On folk tales and their wisdom

Author: Marjana Lavrič Šulman, CFR Global Executive Search Slovenia

‘Wheat, the most beautiful flower’ is the title of a Slovenian folk tale. For all of you who don’t know it, a quick summary, the rest of you, please, skip to the third paragraph 🙂 – Once upon a time, in some far away country, the king had all the old people killed, as he judged them useless to society because they can no longer work hard enough. But a young man who loved his father disobeyed the order and hid his father in a barrel in the backyard and brought him food and drinks there. That same king also had a daughter and wanted to choose the most suitable candidate for her groom. He posed three riddles to all those interested, and whoever answered all three correctly would prove that he was worthy of her. Enthusiastic young men came from all over the country, and no one knew the right answers to the riddles. Until our young man came to the king. (The one who spared his father death, despite the king’s order.) He, too, did not know the answers to the riddles. Not to the first, not to the second, not to the third. So he asked his father for advice and he helped him. He gave him the right advice for the first riddle. And for the second and also for the third (Which, by the way, read – ‘What is the most beautiful flower?’)

The king was enthusiastic about the young man, and when asked how it was that he knew all the right answers, the young man did not dare to answer, for he was afraid because he had not obeyed the king’s order at that time. When the king assured him that he would not be harmed, he replied, “When you ordered us to kill our parents, I stood before my father and said, ‘Dear father, you have given me life, lovingly fed and brought me up, and now I am supposed to take your life from you. No, my heart would not bear it. I prefer to be punished with death.’ Then my father answered me: My dear son, chisel out a big bucket and put it in a corner in the yard. But make an opening in the back so that I can see the light sometimes… I did so and to this day I have kept my beloved father alive. How many times did he give me references and advice, just like this time -only he solved all three puzzles… “

A moral of the story? Let’s think about it. Based on my experience and past practice, I really dare to say that age – when looking for a job – is a problem. Not a challenge. Problem! It may be a challenge after the age of 45, but at 50+ one is practically ‘career dead’. I apologize for the expression, but it iss the way it is. And let’s just call a spade a spade for once. It’s a habit to share success stories. Positive, inspiring, ones that give you new impetus and energy. ‘50 + and a new career start! ’‘ 50 + with a dream new job! ’‘50 + and a new entrepreneur!’

Great. These stories, of course, give hope, but at the same time they speak of a large, large minority. What are not dream and inspirational success stories, however, is a generally silenced reality. People without a job (for various reasons and usually not through their own fault) are still full of knowledge, experience, wisdom and certainly full of energy and zeal and with a strong desire to work. Desperate because they have already applied for a thousand and one positions. At first, more enthusiastic and with high expectations, but then with less and less faith that it will unfold in a positive way. Some are left with no answer, some receive a negative answer, which is almost a luxury. Maybe it’s time to stop fooling around. For sometimes these positive stories, (of which there are really very, very few,) also do harm, not just benefit. Namely, they conceal the real picture, instead of contributing to the improvement of the situation.

The problem is not in job seekers! As a rule, they do not lack self-initiative, they do not lack motivation, they do not lack knowledge, they do not lack experience. They lack nothing. They just have too many years. Often also common sense. With this, of course, come other burdens… they may not be flexible enough and not ‘malleable’. Certainly they are not too expensive (which is sometimes a concern on the part of the employer), as they have mostly already completely lowered expectations. And they would love to work and would work with joy. They are also at an ideal age when it comes to sick leave due to children, absences due to parent meetings, children’s musical performances … At an ideal age, when without family dramas they can pull work into the afternoon. What, exactly, is wrong with ‘too many years’? Why, actually, are they considered too many?

Until companies know how to value mileage and are comparable to our king in the introduction, please… stop blaming jobseekers for not showing enough initiative, not being dynamic enough, being too expensive,… and ask ourselves if a change might be needed somewhere else, not with all those who work hard and have the will to work in abundance.

Since my background is in marketing, I have lived for a long time in the mistaken belief that this firm idea of necessary youth in Slovenia is present only in this industry. Now I know that is not the case. Searching for ‘young and dynamic’ in employment advertisements is misguided across the board. Of course, no one will look for the opposite of ‘young and dynamic’, for ‘old and tired’. But at 50+ we are not old and certainly not tired of life. Full of energy and so much to give! And if I think about it, abroad, at various global meetings and conferences, I often felt like a girl, surprised by the amount of gray-haired ladies and gentlemen who surrounded me. They were still very active in co-creating the professional landscape – either FMCG, retail and also marketing. In Slovenia, this experience is much rarer.
Let this be a call to consider what exactly the problem is. Of course, I can help with advice on how to improve cv, how to make a target list of potential employers and send them a custom-tailored job application, I can listen… and I do it willingly and with pleasure; but in all honesty… maybe this is not what job seekers need most. In the short term yes. In the long run, however, they need employment. And maybe not ‘despite being 50+’, but because of that!

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