So there we are, three aging women in the gym locker room in the middle of our morning toilette — a process that requires more finesse and effort every passing year — when a very dapper Robert De Niro appears on the flat-screen TV. We stop, mascara wands and brushes at rest.
A young man is asking De Niro’s character, Ben Whittaker, where he sees himself in 10 years. And De Niro delivers the pitch-perfect response only a superb actor can: "When I’m 80?"
The three of us crack up and blurt, all together and at once: "I want to go see that!"
In case you haven’t spotted the movie trailer yet, The Intern, which opens Sept. 25, is a Nancy Meyers film with a premise that is perhaps more common than we think. De Niro’s Whittaker is 70, a widower who isn’t as thrilled with retirement as he should be. He decides to become a senior intern through a community outreach program at a fashion-based e-commerce company run by Jules Ostin, played by Anne Hathaway.
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Regardless of age or occupation, everyone is likely to identify with at least one character in this film. Most of us work with people who are either older or younger, people who come from vastly different backgrounds. After all, the 21st Century workforce is a fruit salad of diversity. So it was only a matter of time before Hollywood picked up on this phenomenon.
Experience never gets old, blares the movie’s advertising. And: You can teach a young boss old tricks.
Yes, yes, yes! I want to yell, pumping my fist in the air.
While I’ve never seen a 70-year-old intern in the newsroom, I have written about retirees returning to offices through such programs as ReServe, which helps nonprofits, schools, and public agencies fill certain part-time positions with experienced, age 55 and older professionals. I’ve also spoken with workers who, instead of retiring, have tapered off their hours to better suit their evolving sense of work-life balance.
We boomers (and the generation beyond) aren’t digital natives and it may take us a minute or two longer to figure out the new software, but heck, look at all the knowledge and hard-earned proficiency we bring to our jobs. One recent study showed that, when tested on nine cognitive tasks, older workers tend to be more reliable than younger ones. Other reports tout the loyalty, competency, and older workers’ contribution to the bottom line.
Oh, if only that’s all it took to fire up the embers of appreciation.
For those of us closer to retirement than mid-career, for those of us in jobs that have been disrupted by technology (namely everybody), The Intern promises something more than entertainment. It offers public affirmation — in the figure of Robert De Niro, no less — that we’re still valuable, vindication that we know our stuff. All of us need an occasional pat on the back, and never more so than if you started your career on a typewriter and are now able to work on a smartphone.
In the newsroom I’m surrounded by new reporters, some of whom are younger than my children. I enjoy their energy and enthusiasm, but if there is anything my generation can, and should, pick up from theirs, surely it’s the unbridled optimism. Too often we’ve allowed our once fearless can-do attitude to kneel to the inevitable disappointments of life.
So here’s to all the gray-haired, wingtip-shod Ben Whittakers out there, the brave pioneers forging new paths with old-school charm and traditional but never outdated wisdom.