A producer once invited me to appear on a podcast geared to 20-to-30 somethings. When told my age, he withdrew the invitation. I took no offense, but then started thinking: why wouldn’t younger people want to hear from people who’ve had more than 30 orbits around the sun? Who says you’re invisible after 50?
Kiran Kumar, the host of the “You Are Not Invisible After 50” podcast, is now working on dispelling notions that older people have nothing important to say. She encourages her over-50 listeners to eschew feelings of irrelevancy and invisibility. Life doesn’t end at 50. In fact, it’s just beginning—an insight she made when discovering her own voice more than five decades after her birth.
Her message is resonating. The podcast has soared to the top 10 percent of most shared programs on Spotify. Though Kiran targets middle-aged women, feeling brushed aside and valueless applies to everyone of a certain age. Eventually, it could even apply to those who haven’t yet sped past the half-century mile marker.
That’s because our culture isn’t friendly to oldsters.
The emphasis is on youth, which affects women more profoundly. At the admonishment of Madison Avenue and the media, for example, women think they must color their hair, slather potions and lotions, and spend millions on Botox. I’m not casting dispersions. Photoshop and tons of makeup led that producer to believe I was younger than my years.
As for men? They may not worry about graying temples and wrinkles, but they’ve been known to hide their age on resumes. They fear ageism, a very real workplace attitude that has affected many of my friends. Potential employers often choose younger candidates because they believe they will get more bang for the buck.
And as for those who snag that job over someone older, guess what? Time doesn’t stop. You, too, could be discriminated against in the future. A younger person will do the job for far less.
Stumbling Across Kiran
But getting back to Kiran and her empowering message.
I stumbled across her in a search for podcasts that might be appropriate for my author/blogger message. Until discovering “You Are Not Invisible After 50,” I hadn’t considered this topic. I’ve never felt invisible because of my age and expressing my voice hasn’t been an issue either… I was raised in a family of opinionated loudmouths, after all.
But I did make a career change at an age when most people retire. And I was afraid. Afraid no one would be interested in what I had to say. (The jury is still out on whether they’re interested.)
Thank goodness, Kiran thought my experiences might ring true with her listeners. During our conversations before, during and after the podcast’s taping, which aired recently, I discovered a person I wanted to share with you.
In the Crosshairs
In some ways, Kiran and I are alike, and in others, we couldn’t be more dissimilar. Kiran is Hindu, born in the United Kingdom to Indian immigrants. I am a Christian, born in Washington, DC, to middle-class people whose ancestors landed on American shores long before the U.S. Constitution was written.
Like her, I grew up in a traditional family…two parents, siblings. My parents encouraged marriage, but more important, they expected me to get a job and move out because cohabitation with them was out of the question.
Kiran’s parents, on the other hand, expected her to get married and start a family. Having a job was acceptable…provided her future husband managed the money, and her paycheck was used to support her in-law’s household, where she would live, according to Indian custom.
I make these comparisons not to malign Indian traditions, or to hold up mine as superior. But if you buck tradition, like Kiran did, you’ll likely feel misunderstood and discouraged from expressing the authentic you. It can be lonely living outside cultural norms.
“I knew I wasn’t living up to my family’s expectations,” Kiran said. To her parents’ chagrin, she’d adopted more Westernized attitudes, which she observed growing up in Walsall, England. Her rebellion put her in her father’s crosshairs, a situation worsened by his alcoholism and her decision to attend university.
By age 27, she had a job, but was still living at home, desperately looking for a way out.
The Long March Toward Independence
“At 27, I was considered to be older than desired to get married at that time,” she said. Having already broken one engagement, and getting pressure to get involved in another, she went to a marriage broker—another Indian tradition. She met a man whom she thought was forward-thinking. A suitable match.
“He changed after marriage,” she said. Especially after she insisted that they move from his parents’ home and into their own—an affront to her in-law’s traditional values. They were furious, and nothing would change their dim view of Kiran or end the hostility, including the birth of her two children.
“My husband wanted to be the good guy,” she explained. Defending his rebellious wife wouldn’t put him in his parents’ good graces or his position atop their pedestal. “And as the years passed, my in-law’s influence grew,” as did the hostility that had spread to her husband’s extended family.
The turning point happened in 2011 at her father’s funeral. Kiran’s in-laws made what she considered to be a highly inappropriate and hurtful remark to her grieving mother. When she asked her husband to address the injury, he sided with his parents. She decided then to become financially independent.
Five years later, at age 52, with decades of experience in project management and human resources under her belt, she left, with her now-grown kids in tow.
Kiran’s journey to empowerment started when she herself felt lost and powerless after her mother’s passing. “I didn’t know my mom or recognize her strength until after my father died and built a relationship with her. She was strong. Honest. An angel. She had a heart of gold.”
A succession of other personal and professional traumas convinced her to step into boldness.
So inspired by her mother’s nickname for her, “Sher,” which means lion in Hindi, Kiran founded “Roaring Ahead.” Based in Bristol, England, Kiran’s company trains and empowers women to remove obstacles hindering them from being the women they wish to be. Before too long, another arm of her business grew…the “You Are Not Invisible After 50” podcast.
“No matter how difficult your circumstances,” she says, “find a way to rise, believe in yourself. Never stop dreaming. When you’re meant to make a difference, no circumstance can hold you down.”
That’s because you are not invisible, she says. That’s because you should never stop roaring ahead.