The Good Life

37623-Cute-DogTo escape the bickering, and whining, and needs and desires and everyone’s demands, I took our dog for a walk on a quiet fire trail near our house. Bright and beautiful out, a sweet sea breeze came over the Oakland Hills with the afternoon sun. The mile and a half dirt path cut along the base of the foothills was mostly vacant, rarely used by even residents of the neighborhood, so I did not leash my dog for the walk.
 
I saw someone from the ridge while I waited for the dog to finish marking her territory in the open field atop the hill. A woman was coming towards us on the trail below, and I tensed as I scanned for the dog she was most likely walking, but saw none. Still, I called my 70 pound Shepherd-mix to me. My beautiful pound hound was passionately in love with people, but most didn’t appreciate her bounding up to greet them.
 
My dog came to me and I held her collar as we stood on the ridge and watched the woman trudge up the hill; her white hair looked almost like a silver helmet in the sunlight. She walked slowly, and carefully, and hunched. I made her out to be in her mid-70s. The dog started whining the moment she noticed the woman approaching, pulled to get away from me and go meet her potential new friend.
 
The woman was 30 feet away when she noticed us, looked up and stopped. I loudly assured her my dog was VERY friendly and loved everybody, that I held her securely, asserting there was no need to worry. The old woman looked at my dog wagging her tail wildly and whining incessantly, and she smiled. She confidently told me she loved dogs and then called mine to her. I let go of my dog’s collar and joined the woman on the path where she stood stroking my hound.
 
She gently ran her hand along the length of my dog’s back again and again while extolling the animal’s Sphinx-like appearance and friendly nature. Dog was mesmerized with her touch, as she was with just about anybody’s, but the old woman seemed to really enjoy the contact as well, her expression set in a soft, contented smile. She explained she’d had several dogs during the years she and her husband raised their three kids. The dogs had passed on, the kids had moved on, now with families of their own. Her husband died two years back and for the first time in all her life she was alone.
 
Her kids, even her grandkids kept telling her to get a dog. I chimed in with words of encouragement, told her about getting my dog at eight weeks old from a kill shelter in Manteca, and ranted about some great local shelters where she could rescue a dog.
 
My graceful hound took off after a squirrel, startling us both. The woman began brushing the dog hair off her pants, but a lot of short hairs were woven into the navy polyester and clung to her pant legs where the dog had leaned against her. “I’ve spent the last 50 years of my life attending to others needs—cooking, cleaning, and more cleaning, and taking care of everyone else. I told myself I deserved a break after my husband lost his three year battle with brain cancer. I would travel, get out to the movies and play canasta, live the good life.”
 
Dog came bouncing back, long tongue dangling from panting (grinning?) mouth. She came up to me first to get my pat then went back to the old woman for more strokes, which the woman gave willingly. “I’ve been on three cruises in the last two years. I play canasta twice a month, and see all the new movies I want.” Again she seemed…pacified, by patting the dog. “Turns out, the good life was when I was needed. Being counted on made me feel vital, and valued. Now, no matter what I do, I mostly just feel lonely.” She straightened and brushed her pant legs off again as my dog swaggered over to the tall grass and lay in it. “I think you all may be right and it’s time I got a dog.” She gave me a pleasant smile. “It’s been a pleasure chatting. Good day to you.” And she went on her way.
 
My dog trotted after her a few steps then came after me as I started home in the opposite direction. I stroked her as she walked by my side, glad to have her with me, counting on me, as my kids and my husband did, and probably would for many years to come. I imagined the old woman’s empty house and anticipated the tumult in mine.
 
And suddenly I felt very lucky indeed to be living the good life.

Facebook and Ageism

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I applied for a Marketing Copywriter position at Facebook about a year ago, 20 years after my first Creative Director position out of college. Facebook rejected me. Bewildered, as I had every qualification, through experience, creating and implementing hundreds of successful campaigns, I asked the HR woman why I was rejected.

“We are looking for someone less qualified.” Her response.

Hmm…Less qualified. Why would that be? We’d discussed no salary expectations. In fact, FB’s job app didn’t ask me for any. Someone at FB had looked extensively at my online portfolio, as I had a huge spike in page views, from one source, in Menlo Park, according to Google Analytics. The HR woman began her personal rejection email with “Your portfolio is amazing! However…”

What she meant was, “We’re looking for someone younger.”

It probably shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did, since I wasn’t actively job hunting when I answered the FB ad. That particular day, I’d had an argument with my DH about finances. He didn’t want me to quit writing fiction for a full time job. I didn’t want to quit fine writing either, but selling fiction isn’t likely to get our kids through college, especially our daughter, who plans to become a cancer researcher, which requires a doctorate.

What stung so much, was their acknowledgment that it wasn’t my skill set they were rejection, but my age. Thank you, Mark Zuckerberg, who is now over 30 years old, which, according to his own words, makes him stupid, addled, and a bad employment investment.

Hmm…why would anyone with half a brain say such things? Oh, I know, at 22, he only had half a brain to work with. OK. I’ll give him ¾. No. ⅔. His parents were wealthy before Mark, and provided him with every opportunity for success. (Hardship generally stimulates faster brain maturity, requiring creative survival – thrive solutions.)

The problem with 20-something brains— their neural connections aren’t fully established yet. Until our 30s, decision making skills, complex reasoning that only comes with life experience, as well as regulating impulse control are just a few of the skills young people generally lack. Additionally, different areas of our brain peak (and degrade) throughout our lives. Even by Zuckerburg’s simplistic view that youth is smarter, thinks faster (his level of cognitive complexity in accordance with his age), at 22, he’d already passed his prime. His brain’s raw speed data processor peaked at 19. And he was still 20-30 years away from the ability to evaluate other people’s emotional statepsychology being the cornerstone of marketing.

Well, our omniscient Zuckerberg built a global company, his converts proclaim. And that he did. He started FB in 2004, at Harvard, copying the site Hot or Not, which put up pics of students, female students at the time, next to each other for other students to vote which was hot, and not. As a woman, and mother to a daughter, WTF, Mark! But as a purveyor of human behavior, I get that, like teens, young adults are often still motivate by appearance, not substance. (The debate over the intrinsic value of Facebook is ongoing. It’s contribution to humanity seems rather nominal, and it’s social platform a proven productivity sinkhole in business.)

Mark was verging on 30* when FB became profitable through PPC advertising revenue. And Zuckerberg didn’t make that happen alone. Almost 40 yr old, Peter Thiel, invested half a mill in 2005, and helped The Facebook 20-something founders get $13 million in Accel Partners financing a year later. And you can bet, Accel didn’t leave it solely up to Mark and his young crew to make them billions.

Mark doesn’t proselytize this truth. He’s now old/smart enough to know that if you stroke the ego of the young, which is still fragile and forming, you’ll get them to work 24/7 (though studies show working long hours does not improve productivity, and hurts a companies bottom line), for a 5th of the salary he’d have to pay experienced pros. Young people aren’t particularly gifted, talented, or brilliant, for the most part, as Zuckerberg professes, even today. They’re cheap to employ.

Facebook is among the top 100 H1B visa filing employers of foreign workers. Not because Chinese and Indians know more, as tech is an emerging market we are all learning dynamically, but, again, because they are cheap labor, a 10th of a U.S. Worker’s salary and benefits. (Specific H1B visa numbers are extremely hard to obtain, as corporations are legally allowed to withhold this information from public scrutiny.)

Mark is growing up, though like most boys, his mindset seems stuck somewhere between his teens and 20s, his arrogance no doubt compounded by his early success. Limiting FB hires to young (and immigrant) workers is immature at best. Study after study show older employee’s productivity, creativity and reliability is equal to or higher than that of their younger colleagues.

*Reid Hoffman was in his late 30s when he started LinkedIn in 2003. Even with 4.7 mill in Series A funding, it wasn’t until Hoffman was in his early-40s that LinkedIn became profitable.