share? Have you even considered where you’ll be in your career or life in your fifties? I’m not quite there yet, but the future seems full of opportunity! If you are there, tell us how it’s going.