Why being over 50 should be an asset, not a liability

As a white male at the top of the privilege totem, you don't get a lot of discrimination, so it's quite a surprise when you experience it.

I'm 53 and people are starting to see my age, not me. It's infuriating.

Iceberg issues

I am very aware I'm only experiencing a tiny sliver of the discrimination women, disabled people, gay people and a plethora of racial groups live with, every moment of their lives. There's no "poor me" here. My privilege is intact – it's just getting some wrinkles.

And it might be a good thing for a white male to feel the sting of even just a little prejudice. It might help us be more understanding of, and empathetic to, others.

Women have to constantly argue "I am not my body". The disabled have to say "I am not my wheelchair." Gay people: "I am not my sexuality." The majority of the world: "I am not my skin colour."

Well, I am me, not my age.

Who's stupid now?

It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of age but a 2017 survey of 1352 by recruiter, Hays, revealed 70 per cent of employers will happily not employ someone because of the year they were born.

But where it gets me is advertising. I'm sitting quietly on the couch, watching River Cottage (I'm not old, I just like cooking and looking at pigs and chickens, okay) and an ad will come on for insurance. It features what appears to be ZZ Top's grandfathers playing banjos on the side of the road as some other codgers drive past very safely with a caravan.

The voice over tells us, very clearly, so the elderly can hear, the ad is for "Insurance for the over 50s. It's cheaper because you're not an idiot any more," or something like that.


I instantly spit beer everywhere and start shouting. "This ad is aimed at me? Well it bloody missed!"

It's an anti-ad. I'd never, ever, give that company my money. It makes me want to drive everywhere sideways, on fire.

Just a number

My mother volunteers at what she calls the local "old people's home". She does not see any irony at all that she helps the "old people" … she's 74.

She and my father, 78, who bikes 40km a day and drives tour buses up icy roads to NZ's skifields, recently attended a seminar about living well in your "prime".

"There were all these young people there, in their, 50s and 60s. That's not your prime!" Mum scoffed.

Clearly, mum is onto something. Your prime is right now.

Fighting fit

Rugby League "super coach", Wayne Bennett, 68, is embroiled in political drama at the Brisbane Broncos. There's feeling he's getting a bit old and the Broncos have been talking to another coach, Craig Bellamy, behind his back.

"At this point in my life, I still have a lot to offer," he said.

"There's no-one more honest about me than me. No-one knows me better than me … I feel great mentally and physically. I won't be defined by my age."

Damn straight, Wayne.

Untapped skillset

The job market is also personally interesting. I've been writing a book for a while and tried to find a little freelance work to cover a few bills.

I am way overqualified for everything I apply for. But I don't want a "big" job. I've done all that. I want to work somewhere fun and interesting, where I can use my experience, creative and corporate skills to add value … and have time to finish my book.

However, I have been told my CV is "big and weird". It almost doesn't make any sense to a 30-year-old. They don't understand some of the stuff I've done, let alone see its relevance to the modern marketplace.

Here's a tip. Someone who has done 10,000 hours of subbing and written millions of words and thousands of headlines, understands agency, client and brand deeply, will be probably be not bad at writing copy for cereal boxes.

You don't look a day over...

People are always incredibly surprised when I tell them my age. They think I'm younger because I don't "act like an old guy."

I met my daughter for a coffee, just half an hour ago, and she introduced me to a 19-year-old colleague, who said, "Wow, you don't look like a dad!"

How does an old guy act? What does a dad look like?

Tonight I'm going to busk outside Marrickville Station for a couple of hours because I love it and go and spend the beer money watching some mates play a gig at a local club. I'm not going to smoke a pipe and put on my slippers.

Age bias is just annoying. But it does give those of us of the more senior persuasion just a little taste of what's out there for the majority of our fellow human beings.

Now, I'm tired and need a nap. You kids get off my lawn.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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Have you hit the wrong side of a half century? Share what has changed, and hasn't, for you in the comments section below.