In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there’s a painting on display titled “Thanksgiving Turkey.” In it, a collection of people gather together in the glittering snow in the hopes of catching a turkey. Everyone seems to have a different approach, but one thing is certain: This was a good day. You know because when you look at the portrait, feelings of nostalgia wash over you. The same feeling comes from remembering what it was like to meet up with all your friends at a Friday night football game. Suddenly, you find yourself transported to a collection of forgotten fond memories. It’s exactly what the artist, Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson), intended people to feel when they see her work.
Yet, if she picked up a paintbrush today, would her work still be hanging in the Met, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Phillips Collection?
With America’s ageism problem, it isn’t a farfetched question. Grandma Moses didn’t become a prodigy until she was 77.
In a survey conducted by AARP:
- 3 in 5 older workers said they’ve seen or been the victim of age discrimination.
- 76 percent of people said they see age discrimination “as a hurdle to finding a new job.”
- 50 percent of those surveyed said they’ve been forced out of a job due to their age.
- 90 percent of people from this group never earn their previous salary.
When people talk about Grandma Moses’s accomplishments, they sensationalize her age.
Why is it so shocking?
Is greatness only reserved for those who are young? As the statistics on ageism above show, most employers seem to think so.
In this article, learn more about:
- How Grandma Moses is a testament to the fact that a person’s age doesn’t determine the quality of their work.
- The top reasons hiring managers should open their minds to older candidates and fight against ageism.
- Why ensuring people receive basic human rights could result in some of the best hires you’ve ever made.
3 Important Lessons Grandma Moses Teaches Employers
1. Hire People with Humility
“Life is a long lesson in humility.”James M. Barrie
Grandma Moses was a humble woman because she lived a humble life. From an early age, she learned the definition of hard work. She and her ten siblings grew up and worked on a farm in Greenwich, New York. At age 12, Moses left home and began working for a wealthier family as a hired girl (domestic servant). She spent 15 years doing household duties and serving upper-class families until she met her husband, Thomas Moses. At age 27, the two married and moved to Virginia. They continued working farm jobs there but later moved to Eagle Bridge, a town in upstate New York. Together, they had ten children, but only five of them lived past infancy.
There was nothing flashy about the Moseses. They were hardworking people who lived modest, but happy lives. Sadly, though, her husband passed away in 1927. She began painting to keep herself “busy and out of mischief.” As a painter, she never deviated far from her real life. Grandma Moses’ subject of interest reflected her time living on beautiful, quaint farms and being a part of small, rural communities.
For her, painting was a way to do something productive and brighten others’ days. She began selling her work at the local county fair, along with baked goods, jams, and pickles.
By the time Grandma Moses reached celebrity status, her life experiences helped her deal with success in a humble way. She once said of her work, “If you know somethin’ well, you can always paint it, but people would be better off buyin’ chickens.” For her, she found it amusing that people took so much interest in her art. She humbly accepted the acclaim with humor and a good-spirited attitude.
How to Find Humble Employees
- During the hiring process, ask job interview questions that allow a person to tell you about their life experience.
- Ask about the challenges a person faced and overcame at work or in life.
- Notice how they’ve handled extreme success. How do they talk about their accomplishments? For example, do they mention other people who contributed to their top achievements in life?
- Eliminate ageism by realizing age doesn’t translate to more or less humility. Be inquisitive and open to hearing about a person’s life, no matter what year they were born.
2. Employ Those Who Think Outside the Box
“It’s better to destroy the box than think outside of it.”Udayveer Singh
In the 1930s and 1940s, art movements like Art Deco, Cubism, and Surrealism reigned supreme. However, Grandma Moses paintings, described as “American Primitive,” weren’t necessarily a popular art style at the time. Instead of following trends, she painted from the heart, which is what was so noticeable about her work.
Moses was secure in her identity—a feeling that often increases as a person gains more life experience. Unlike young artists attempting to make a name for themselves, she didn’t need validation from the outside world. Because of this, she developed her own unique style, often adding non-traditional materials like glitter and leftover scraps (old frames, house paint, and pieces of canvas) from her home.
Grandma Moses had her breakthrough in 1938 after art collector Louis J. Caldor saw a few of her pieces from a pharmacy window in Hoosick Falls, New York. He loved her unique style so much that he bought all of her work at the pharmacy, then found her home and bought all the paintings she had there. Not long after this, Grandma Moses became a household name.
How to Find Candidates Who are Innovative Thinkers
- Ask job interview questions about a person’s strengths and passions. Let them tell you exactly who they are and what lights them up. Do they mention they’re critical or analytical thinkers? If so, dive deeper into what this means to them.
- Inquire about real-life examples of how they’ve helped companies innovate or challenge the status quo.
- Learn about the vision they have for their life.
- Combat ageism by never assuming you know whether or not they can achieve the goals they describe.
- Get a feel for who they are as a person. Do they have a strong sense of self? Are they confident? Do they know their strengths and weaknesses? A-players who will transform your company’s success are leaders in their own right. They don’t need constant external validation to know their worth.
3. Don’t Assume You Know What Someone Can Accomplish
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it, it doesn’t matter.”Mark Twain
Ageism normally stems from limiting beliefs about what a mature employee can do at work. However, Grandma Moses is an excellent example of why employers should never underestimate a person because of their age.
As mentioned earlier, she didn’t start painting until she was 77. Despite her late start, there are over 1,500 Grandma Moses paintings. She produced these until her death at age 101. That’s the same as completing 62 works of art per year for 24 years.
By the late 1940s, Grandma Moses was a household name every American knew. In 1947, Hallmark partnered with her, selling 16 million greeting cards featuring her work (that year alone). A year later, an ad from the business positioned her alongside world-famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Norman Rockwell (a close friend), and Salvador Dali.
As if these accomplishments weren’t enough, Moses wrote her autobiography, My Life’s History, which was published when she was 92-years-old.
In 2006, her painting “Sugaring Off” sold for $1.2 million—quite different from her original asking price of three to five dollars.
For Grandma Moses, age and achievement weren’t mutually exclusive. What was more important was ability and attitude. It’s the same mindset employers should adopt and look for in new hires—young or old.
Ageism: Eliminate Discrimination or Be Left to Face It
“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”Andy Rooney
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that within the last 25 years, the number of workers over the age of 55 has doubled. Yet, research from the Urban Institute shows that 56 percent of full-time employees between ages 51 to 54 involuntarily separated from their employer. As a result, they experienced financial hardship.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Getting older is inevitable. None of us can avoid it. On the bright side, all of us can change our mindset about what age means in the workplace starting today. As Grandma Moses shows, a person’s abilities aren’t intrinsically tied to how old they are.
Think twice before passing over a candidate because of their age.
1. It’s illegal.
2. It’s ethically and morally wrong.
3. You could be missing out on a phenomenal A-player capable of transforming your company.
4. The person whose resume is in front of you? It could be you in 20 years.
Those who keep propagating the issue of ageism will be the ones left to face it.
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