Every human being is a person of talent. Sadly, that’s hard for many of us to believe given how demeaning our experience has been in the job market. But, all of us do in fact have talent, and we can bring that talent to work with us. The problem is that too many employers ignore our talent or, worse, disrespect it. And, that’s especially true for people over the age of 50.
Talent is the capacity for excellence. Despite what Gifted and Talented programs in elementary school and made-for-TV dance contests would have you believe, it is neither rare nor limited to individuals with rocket science IQs, the athleticism of Derek Jeter or the voice of Lady GaGa. Quite the contrary – talent is an attribute of our species.
Like our opposable thumb, talent is one of the characteristics that defines being human. Every one of you reading this column as well as every one of your spouses, kids and grandkids, parents and siblings have been born with the gift of talent. If you’re breathing, you ARE a person of talent.
Sadly, however, many of us will spend thirty or forty years at work and never use our capacity for excellence. Sometimes, that’s our fault – we aren’t willing to do the hard work involved in discovering our talent or acquiring the skills and knowledge to apply it effectively on-the-job. In many other cases, however, the fault lies with our employers. They think talent follows a bell shaped curve and that most of us reside in the mediocre middle.
Even worse, too many employers (or the employees they tolerate) are convinced that talent is age dependent – it is only found in those who are young. Their bias is based on hair color and a few wrinkles, but it is just as insidious as a bias based on gender or ethnicity. In the minds of these bigots, anyone over the age of 50 has nothing to contribute and should, therefore, be ignored in the job market and shoved aside in the workplace. Consciously or unconsciously, they have created a <i>Talent Ceiling</i>.
Breaking Through the Talent Ceiling
Like the glass ceiling, the talent ceiling is a barrier – a human-imposed obstacle that keeps other qualified humans from achieving their full potential. Both are rooted in arrogance and utterly false beliefs about a segment of our society. The talent ceiling, however, affects men as well as women. It is the most democratic of barriers.
Sadly, research and our experience indicate that the glass ceiling and other workplace barriers are remarkably durable. Neither laws nor media approbation have been able to eliminate a single one, including the talent ceiling. So, if you’re an over 50 person of talent, what should you do? Venting on social media may help you feel better, but it does nothing to correct the perpetrators. And sadly, talking to them – trying to reason them out of their bias – is unlikely to have much of an impact, at least in our lifetime.
The key to smashing the talent ceiling isn’t to call prejudiced people out, it is to talk up people who are impartial and fair. Shame doesn’t work with talent bigots, but success can overwhelm them. Our goal, therefore, should be to celebrate and promote the actions of those organizations and individuals who respect persons of talent over the age of 50.
The talent ceiling exists at the corporate level in some organizations and at the office or even the team level in others. So, tap the community of 50+ talent in your area to identify the employers, managers and supervisors who recognize and reward excellence on the job regardless of the age of the person using it. Build this “database of tolerance” and then use social media to promote it to your friends and colleagues and theirs, as well.
The goal is to define success in your hometown or your career field as the standard established by those organizations and individuals who are champions of ageless talent. They are the ones who encourage and support the capacity for excellence even when it has gray hair. When you celebrate their values and culture, you make it clear that everyone else is channeling failure.
Breaking through the talent ceiling won’t be accomplished by laws or the arguments of pundits, at least not while most of us are working. It will happen, however. And it will be accomplished by over 50 persons of talent talking up those organizations and individuals who value and respect talent wherever it is found. They are the champions of change, and we should do everything we can to help them bring it about.
Thanks for reading,