I knew the moment our eyes met that I was doomed.
The young woman glanced up from her iPhone 6, caught my eye, frowned slightly (ever so slightly) then kept looking around, her eyes boring into the younger women gathered in the foyer around me.
She had a kind of pleading, desperate look about her.
Trying not to frown in response (lest my crow’s-feet startle her further) I wedged my lips into a bright smile, dumped my Samsung mobile phone into my handbag (again, one mustn’t startle), and strode across the marble floor towards the sofa where she was now perched.
“Amber!”* I called out as I narrowed in, giving the website editor time to collect herself. I knew she’d need it.
Looking up at me, she blinked several times before it finally hit.
“Christina?” she asked, her frown returning with a vengeance.
I nodded, extending one hand to shake hers.
“Oh! Right! Sorry, I didn’t see you there, please take a seat.”
As she forced the scowl from her otherwise flawless forehead—no mean feat I can assure you—I wondered whether I should save us both the time and simply turn around and walk away. Then I internally slapped myself for being so defeatist, sat down and attempted to re-dazzle her with my resume.
I say ‘re-dazzle’ because Amber was already familiar with my work. We had met via email the month before and “overawed” (her words, not mine) by my extensive writing experience—which includes editing several national publications, freelancing for another 30, and running bureaus in London, NY and LA—she had given me four internet articles to write in just two weeks. I did them promptly, there were no complaints, and that’s when I let my guard down.
Oh foolish, foolish me.
I suggested we meet in person. I was coming to town and thought it would be “lovely”. But as soon as I saw the trendily dressed 20-something look straight through me in the foyer of her office block I knew I had made a fateful miscalculation.
The editor was polite, she was responsive, she promised me more work, and then, after just ten minutes, she began to fiddle nervously with her iPhone and made her excuses. I thanked her for her time, returned home and proceeded not to hear from her, as I feared I wouldn’t.
Such is the fate of an ageing journalist.
The modern age
“She was startled by my age,” I told a friend who rolled her eyes in reply. “No, seriously, she seemed almost shocked to be chatting to a 48-year-old about writing for her hip new website. I felt like Donald Trump applying for a job with the UN. How dare I? Sure, she was polite but she couldn’t get rid of me fast enough and hasn’t replied to a single email since I got back. Not even a ‘thanks anyway’. She’s simply gone cold, blocked me, thrown me on the scrap heap.”
“Now you’re just being melodramatic,” my friend scoffed. “Maybe she’s really busy.”
“For four months? I think not.”
Still not convinced, I threw a few rudimentary statistics at her.
Before meeting me in person = 4 freelance articles in 2 weeks
After meeting me in person = 0 freelance articles in 16 weeks
I don’t blame Amber, not really. I was a young editor once. I probably dismissed “older” people, too, without even realising I was doing it. When I was 21, 30 seemed ancient, so to sit across from a 48-year-old must have felt like gazing at the Machu Picchu.
I wonder how 50-, 60- and 70-somethings do it, and I take off my hat to those who’ve survived and flourished in an industry that’s hard enough no matter what your age. To them I must sound like a classic ‘cry baby’, and I apologise for that. I know I’m not old, not AT ALL, but in Amber’s eyes—the eyes of a potential employer—I was well past my prime.
And it had nothing to do with my writing and everything to do with my wrinkles, albeit fairly fine ones.
Of course my defeatist attitude would not have helped, I understand that, too. Perhaps I was already waving the white flag as I strode across that foyer that day, but five years of dwindling freelance job offers has knocked my confidence about.
And I am not alone.
Age discrimination in the workforce is not up for debate. It’s old news. So old in fact that many governments now have to bribe employers to take on staff over the age of 50. In Australia, they’ve just lowered it to 45. And even then they struggle to get an uptake.
Lose your job at my age and you’re fried. According to research by the Australian Human Rights Commission, nearly three in five people over the age of 50 who look for paid work are a target of discrimination because of their age while a third of all managers admitted that they factored age into decisions around employment.**
And some industries, I hazard to guess, are worse than others, like young industries such as the internet and dying industries like journalism, where there’s far too many job seekers and far too few prospects. But I don’t hold it against those industries, certainly not the internet, because the very thing that has been killing off my traditional writing work has enabled my new career as a fiction writer.
When one door closes...
Thanks to the computer age and the World Wide Web, I can self-publish my own crime novels from home any damn time I like. I can reach out to my own audience (hello there!), promote my own work, and make a really lovely living without leaving my living room. It’s all done with a touch of a mouse and some thoroughly modern software.
And my ever-growing book sales have nothing to do with my age or my crow’s-feet or how fabulous my phone is. Nobody at Amazon or Apple asks for my date of birth before they download my e-books. They just want great stories and—here’s the kicker—the older I get, the greater my stories get. It’s a win-win for everyone.
That’s the delightful thing about ageing: your writing matures right along with you, whether Amber and her ilk recognise that or not.
So all I can suggest for those grappling with age discrimination is to find another way in a new world if you can. The very industry that has turned its back on me as an old-school journalist has opened doors for me as an online author, and for that I am eternally grateful.
It’s swings and roundabouts, people. Be sure to jump on for the ride.
So I write this blog, not to gain sympathy or ignite the age debate—frankly, that’s just, well, old—but as a reminder that while age shouldn’t matter, it very often does, and no amount of botox or iGadgets are going to change that fact. But age needn’t hold us back.
My short-lived career at the hip website may have fallen in a huddle, but there’s a silver lining: I now have more time to focus on my fiction. And after my little experience in that shiny Sydney foyer, I now have a new victim for my latest murder plot.
Her name is Amber, and she’s about to get her comeuppance (cue sinister laughter here).
* Not her real name, of course! (I can be truly wicked in my books but that’s fiction, folks)