Ever since I started working fulltime, I have been scared to tell people my age. I worry that because I feel young and look young, I won’t be taken seriously.
For over half of my professional working life, I’ve been the youngest in my workplace. I had someone say to me, “Are you 25 or 35? I honestly can’t tell!” I’ve had people go around the room and guess my age, in front of me. Four months ago, someone assumed I was one of my team member’s children. That final situation ended up being rather funny, but when this consistently happens, it is also frustrating. Women get disproportionately affected by this bias, whatever age they are.
My reaction says more about me than it does about the speaker.
That said, I also believe that age is an arbitrary number that has little to do with humility, generosity, kindness, and emotional maturity. I’m very confused about how to hold these two ideas at the same time, which is why I wanted to write about it.
In honour of those whose age casts them in a certain light, those who are disadvantaged in professional situations because of the year they were born in, remember: age is a number, “young” is completely subjective, and no-one else has lived the life you live, or knows exactly what you know.
Giving into the view of a society that values young people less than older people is a sure-fire way to limit ourselves.
Those older than us do not have a monopoly on perspective, maturity, and experience.
Yes, our lives may be limited by our lack of money, lack of resources, lack of privilege, lack of education, lack of time. However, here are four things you can do when you feel like your age is holding you back.
1. Pay attention
When you’re reading, listening, watching… pay attention. Pay attention to what you pay attention to.
Liz Gilbert puts it another way in her interview with Krista Tippett, when they riff on what it’s like to follow your curiosity, instead of your passion:
“… curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes, not so available.”
We all know people who’ve lost that sense of internal inquiry, and we know what they immediately become: boring.
You’re interested in peculiar things. Leave passion for the amateurs and follow that curiosity.
2. Get a mentor
It’s easy to look at the Internet and find world class leaders, designers, coaches, teachers and artists, and be frustrated with your tiny network. Don’t give yourself the easy out here; look harder at who you know, or who’s connected to who you know. Find out who’s making waves in your own community. Hit up someone who you want to be like in five years’ time.
Notice I didn’t write ‘Hit up someone whose job you want in five years’ time’. I mean, I had that initially, but I caught myself. I’m trying to remember that we’re so much more than the job we do. So a “mentor” doesn’t have to have anything to do with work. It could be a coach, a spiritual guide, a counsellor, a therapist, , an older member of your whānau (extended family or chosen family), a teacher, or just someone you really admire.
A mentor offers you four things it can be hard to find in our early years: encouragement, wisdom, a unique perspective, and connections to others.
Chase that and hold onto the magic when you find it.
When you’ve outgrown them because you’ve found “it” (as befits this kind of relationship, because you’re here to grow), find someone else, and become that person for someone younger than you.
3. Spend time with different generations
You could find this spectrum in all manner of places: a choir or a running group. A cross-stitch circle or a book club. A Dungeons and Dragons session or a te reo Māori language class. I hope your workplace offers this natural kaleidoscope of generations as well.
One of the most comforting things about going to church was the variety of people I would talk to on any given Sunday. Being around a group of people of different ages (particularly those who aren’t related to you) allows the osmosis of beliefs, ideas and perspectives to happen without you even trying.
4. Share what you know
If you’re reading this blog, then access to knowledge is not the issue. It’s what you do once you’ve learned it. No-one knows exactly what you know.
You must share what you’ve learned.
Consider Pete’s question – what have you done with the knowledge you’ve gained?
Anne Lamott puts it like this – she’s talking about reading, and I think she might allow me to broaden her context to mean when you share an understanding with someone who needed to know what you know.
“Think of those times when… you have a fleeting sense of being startled by beauty or insight, by a glimpse of someone’s soul. All of a sudden everything seems to fit together… when this happens, everything feels more spacious.”Bird by Bird, page 99
Isn’t that what we want more of, whatever age we are? More connection? More space? More beauty? More insight?
Whatever age you are, you can chase that and cultivate it.
Did this resonate? Have a look at how we need to go through this (whatever this is) in order to get to that.
Interested in what values you can cultivate while you wait for your age to catch up with your maturity? Check out my riff on the second half of life.