The curse of looking young (and how to embrace it)

So I’m at the liquor store and the cashier says she needs to see my ID.

Now, getting ID’d isn’t some new occurrence that had me excited; in fact, I get more excited when I am not asked to give ID. You see, I don’t look my age. Most folks peg me somewhere around 25 — so around 10 years younger than my actual age.

Not a month goes by when I don’t hear some variation of “You look young for your age.”

I’m not exactly sure what I’m “supposed” to look like for my age but, evidently, I don’t look like whatever “it” is.

Back to the liquor store situation: I look down at the $85-bottle of whisky I’m purchasing for my husband for his birthday and then back to the cashier. Perhaps twentysomethings are more cultured nowadays when it comes to their cocktails compared to when I would split a bottle of Wild Vines with my roommates? Anyway, I hand over my licence. The cashier takes a long look at it, flipping it over a couple of times.

“Seriously? I honestly did not expect that to be your age,” she says, which is something I hear a lot.

“You’re going to appreciate that as you get older,” she adds, which is also something I hear a lot. A LOT. I automatically roll my eyes inside my head every time someone utters those words. Just typing it out has me rolling my eyes.

I know that I am lucky to look a bit younger than my age. And I understand that many consider it something of a faux pas to complain about looking young (again coming with that “You’ll appreciate it as you get older” line). I get it; after all, there are far worse things in life than looking younger than your age, right?

Most often, looking young is a fabulous source for stories. Like the times when I have been asked to produce a second piece of ID to confirm the information on my driver’s licence. There are also the stories from my days as a reporter when I was regularly mistaken for being a student when covering high school events. (On one occasion, a principal lectured me for several minutes about not being in uniform before allowing me to hand over my business card.) And then there are the times my husband has been asked to confirm my age like he’s my chaperone or something. (I find this hilarious — my husband, not so much.) Or how about all the folks who have come to the door at our house (the house that I co-own) and asked if my parents were home. My parents?!

I could go on and on.

ErinKelly-PenToPaper-The curse of looking young
That’s me during a trip to Australia a few years back. I was 31 at the time.

You might be thinking “Oh, boo hoo” and that would be fair. Like I said, there are worse things in life than looking young. But there is a catch to looking young; one hiccup that makes having a perpetual youthful appearance a bit of a problem. Heck, maybe even a bit of a curse. And that has to do with my professional career. Because looking young automatically seems to translate into inexperience and inadequacy.

I can recall back to my days as a newspaper editor when folks would come to the office looking to speak with me. When I would head out front to meet them, more than once I was greeted with, “Sorry, I want to chat with the editor directly about something.” That would be followed with me explaining that I was indeed the editor while the visitor would stare at me with skepticism – and often with unabashed judgment.

I’ve been interviewed for positions and had the person conducting the interview say immediately after introductions, “We are looking for someone with experience.” My youthful appearance apparently overruled the 10-plus years of experience detailed on my CV.

So it’s more than a little frustrating when you put substantial effort into developing your career, only to find it undermined by your appearance. Especially since we tend to spend so much of our youth yearning for the time when we will finally be taken seriously as a bonafide adult. And when that fails to develop as you’d hope, well, it’s a bit of a deflating hit.

Embracing an opportunity

I started to dread situations where I would have to explain that I am older than I look, and often I was apologizing for looking younger than my age. I was apologizing for being me!

Then I realized I was missing an opportunity. I decided to capitalize on the times when people question my age and experience. Rather than get defensive with my responses like before, I started using these questions as a chance to showcase what I’ve accomplished over the years. You never know when you’ll find an opportunity to network, just so happens I found one with my twentysomething appearance…

Random person: “Wow, you really look young.”

Me: “Haha. No kidding. You know, I used to hear that a lot while I was the editor in charge of four newspapers…”

See what I did there?

I still roll my eyes when I hear “You’re going to appreciate that as you get older.” That’s never going to change. And I can’t change the fact that I happen to have a youthful appearance. But I can learn to embrace it each time I hear someone say “You sure look young…”

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