In 2012, a friend who works at a startup offered to refer me for a job there. She wrote to the hiring manager: “Jeff may be older than most, but he fits right in!” I was 49, and didn’t get the job. I did keep the e-mail. Re-reading it now, I try to imagine working at a place that sees my age as a peculiarity that has to be excused. No thanks.
I have been hired for several very desirable social media jobs in the past decade. I don’t mind working for someone 20 years younger than me, and don’t fixate on others’ experience or inexperience. I try not to make dumb jokes about my age or others’ youth.
I was a Knight fellow at Stanford 2008–2009 and took a famous ballroom dance class where 100 students switch partners every few minutes. One of the students apparently lamented dancing with me and another Knight because we were older. The instructor launched into an angry lecture in the middle of the large gym. He said life is short and we are paired with people who are different from us for a reason. We get in step with them not because they are just like us, but by getting to know their differences. We learn to move together — or we are doomed to move apart, he announced to a hushed crowd. I was quite moved.
Then he barked at me to pick up my feet, and we all resumed waltzing.