Is "old" a dirty word?

Shortly after writing the post, "Are your work habits making you look old?," with Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the book, "How Not to Act Old," I got an email from Barbara Raab, a friend who works in television.

"What's wrong with acting "old" (a.k.a. one's actual age) at work?" she wrote. "I don't think you meant it to be ageist, but I really think this post IS ageist. You haven't told me WHY I should not look over 40 at work; you seem to take it as a given that seeming one's age, if that age is over 40, is something no one would actually want."

She continued: "How about wearing tight jeans and a thong that shows? Or coming to work hung over? These are also things that young people do? Why did you buy into the whole notion of acting younger at work?"

Barbara makes some excellent points. Being perceived as "old" in the workplace shouldn't be considered a bad thing. In fact, experienced (older, mature, choose your word) workers have tremendous value in the workplace and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise in that post. She's also correct that younger people make huge missteps at work that can often be traced to their youth or inexperience.

I wrote that post with full knowledge that ageism exists and that it is insidious. And those are the same reasons that Pamela Redmond Satran says motivated her to write her book, "How Not to Act Old." When I asked Satran, who is in her fifties, how she'd respond to the ageist charge, she replied: "My point isn't that you should pretend you're 30 or deny your age. It's to know that these attitudes are out there so that you can make decisions whether to do anything about them. I work in publishing, where most of my colleagues are a good twenty years or more younger than I am. The tips I include in my blog and book feel like secret tips that were slipped to me by my younger colleagues. And when they revealed them I felt like it was because they liked me and cared about me, and wanted to make sure that I wasn't out of touch."

I agree with Satran. Especially in today's high technology workplace, people who refuse to get on board with technology will be perceived as "old" and not "old" in the good sense (e.g. experienced). I have conversations every day with people (and yes, even people as young as 40) who tell me that they can't remain marketable today unless they embrace the new technologies needed to do their jobs. My friend Barbara fully agrees with this point, which is part of the reason she took a leave of absence last year from her job NBC to teach journalism and improve her multimedia skills. And that's what I meant to convey by highlighting Satran's advice.

Still, I have to hand it to Barbara for taking me to task. There is enough age discrimination in the workplace that I'd hate to stoke that fire.

Barbara was the only one I heard from who had this reaction. But several readers did question some of Satran's advice, particularly the piece where she cautioned against constantly running to younger people for help on technology questions. I've been known to ask a younger friend here or there for a tutorial, but the more comfortable I get with technology the more I realize how easy it can be to find answers in a FAQ or online forum. So I like Satran's suggestion to try to find the answer for yourself first.

Readers, what do you all think? Does the kind of post I wrote perpetuate stereotypes we need to overcome?