Do What You Love — Not What Tradition Says You Should

Barbara Morris

Recently I received an email from a subscriber I’ll call Justine who asked for my thoughts about her work situation. She wrote:

“Could you please write about age discrimination when searching for a job at age 70 and how to deal with that. I currently own a dog grooming business and have been doing that for 40 years and love it. I will lose my lease next January so I’m concerned about unemployment and what to do next. I don’t want to retire !!! I don’t want to buy another business at this age because I’m not sure I’ll get a return on my investment.”

She also said retired peers are urging her to retire.  For moral support, I suggested she engage with other older business owners in her area and the Chamber of Commerce. Unfortunately, at the Chamber, older members suggested she retire. After all, she is 70!

So, this is what we know about Justine:

  • She has owned a dog grooming business for 40 years and loves it
  • She will be losing her lease and is concerned about what to do next
  • She is 70 and doesn’t want to retire but she doesn’t want to start a new business because she worries about return on investment
  • She is dealing with age discrimination

Here are some of my thoughts:

About age discrimination. It’s real but not insurmountable. You have to be creative and think about new ways to avoid or overcome it. Be prepared to be mocked, turned down and laughed at but don’t allow yourself to be victimized by anyone’s remarks. It really helps if you remain adamant that age 70 is NOT old and don’t let others convince you that you are old. Your chronological age is not a measure of your mental or physical competence.  Only you know your strengths and abilities. Refuse to be locked in an “age cage” or associate with those who are there or would like to put you there.

Dr. Helen Harkness

In Don’t Stop the Career Clock by Dr. Helen Harkness,  she presented a new, sensible aging chronology. On page 79:

Young adulthood: 20-40
First midlife: 40-60
Second midlife: 60-80
Young old: 80-90
Elderly: 90 and above
Old old: 2-3- years to live

The lifespan has increased by 30 years in the past century and continues to increase to the extent that Dr. Harkness’s revolutionary chronology, published in 1999, may now be outdated.  According to a government statistic, between 2000-2014 the number of individuals 100 years of age or older and in good health increased by 43.6 percent yet,  out-dated cultural “dos and don’ts” assigned to chronological age persist. It’s almost like a religious belief: Age Is more important than anything.  No, it’s not. It’s a number that establishes how long you’ve been alive and nothing more. Dr. Harkness says, “. . . because of our social and cultural expectations, we program ourselves to begin to fall apart at a certain designated age, and we oblige.”

 At an advanced age, Dr. Harkness is president of Career Design Associates in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area of Texas. Watch her video on her site. I have known her for a long time. She zealously shields her birth date because she understands how destructive it is to reveal it. She remains feisty, determined, helpful and competent.  You will be inspired and motivated after you watch her video.

Welcome the loss of your lease.  You are probably tired so take a vacation to give your mind and body a chance to rest and regenerate. It will help you rationally think about what you want to do and can do next. Think hard about whether or not you want to work for others. When you’ve been the boss for so many years it may (or may not!) be challenging to work for others.

You are in a business that can only get better with imagination and initiative. Increasingly, pets are becoming more like children and people are willing to pay for top of the line services and products. My Corgi Sammy (photo left) gets his hair and nails done more often than I do. The groomer gives him a nice blue bandanna (complements his red and white hair) and a biscuit and provides a written report about his copious kisses, how sweet he is, and any grooming or possible health issues. I love it. I wish someone would spoil me that much!

If you choose to have your own business, find someone to help develop a business plan. Very generally, local private and government organizations and colleges have programs that help new and existing entrepreneurs, so I would look at that for business advice and guidance that applies to today’s business opportunities and realities. Since you are fearful about starting a new business because you are concerned about the return on investment, financial advice and guidance are absolutely critical.

You can do what you want to do and are capable of doing! If you don’t, in 20 years you may be wishing, “If only I did what I wanted to do then but didn’t have the courage to do it.”

Gert Boyle, CEO Columbia Sportswear

Recall that Gert Boyle, as CEO of Columbia Sportswear who recently died at 93, continued to go to the office every day even while in an assisted living facility. She did what she loved to do, calling herself “one tough mother” and indeed she was!

Now is the time to be “one tough mother” with yourself and do what you are excited about. Maybe not for the rest of your life, but NEXT! Do what you love to do, not what hidebound tradition, friends or the culture say you “should” do because of your age.

I have written other articles that are relevant. Here are the links:

When the Bloom Is Off the Retirement Rose

A Lesson From “The Intern”


  1. One of the trends where I live is mobile grooming services. How much of an investment would be required to take the business Justine already owns “on the road”? Also, she might want to choose only the fun customers for her new version of her work. If you don’t have to work as much, do what you love with those you love to do it with.

    It’s a whole lot easier to find a job if you give it to yourself, too.

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