When I was a child a common saying was children should be seen and not heard. My father was not much for babies or toddlers, but was a large part of our lives once we became “interesting”, i.e. could have salient arguments and back our premise with facts. He was a formidable devil’s advocate, but that was how he taught us – to teach is the true meaning of discipline – and by his example. My mother would give us the occasional look over to make sure we were fed and clean, loved us, and basically sent us out to do the business of being children. We knew the rules, were firm in the cradle of a kindred community, and were totally uninvolved in the world of adults. Our voice was heard only by other children as we tested and developed our beliefs; otherwise we were invisible to the world.
When I was a young adult, I married, and became a wife and mother. Any jobs I had were for a specific purpose; getting enough money to pay a mortgage on our own home, paying private school tuition, paying for some vacation time. I worked in those ‘Mad Men’ offices and my positions were titled assistant, supervisor, or clerk; all titles screaming subordination and pronouncing the right of anyone above me to take my work, thoughts, or talents and use them as their own and take full credit for them. I was the invisible cog in the wheel of whatever company bought my talents. To this day, I can’t watch that TV show. I was invisible in the world.
My husband worked management in restaurants. The restaurant business was not a family friendly business. He either got Christmas Eve, starting at 7 or 8 PM or Christmas morning off – back to work at 2pm. His day off was two weekdays up until the boys were quite old. They didn’t know their father until college age years. It was like being a single parent without even the sympathy of others. Things had to be sweet when Dad was home, his work was so stressful he needed the Beaver Cleaver make believe. There was no one to talk to, share with, or be yourself with. I was Their mom, His wife, and Somebody’s assistant. These I called the middle years. I was invisible at home.
The children were older and I went back to school. While working full time and raising two sons, I completed my business management degree. With an accounting systems and personal computer programming background I worked in several firms; served a purpose, was acknowledged as smart and skillful, and actually achieved lower management for a firm in its last gasp of trying to implement control of its systems before it died.
In my middle age I was privileged to be hired to build the systems and structure for a grant making foundation, in an ironic twist, replacing an older retiring male who had formerly been an accountant with the firm’s for-profit sector. A career, an actual voice. I had a spectacular ten years of helping non profits to help others, served on many boards to give voice to community building, and was seen and heard. By setting criteria and processes for grant seekers, I helped set measurable goals to determine true impact on our and others programs. I was responsible to represent and protect the Foundation at all costs.
Took two years to pay that price and for that visibility to be taken away. As I was now unemployable (mid fifties and a woman), I took my skills and background and became a real estate agent. Real Estate is set up so that the Brokerage owns everything; the client, the listing, the contracts. The agent is an independent contractor who is under the Brokerages direction. Most brokerages only give agents the privilege of helping build the brokerages’ business and brand. It took three years but I got my Brokerage license and started a brokerage “by agents for agents”.
In all of this life there have been many joys; pride in my two sons, pride in my husband’s accomplishments, comfort and joy in our home together. These are the bright pink and purple shoelaces of my life woven through all the ups and downs, holding together the premise and promise of my life. My simple jobs contributed to those shoelaces. My small efforts on those boards and at the Foundation, I have to believe, helped some other person outside myself.
But I am becoming invisible again. When in your life does age and experience, especially for those of us who stay informed and seek knowledge; when does our experience, knowledge, and perspective become irrelevant just because we are what someone else considers old. When does physical impairment trump an active intelligence? When do you start brushing off the idea, sentiment, or considerations because you think the person holding them is too old? What age do you start telling me to shut up, that I should be seen but not heard? SRES is the National Board of Realtors idea of what agents need to know to help seniors buy and sell homes in Hawaii. I don't need training on Seniors, I am one.
I am unemployable because I am a woman and I am over 60 years old. I am doing my best to run a small company teaching agents how to run their own businesses and how to provide exemplary customer service. I like running a company. I am good at it. I have technical skills that are better than most 21 year olds. My company has all the tools and services to provide our clients with incredible service as good as or better than anyone in town, and we can do it for less. I despise people who whine about a problem but won’t do anything to correct it. But what happens when bigger, mainland brands block the playing field and do their best to make you invisible?
In my business you learn to say “next”, when, invariably, that big deal falls apart, or that client for no reason but a change in the weather, decides after two years of showings not to buy. Or friends go with a name brand mainland brokerage and spend too much getting their house sold. Or life happens and you aren't even considered for the interview. So here I am, saying “next”. My problem is what is next? Because my real problem is that I am becoming invisible again.