Age + Experience = No Job

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I do not consider myself old.

I do, however, consider myself elderly. My joints creak and hurt sometimes. My hair and beard are a nice shade of white. I occasionally forget things (like walking from one room to another and not recalling why I made that move).

But all of those things were happening to me by the time I was 35.

My hair greyed, and eventually turned white, very early in life; it happened a lot on my mother’s side of the family so I pretty much expected it would happen to me. Shortly after I turned 23, I developed a spot of white hair near the forefront of my head. By 30 I was turning grey, and by 35 I was pretty well on my way to being a white-haired man. My mother’s hair turned white fairly early, as did her uncle’s, her grandfather’s. I suspect that if her parents had lived beyond 40, they would have seen heads of white hair. Thankfully, I dod have a reasonably thick head of hair — it’s just white.

The joints in my body, especially my legs and feet, ache; but that was anticipated since I ran thousands of miles while participating in cross country and track in high school and college. In high school, I averaged 50-75 miles of more training and racing a week. By the time I was running in college, my mileage was higher than that and I was running marathons and ultra-marathons. In college, I ran the entire season of cross country, my freshman year, with a hairline fracture in my ankle. After that season, a doctor told me, after examining the ankle shortly after I’d spent 8 weeks in a cast, “You’re going to pay for all the miles on these legs.” I am … and paying dearly.

I know I am not alone with being occasionally forgetful. It’s not so much that humans are forgetful as they simply don’t focus and listen very well. Even when the old, “A man walked into a room — and forgot why he was there,” thing happens to me when I am all alone. We’ve all done it.

I am 61 years old. As a youngster, I would have categorized someone that age as “old.” Aging has never bothered me, as far as my attitude is concerned. Adding a year to our age every 365 days is just a part of life. I truly believe each person in this world is “only as old as you feel.” Some days I feel really old. Some days I feel pretty young. Most days, I feel 61.

But in this past year, I felt more and more “older” — but in a way different than standard aging.

In January 2014, I sold the two weekly newspapers I’d owned and operated for 37 years. I’d gotten married a couple months prior to the sale, and moved in with my new wife in a town new to me. My initial intent was to be semi-retired. I was only 60 at the time I made the move, too young to actually retire, so I decided I would substitute teach as a means of income. I thought about doing some freelance writing, too. But I wasn’t planning on working full-time.

Well …. I got bored.

The substitute teaching kept me marginally busy. I picked up a few freelance writing gigs, but to be honest, my heart wasn’t into writing. I needed some time away from journalism, so I pretty much stopped writing except for an occasional blog.

Last summer, I picked up a seasonal job as a grounds maintenance person at a research farm near my new home town. I enjoyed working at the farm. I did a lot of mowing, trimming, and tree pruning, but I also did a decent amount of general farm work. I learned a tremendous amount about farming and experimental farming.

In the fall of 2014, I went back to the substitute teaching gig, opening the school year with a long-term sub job for the first eight weeks of the school year. Once that was done, I returned to the farm for a month to help with the harvest. Once that job ended, I got another long-term sub job that took me until the end of the first semester.

But from mid-spring 2014 to the present, I was and have been applying for full-time jobs. Not just any jobs, mind you, but jobs I felt were in my field of expertise — writing, editing, marketing, public relations, and photography. I should mention, in the 1980s and 90s, while operating my newspapers, I took on other full-time jobs. For five years I was the sports editor for an area daily newspaper, then for six years, I worked for a local hospital in their public relations and marketing department. So when I say I have experience and expertise in areas mentioned above, I speak the truth.

To date, I have applied for 30 jobs. Some of the jobs I admit were perhaps a bit of a reach when talking about my “fit” for the position, but in each case, I felt I had the ability and/or experience to do the job. And to date, I have been called in for one interview; and that was for a job I was probably the least qualified. And I got TWO interviews for that job before being told they were “going in another direction.” Well actually, they never contacted me after the second interview (rather tacky if you ask me).

Now I can’t say my age has worked against me — I have no proof. Perhaps some of those potential employers looked at my resume and felt I was either over-qualified, or my vast experience would place me in a salary range too high for their budgets. I have no proof I was discriminated against either because of my age or experience.

But I was never invited to come in to discuss the jobs!

In one situation, a marketing job for a winery that was opening an office in a second location, the job description nearly screamed my name. They wanted good writing and editing skills. Journalism or English degree was preferred, not to mention experience in advertising and/or marketing. Didn’t even get an email back telling me they were or weren’t interested. Nothing. I did, however, see a Facebook post a couple months later (I had “liked” their Facebook site because I was familiar with their wine, and liked it), with a photo of a group of people with the caption, “Meet our new (office location) staff.” No one in the photo was over the age of 30. I’m no rocket scientist, but the photo told me I had been too old to be considered.

With each letter or email rejecting my candidacy for a job that I felt I was qualified to do, my self-esteem slipped a notch. Sometimes I got no reply at all (that just seems tacky to me; at the very least tell me you’ve dropped me from consideration). I try not to let it bother me; the degree of “bother” is usually affixed to my desire/interest in the job. Sometimes I feel I am quite qualified for the job, or it seems like it would be a position I would really enjoy; those hurt the most.

My wife keeps saying one of two things: (1) “If they would just visit with you, they would see what kind of person you are,” and (2) “Don’t worry, something is going to pop up.”

The thing is, if they would call me in for an interview, I would have the chance not only to show them my outgoing, friendly personality, but I could allay whatever fears they might have that I am either looking for a monstrous salary or will retire in 3-5 years, or both. I could tell them my plans, which include working until my wife reaches retirement age (8-9 years from now) and that, while I don’t want to devalue myself nor literally give my skills away, I am willing to work for a reasonable salary, one that would allow me to pay household bills and pad my retirement savings.

I feel I am quite reasonable in both my years of work and pay desire.

But without an interview, I have no opportunity to address those concerns.

The last two job applications I submitted, I decided to throw caution to the wind. I included a paragraph in my letter of application, telling about my work plans and my salary desires. I figured what have I got to lose; perhaps that paragraph will inspire an interview. We’ll see; those letters went out in the last week.

However, while I have no way of proving my suspicions have any validity, it seems rather obvious that potential employers are ignoring my skills in favor of hiring younger candidates whom they can pay less money¬†or who is, unlike me, not under¬†61 and doesn’t have a bevy of experience.

In school, my forte was not math. But I am pretty sure I know what age + experience adds up to. Nothing.

Feeding Birds And People

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Thanks to my father and youngest brother, I have taken a keener interest in birds.

I say “keener” because I have always enjoyed watching birds. I was fortunate to grow up and live in a region of America that has an abundance of wild birds. I suspect any region of America has an abundance of wild birds, and most likely, an amount equal or more than the number of species living in southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska. But since my bird-watching hobby has developed in that part of middle America, it’s the only personal contact I have had with birds.

I grew up in southeast South Dakota, and then after a couple years out of the area, I relocated across the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. It truly is a wildlife heaven. There are all kinds of birds — from the usual collection of “neighborhood” birds, like robins, wrens, cardinals, and bluebirds, to larger birds, such as eagles, hawks, turkeys, turkey vultures, and pheasants.

I have lived nearly all my life in towns. The populations of the two main cities where I lived were 13,000 and 750. My parents lived on 100 acres near a Missouri River reservoir, and my brother lived in a development nearby. While my “urban” dwelling allowed me to see a nice collection of birds: sparrows, robins, wrens, and finches mostly, my parents and brother saw a monster multiplicity of birds.

So when I moved to another town about six months ago, I wanted to attract birds. My new wife and I set up feeders and a birdbath. We hung a hummingbird feeder. And then we sat back and waited for the birds to come flying in.

They didn’t.

At least not in the droves of species I have hoped for. We get sparrows, wrens, finches (yellow and purple/red), robins, and starlings for the most part. We occasionally see a cardinal couple, a bluejay.

But this spring, after watching my father and brother have up to 15 orioles show up at feeders filled with grape jelly and halved oranges, I decided to see if I could attract those beautifully-orange, sweet-toothed birds.

I placed a small ceramic bowl with a healthy dollop of grape jelly on a table on our deck. Within 12 hours, we had a brightly-hued male dipping his beak into the purple sweetness. I was ecstatic! I was elated … excited … encouraged.

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In visiting with my father and brother about their bevy of orioles, it was surmised that this huge collection was among the many of the species that were migrating. As the orioles make their way north, some drop off along the flight path, and decide to take up residence at stops along their flight path. The rest continue on. Within a week, the busy feeders at Dad’s and my brother’s had seen a substantial dropoff of orange. It appeared the majority of their oriole visitors had moved on.

My father, in the previous 3-4 years, has had orioles make their unique teardrop nests in a tree just outside his picture window. He gets to watch them come and go while building the nest, and then come and go while tending the young inhabitants of that nest. This year, the tree that had held those previous oriole nests had to be cut down, the victim of disease and age. So he has not seen where the orioles that remained in his area, and still come to feed on jelly and oranges, now reside.

As for my oriole efforts, a day after that male had showed up, a female (I am assuming his partner) made some tentative approaches before eventually skittishly settling on the edge of the bowl and grabbing beakfuls of jelly. Though they are very cautious in their efforts of get their fill of jelly, the pair eventually felt safe and made countless trips to the deck to partake in the sweet feast.

Within a week, I began seeing other orioles at the bowl. My high-water moment came when I had one eating and four others perched on deck furniture waiting for their turn at the trough. I have enjoyed these newcomers, and the original pair, often over the last few days.

And I have noticed, the birds in this collection of orioles are very much like the human race — diverse and very different.

Just as we humans are born with physical features that sets us apart from others of our species, these orioles have physical features that enable me to recognized them immediately. Whereas mankind breaks down by races and ethnicities, these orioles are all the same species … Baltimore Orioles. Though there are also Bullocks Orioles and American Orioles, what I have at my jelly bowl is most certainly Baltimore Orioles.

They are varied in color depth and brilliance, as well as differences between the male and female of the species. But what I have noticed is that each one of those birds, in its own unique and individual makeup, is beautiful and fun to watch. Bright orange, duller orange, bright yellow, or mustard-hued yellow — they are all magnificent creatures.

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And this got me thinking … as respectful that I am of each oriole that has stopped by my jelly bowl, do I offer similar respect to all humans with whom I come in contact? How about the humans I see on the TV news and sports? Or those I read about in newspaper and magazine articles?

I hope so. I like to think I demonstrate an equal amount of respect to each and every human being I see or meet. It is, after all, a truly basic characteristic of being human. Right? Love your neighbor as you love yourself … the basis upon which the Bible was created so many years ago.

I have always felt it shouldn’t take a book to explain how we should live among our fellow man. To me, within each of us should exist the basic tenant that we should care for all humans. I don’t mean to place myself on some moralistic pedestal. I admit, it took me at the very least, half of my time on Earth to come to this conclusion. But I did arrive at it, and I try to live my life with that being the foundation of my existence.

I love watching my oriole friends (I consider them friends since they come and visit often). And I love watching, and encountering, my fellow man. My children will attest, I consider no one a stranger. I will strike up a conversation with anyone. If they choose not to engage, I graciously back off, but if they decide to carry on the conversation, well, I have met someone new, and that someone has added to the depth of my life.

I don’t really know why I drew this correlation. But as I sat on my couch this morning, sipping coffee and watching the orioles grab multiple bites of purple breakfast, I was struck by the similarity — the relationship I have with those brilliant-but-skittish birds. I had offered my friendship, via food, and they had accepted.

I do the same with people … errr, not always with food, though. But maybe what I offer them is something akin to food. Perhaps it is food for their souls. By being accepting of them, respecting them, and offering that respect, I might very well be feeding their souls. And when I do that, I can consider each one my friend.

It doesn’t have to be a lifetime friendship — even a brief exchange while waiting in line, or filling up our car, or even passing in a hallway — it is a friendship. It is feeding their souls. It is, as I have done with the orioles, showing respect and acceptance of all.

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