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At My Age, I Just Can't Compete With The Younger, Competent Guys I Work With

I'm 51 years old, but I might as well be 100 when it comes to my workplace. These days, in a culture that values youth and the ability to competently do your job above all else, it's tougher than ever for an unqualified person my age to get by. How is someone like me supposed to survive in that environment when he's surrounded by younger guys way more capable, adaptable, and hardworking than he is?

It's getting to be ridiculous.

Stupid me, I used to think seniority mattered. But after three decades of just going through the motions day in and day out, along come these college-age hotshots whose biggest assets seem to be a birth certificate with 1987 on it and the capacity to do the same work I do much more efficiently and with a better attitude. I'd already been barely doing my job for years when these guys were still learning to read, excelling at their schoolwork, and turning in their assignments on time! And what's my reward? Playing second banana to a bunch of vastly superior young men who couldn't tell you the first thing about cutting corners!

Let's face it, it's 2011, and there's just no place for someone as advanced in age and terrible at his chosen profession as I am. Next stop, the nursing home, I guess.

For one thing, these kids were raised on computers, so they automatically have a huge advantage over geezers like me who still remember floppy disks and are far too lazy and entitled to learn even the basics of the new accounting software. They've also got more energy than I do, so of course they're going to get more done than some old fart who takes two-and-a-half-hour lunch breaks and constantly uses the office phone for personal calls.

Excuse me for having a few gray hairs and not meeting a deadline in the past 14 years.

And these inexperienced twentysomethings are like raw clay to management, waiting to be molded into whatever shape the higher-ups want. They look at the young guys, and then they look at me, with my wrinkles and my long, documented history of consistently failing to follow the most rudimentary directions, and guess who gets the promotion every time?

Ding, ding, ding! You win a prize if you said the rosy-cheeked tyke who's my better by any reliable measure of performance and who seems to truly care about this company in a way I have not in a very long time, if ever.

That's how it is, though. There's no bigger crime than hitting middle-age in a business climate where youth and not being hopelessly inept are king.

I can't help but think about my future sometimes—at least what's left of it. After all, I'm not getting any younger or more professionally adept. It's only a matter of time before my boss calls me in and tells me I'm being let go to make room for some 25-year-old go-getter who actually deserves to be working here. Sure, I'll protest, but it will only prolong the inevitable. Fact is, the day you turn 40 and hand in a really sloppy report for what seems like the hundredth consecutive time and then make up a dozen excuses as to why it wasn't your fault, the writing's already on the wall.

I don't blame the young guys for trying to make a splash. They're young and brash and still possess that sense of pride I haven't experienced since the first Bush administration. But while they might feel indestructible now, someday they'll be exactly like me: a paunchy old man who needs bifocals and made the unfortunate mistake of living long enough to be an out-of-touch relic of no use to anyone while also refusing to do anything to remain relevant.

And who clearly should never have been hired in the first place.

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