Women Have a Limited Shelf Life

“Women have a limited shelf life. After 50 we become invisible and our value quickly diminishes.”

This is what a friend told me recently.

At first I thought, WTF?

And then I started to worry.

Is that true? At 47, am I in the express lane to becoming redundant?

I almost convinced myself that I was going to quickly become an irrelevant shell of myself, begging for scraps of purpose and usefulness.

But then I thought, That’s a bucket of horse shit.

To be sure, studies show that women have a harder time finding jobs over 50.

We need to plan financially for this reality, while fighting hard against sexism and ageism in the workplace.

And, I won’t even get into the bias society has towards youth and beauty when it comes to dictating a woman’s value. We all know that’s a gift that keeps on giving, like a dead mouse stuck in the wall.

This is what I wish I had replied to my friend’s comment instead of jumping on the giant carnival slide of worry.

We don’t need someone to validate us. We don’t need someone to deem us still relevant. We don’t need someone to declare us still visible.

I will do that myself. Through my actions. Through my voice. Through my ideas.

I’ve spent the past 47 years filling my arsenal with experience, education, skills, joy, pain, success, failure, empathy and wisdom.

And now I get to use that arsenal to do good things in the world.

So, what can you do to define your own purpose and value as you reach and surpass the half century mark?

Here are three simple exercises to help you get started.

1. Be clear on what you value

Write your own personal manifesto declaring what you value, what you believe in and what guides you in your life and actions. Your manifesto will help ground and center you as you make important decisions in your life and career. Think of it as your North Star. It can also be your call to action. It doesn’t even have to be what you are in the moment but what you aspire to be and what you work towards.

2. Own your strengths and skills

A strength is something that comes naturally to you. A skill is something that you have developed or learned (or can develop or learn). For example, your strength might be your sense of adventure, whereas your skill might be planning life-changing retreats in far away places.

One of the first things I ask a new client to do is list all of her strengths and skills. The beauty of having a few decades behind you is that you inevitably have a lot of things on your list and you can scratch things off the list that you don’t want to use going forward. You may not see how all of your strengths and skills are relevant to how you show up (yet). That’s why owning your strengths and skills is so important. When you own something, you get to define how you use it.

3. Create your vision

What is your vision for yourself? If you’ve already decided that you aren’t going to “go gently into that good night,” then what are you going to do?

I don’t mean write out a plan. I mean think about what you want your legacy to be to your family and your community?

I do this exercise with my clients. Imagine that you are being given a prestigious award. It can be a community award or a Nobel Prize, it’s up to you. Your good friend is introducing you to the audience and outlining your great accomplishment(s) and the reason you are being given the award. What does she say? Write it down.

By getting real clear on what you value most, knowing what strengths and skills you want to and can use to promote what you value, and defining what overall imprint you want to have on the world, you’ll have the foundation for how you will continue to show up, clearly and purposefully.

Kirsten Bunch