IN March, I celebrated my 60th birthday, which brought with it the expected mix of disbelief and angst. I got over the worst of it, thanks to three days of festivities and reassurance from kind friends. But soon I began to notice that I was avoiding mentioning my age around clients and colleagues.
In trying to keep that information close to the vest, I was far from alone. Sometime between 50 and 60, I've found, people tend to stop publicizing their age.
This is hardly a new phenomenon -- my Aunt Ruth cut five years off her age by 40, a fact uncovered only at her funeral. The difference now is that it's becoming a losing battle to hide this vital statistic. Thanks a lot, Google.
So I want to propose that we over-50s start to own -- even embrace -- how old we are. With nearly 80 million baby boomers alive today, we have the numbers to tackle ageism. It's the perfect time for a major cultural attitude adjustment.
Certainly, there are legitimate reasons for boomers to be cagey about their age. In social situations, we fear that people will treat us differently. And in the workplace, age discrimination is very much alive. Friends of mine who were Emmy Award-winning producers and writers stopped getting jobs when they hit their late 40s and 50s; studio executives thought they couldn't possibly relate to younger audiences. A 72-year-old friend with a new preschool teaching position could sense skepticism from fellow teachers about her ability to work with 3- and 4-year-olds. Could this woman sit cross-legged on the rug? Could she get up without calling the paramedics?
It turns out that even we older people discriminate against one another. I recently talked to a hiring manager in her 60s who acknowledged that she was reluctant to hire a 64-year-old candidate out of concern that he wouldn't stay for more than a year or two before retiring.
But in fact, many baby boomers want to keep working past the traditional retirement age. They like the stimulation and the challenge. Many need to work. When there are mortgages, college tuition and elderly parents to deal with, retirement is not an option.
Also contrary to popular lore that innovative ideas spring only from fresh, young minds in dorm rooms, a Northwestern University study found that people who are 55 and even 65 have more innovation potential than 25-year-olds.
In a Preoccupations column this past spring, Tom Agan, an innovation and brand expert, wrote, "If an organization wants innovation to flourish, the conversation needs to change from severance packages to retention bonuses." He believes that the innovation capacity of experienced older workers more than offsets the higher salary and retirement costs associated with employing them.
There are all kinds of perceptions about older workers -- some good, some bad. Based on research by the Adecco staffing company, hiring managers see us as reliable, professional and possessing a stellar work ethic. On the flip side, we are thought to be somewhat resistant to technology and to taking orders from managers half our age.
Unfortunately, in the broader culture, the negative perceptions outnumber the positives. And we don't help the situation by accepting them. A good first step toward a turnaround is to examine our own stereotypes and fess up to our fears. Then we need to change our attitude.
With aging, as with most things in life, attitude counts for a lot. Grandma was right: you're only as old as you feel. So let's feel good about being 50, 60, 70 and beyond. Let's even brag about it.
I'VE spent untold hours helping business professionals brag about themselves -- the good way, of course -- for the job interview, the sales pitch, the elevator speech, you name it. But the group that needs to do a much better job at this is the 55-and-over crowd.
In and out of the workplace, we need to share our stories with pride. We have much experience and wisdom under our belts, which makes for a distinct perspective and, ultimately, a richer culture.
At this age, like any other, the key to happiness is to fully embrace who we are -- to prize what we've learned and to appreciate how far we've come. Because many of us will be around into our late 80s and 90s, and maybe longer, we'll have lots of time to practice.
Peggy Klaus advises executives and organizations on leadership and communication.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.