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Simple tactics for shutting down age-based criticism

Ageism is a growing problem – and one the pandemic has shone a light on. Here’s how you can combat it in your own life.

You may notice it subtly at first. “You look great for your age.” It’s intended to be a compliment, but why tack on “for your age”? “You look great” also does the trick. Or, have you ever been asked at work if you do email? (Of course, you do!) And a common one: “Are you still working/biking/[insert any other verb here]?” The word “still” makes it feel like the inquirer is surprised you’re able to partake at your age.

Usually, there is no intended malice in these comments, but it can take a toll over time. According to a new United Nations report, ageism leads to poorer physical and mental health as well as reduced quality of life. (The COVID-19 pandemic has shed more light on ageism, with physical isolation recommendations and medical interventions.)

But there is some truth to the adage that age is only a number. This should be a new, exciting chapter of your life – one that you’ve carefully planned for and are living enthusiastically. Here’s how you can fight against age discrimination if it rears its ugly head in your working or social life.

Don’t be afraid to bring it to someone’s attention if they’re being insensitive. Many people don’t realize how their words can make others feel. You don’t have to address it harshly or aggressively but come from a place of care and attempt to educate.

Do make sure you feel confident about your new identity. If you’ve lived most of your life being the Ivy League law professor and now you’re retired, fill some of your time with something you’re equally passionate about to bolster your new identity. Maybe it’s working part-time on pro bono cases or providing legal services to a nonprofit.

Don’t shy away from discussing it with others in your age group. Your peers may have some advice for how they’ve dealt with ageism in the workplace or in social situations. If nothing else, talking about it will make you feel like you’re not alone.

Do enlist a trusted advocate. If you’re concerned about age discrimination in a medical or legal situation, call in reinforcement. Having your child, spouse or other personal representative present who can advocate for your needs will put your worry at ease. (Then find a new provider, stat!) Age discrimination is illegal in the workforce, so if you believe you’ve been targeted, reach out to an attorney who specializes in the area.

Don’t avoid asking for help because you fear people will view you differently. As we age, we may need more help with financial matters or taking care of the house, for example. You’re wise for recognizing that need and reaching out for help. That way, you have a say in how it’s accomplished.

Fighting ageism requires you to stand up for yourself and your peers – and educate others along the way. This new chapter of life is just as beautiful as all the chapters before it, so live it unabashedly and to the fullest.