I’ve been thinking a lot about age lately.
I’m kindof at peace with the fact that due to my youngish appearance (in part a result of my refusal to update my weekend wardrobe beyond my ninth grade look of chucks and hoodies), the few guys that do hit on me may continue to include some younger men. Worse things could happen, right?
But I’m still struggling with appearing to be younger than I am in a professional context. Being the “do something about things that are bothering me” kindof person I am, last week over goodbye drinks with some now former colleagues I floated the idea of changing my professional wardrobe so as to appear, well, if not my actual age, at least slightly older. Maybe stop wearing a backpack to work, as a start. I was voted down. Some nonsense about just being myself or whatever.
The next morning as I greeted the morning with a delish Montreal-style bagel at the Ottawa Bagel Shop, I contemplated adding “buy age appropriate work bag” to my to do list in spite of this advice. But then I remembered that thanks to my decision to receive only 3/4 of my income this year in order to finance my summer of travel I had fewer pennies to rub together than usual. Off the list it went. Besides, I’d had more mature work bags in the past. A red leather laptop bag that garnered plenty of envy from several older female colleagues, for example. Didn’t do much to prevent some people from thinking I was way too young to be in the job I was in.
So, decision made. Forget about looking older. Embrace the fact that some people think you’re too young to be where you are. Wear your backpack with Josh Lyman like confidence (West Wing character that wore a backpack, if you’re wondering).
At least, that was the plan. But, as is so often the case, turns out life had other ideas. This week was the wrong one for getting over the age thing.
When I was job hunting before accepting the one I started this week, one of my “must haves” was a position that would see me managing a team. I spent three months as the interim director of a division of about 25 people in 2010, and while it was the hardest I have ever worked in life, I loved it. Got some really positive feedback from my bosses too. While after it was over I made a very conscious decision not to pursue a permanent director position until later in my career (the personal stuff I had going on being a factor, but not the only one if that’s what you’re thinking), my big take away was a reminder that I enjoy positions where I have a team.
So this week I got what I wanted. And so far am having no regrets.
But I am finding myself having the backpack debate again.
Not gonna lie. Even in my old department I was a bit young (had just turned 29) when I first took on manager duties. But several of my counterparts reached the same level at 30 or soon thereafter, so it didn’t really feel like that big of a deal. Helped that many (especially other young(er) managers) didn’t see me as anything out of the ordinary.
Not so in my new job. In my new hood, I stand out like the cousin who wears jeans to the wedding despite the fact that the invitation specified black tie. Everyone’s noticing. Even if they’re choosing not to say anything in order to avoid an awkward scene. For whatever reason (fewer opportunities due to higher retention levels is my guess) my new organization has far fewer managers in their early 30s. In fact, if the shock expressed by a colleague who found out I was only 31 today is any indication (hey, for once someone thinks I’m older than I am . . . neat!), I may be the only one.
So, what’s a young(er) manager to do? Do I dress to meet expectations (i.e. try to look as old as they all assume you need to be in order to have the experience needed to manage a team)? Stay the way I am but keep quiet on my age? Or stick with the original plan and embrace my uniqueness?
Bet you thought I was going to conclude with some sort of well thought out insight on what to do, didn’t you? Sorry to disappoint, but I’m still thinking about this one. I guess I will say that I have figured out it’s not really about clothes. It’s about how overtly I want to play the role of poster child (haha) for youthful competence.
‘Cus, you know, starting a new job in a totally new field isn’t enough of a challenge.