"I'm Coming Out."
In 1980, Diana Ross released the song "I’m Coming Out." In 1980, I was 21 years old and just graduated from college. I moved from Illinois to San Francisco. That song became the LGBTQ anthem, about declaring who you were and being proud.
Coming out to my parents was one thing. But being out in the corporate world was another.
Back then, it was not nearly as accepted as it is today. I was in sales for tech firms selling multi-million dollar main frames, and everyone around me was straight. As a result, I did not feel safe coming out to my coworkers.
In fact, when I came in to the office on Monday morning, I had to be very careful about what pronoun I used when someone asked me, "How was your weekend?"
Instead of saying "My boyfriend and I did…," I would have to say something like, "I did…" or "We did…"
Some of my friends even had girls who would pretend to be their girlfriend for company events. In fact, there’s a term for it: “a gay man’s beard.”
Now that I’ve been out for many years, I find there’s another secret that is tempting to hide.
The secret of how old I am.
Having come from the world of advertising where the ideal target audience is 18 to 34, and then maybe for some more expensive items 25 to 49 years old, being older than that meant that you were invisible and not anything advertisers were interested in.
How ironic that this culture in America does not treat their elders the way other cultures do, like in Japan.
If you’re 40 years old in software, you might feel like an elder when you are working with people in their 20s. Feeling old and irrelevant is happening at a younger and younger age and in more and more industries.
I remember the first time I did not take an offer to move to New York to get promoted when I was selling advertising for Conde Nast. By staying in Los Angeles, I soon reported to an ad manager who was in her early 30s and by then I was 37 years old.
As I continued selling advertising in my 40s, I soon realized that if I didn’t do something soon, I would become like the character Willy Logan in Death of a Salesman. It can feel futile staying in a job that no longer fits you. Even in adulthood, we outgrow our shoes.
Now as an entrepreneur and speaker consultant for sales teams, I can relate to everyone because I’ve been in their shoes no matter what age they are.
A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by Inc. magazine, and they put my age in the article: 60. This year, Ageist magazine put me on the cover, along with my age: 62. The magazine celebrates people over 50; no need to keep that a secret.
There is a new podcast out called 70 Over 70. They interview 70 people over 70 years old who accomplish great things.
One of the joys of getting older, besides getting more wisdom, is ideally welcoming more freedom in our lives.
If people don’t want to hire me because I’m gay and over certain age, I know there are plenty of people who will appreciate who I am and want to work me.
Sometimes, diversity is not as obvious as a skin color or gender. Some of us might be able to hide the fact that we’re gay or hide the fact that we’re over a certain age, but why would we want to?
Just to fit in?
Ironically, when companies create cultures and hire employees and consultants who feel safe to be themselves, that is when you get their best work!
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a saying that you’re only as sick as your secrets.
To be fully alive, fully authentic, and fully healthy, we need to let go of the secret of hiding how old we are. Let’s instead celebrate it!
The energy we put out about ourselves reflects how other people react to us.
If I feel ashamed about being gay and sort of apologize about it when I tell someone, they pick up on that energy. The same is true about being over 60 years old. I can choose to act embarrassed or ashamed about it or be proud of it.
I wouldn’t want to go back to any other time in my life. I am excited to be right where I am right now, and there’s no better feeling than celebrating the present moment and appreciating the wisdom, self-acceptance, and appreciation for who I am and what I have to offer now.
Join me, won’t you? The more we don’t keep our age a secret, the safer it will be for all of us to truly be happy and proud to tell the world who we are at any age.
John Livesay, aka The Pitch Whisperer, is a sales keynote speaker where he shows companies’ sales teams how to turn mundane case studies into compelling case stories so they win more new business. From John’s award winning career at Conde Nast, he shares the lessons he learned that turns sales teams into revenue rock stars.