A lawyer since 1975, Joe Matzkin had only worked for two firms his entire career when he came to a point a couple of years ago where he was forced to make a decision. His partners were closing the firm and he could buy them out, retire or perhaps take on a new challenge. He was 71.
An avid golfer, he nevertheless had no interest in playing golf and running out the clock. And though he loved to cook, he had no desire to spend his days perfecting a marinara sauce.
The life of leisure was not for Joe. He realized he loved being a lawyer, loved the daily challenges, and saw no reason to stop working and contributing. So he doubled down, polished up his resume, contacted a head hunter and wore one of his three really nice suits to interviews — with no idea of whether anyone would want to hire someone over 70. He got five offers.
“It was invigorating,” he told me. “I’m the oldest [at the firm] by ten years. But I like younger folks; I’m competitive enough to know that I want to show them I can still produce.” This said by a guy who only stopped playing full contact basketball at 65 because his doctor asked him to.
Joe’s story touches on some big themes that have emerged in the couple of years since we started AGEIST: that our generation is more eager than ever to work longer; and that purpose provides the fire, if you will, that stokes longevity. But Joe’s smooth transition at 71 isn’t typical.
For many in our tribe, age discrimination in the workplace and in the job search is an unfortunate part of the territory. That’s why so many are starting their own ventures, finally taking risks they were too nervous to take when they were younger.
“The hard part about all of this, and as we’re talking, David I’m thinking … there is a group of folks out there that are so damn smart and have so much to offer, and [the wider world] doesn’t utilize it,” he told me. Age, he added, shouldn’t even begin to be a factor: “If you’re doing a lousy job, I don’t care if you’re 50, 70 or 25,” he says. “Get out of the way.”
For Matzkin, starting in a new work environment provided its own challenges, but if there’s a takeaway, it’s his preference for throwing himself into any challenge, and the power of a clean break. When he joined the new firm, he didn’t take any of the associate lawyers or staff he’d worked with for years with him, despite the fact it would have been customary. He wanted to see if he could make it on his own — clean start, all new people. He did the same when selling the family home seven years ago and moving with his wife into a condo closer into town. “If I’m going to do it, then let’s start from scratch,” he says.
And the secret to getting hired at 71? “That was a very strange experience to be on other side of the table, give someone ‘I used to be’ my resume and have to talk about why I want to do this,” he says. “Early on in the first interview, I thought, ‘I am who I am. I’m not going to play to any role that I think they want here. I’m going to be me, and what I do, and how I do it.’ ”