On age and how others perceive you

I’ve always been touchy about my age, and how old others think I am.

This stems back to a time when I was introduced to someone my parents knew, shortly after we moved to New Zealand, and just after we built our house (to my best recall).

“How old is she? Seven?” he asked.

I was in fact nine, and deeply insulted.

At 16 I got my first ever job. I worked in a cafe, mostly clearing tables and washing dishes. My coworkers thought I was in my early 20s.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve gone from looking young for my age to looking older. I think the glasses probably contribute. That, and my weirdly prematurely wrinkly forehead.

It also apparently stems from the way I conduct myself. “You’re so not Gen Y!” I was told earlier this year (said in a tone that suggested being Gen Y was on par with being a Nazi or an animal abuser).

Confidence is not one of my inherent qualities. I second-guess myself at every opportunity. I doubt my skills whenever faced with something new. I secretly think most of my work is terrible and that I’m a fraud. As I told my best friend the other week when we enlisted the help of a security guard to boot the people occupying our seats at Coldplay, if it had been me plonked down there and some other people had come along suggesting we were in the wrong row, I would be instantly convinced that I was the one who’d made a mistake (even if I wasn’t) and leap up to check.

But apparently I manage to carry off the illusion of confidence at work, which suits me just fine. In a generation where people are staying at home and at university longer, I think I’ve got an edge, having been independent from 17 (somehow I’ve become the go-to person on all things adulthood in my circle… housing, work, cars, etc). And I suppose I’m lucky in that I’m not an assistant drone at the bottom of a corporate ladder. I have a lot of autonomy, relatively speaking, and being constantly wooed by PR types on a daily basis has probably inflated my sense of power.

Is looking older than you really are a bonus in the workplace?

I think this can actually be a advantage. People are more likely to take you seriously if you look 35 as opposed to 15. As we all know, appearance counts for way more than anyone likes to admit (and that includes everything from your wardrobe to the pitch of your voice).

On the other hand, that can lead to higher expectations of you, and pressure to deliver what you might not be able to carry off. Pull it off though, and you’ll be a rockstar.

I’ll probably be regretting this when I’m 40 and staring into the mirror wondering where I went. But in consolation, I did recently get carded at a bar (annoyingly, I didn’t have my ID on me at the time). I still have it … sometimes.

Do you look your age? Do people normally guess your age correctly?

15 thoughts on “On age and how others perceive you

  • Reply Leslie December 13, 2012 at 17:18

    Great topic! I look considerably younger than I am and apparently I’m not supposed to complain about it. This is why I tend to be overly sensitive about my age and try to bring it up quickly in a conversation. I feel as though I am not taken seriously until I make it clear I’m not 25 or still in college. I am grateful for looking youthful but there is something belittling about someone not thinking you’re your age (whether it’s older or younger).

  • Reply Kelly Abroad December 13, 2012 at 18:05

    My entire life, because of my small stature, people have always guessed me as being a lot younger. I wasn’t so much offended by this, as I was disappointed. (When you’re 14, you hardly want to look 12.) More recently though, people guess me as being a little older, especially at work. I put this down to the fact that I’m in management positions. These days I don’t really think about how old people assume I am. It’s just a number and has little bearing on my ability to do my job, or even my appearance these days.

  • Reply cantaloupe December 13, 2012 at 21:56

    My coworkers used to think I was older than I am. Not necessarily because of how I look but just because they assumed we were roughly the same age. Then it got around that I am, in fact, at least a few years younger than even the youngest of them, and suddenly everyone doubts my abilities. I suddenly have less responsibilities and everyone thinks I’m suddenly doing a worse job. (I’m doing exactly the same quality of work, haha.)

    I look younger than my age though. But only by a year or two. Mostly I look spot on for it.

  • Reply MissAmanda December 14, 2012 at 05:02

    Just last week I wrote a blog wondering if the fact I look much younger than I am is affecting my job in a negative way. And then I got ID’d at the liquor store, despite being legal drinking age for over a decade.

    • Reply Leslie December 14, 2012 at 05:10

      I understand being ID’d. Some businesses really don’t want to take the chance, but I am annoyed if I get ID’d in my group and no one else does.

  • Reply Manda December 14, 2012 at 06:22

    Ah, age and the workplace. I think some of it depends on the field, and this is a trickier issue for women than men (at least, I think so). In my office it doesn’t really matter as much, but I got really lucky with my work environment/atmosphere. I’m actually the youngest person in my office (two to three weeks younger than the intern, who graduated from college the same time as I did) which was a little weird to think about, but it’s had zero impact on my projects, assignments, etc.

    I’m pretty sure I look my age. When I was studying abroad in Beijing, everyone thought I was 23/24 (I was 20). My boyfriend was also 20 at the time and everyone thought he was 27, but he definitely does not look that much older!

  • Reply krantcents December 14, 2012 at 09:10

    I always look and act younger than my (66 y.o.) age. Although I have gray hair (all of it), I am fit and energetic. I never could relate to people who are my age (now). Some people view old peopple differently which bothers me, but I am not old or at least I do not feel old.

  • Reply Miss JJ December 14, 2012 at 13:15

    I have a baby face. In University, I would often be mistaken for a secondary school kid. Even at 34 now, people do ask if I am still in school. It IS a trifle more difficult when facing clients, but in general I think looking younger than I am is not such a bad thing. It makes for more efficient cougaring…

  • Reply Budget & the Beach December 14, 2012 at 13:52

    I’ve been told I don’t like like I’m 42 (I know I don’t act 42-ha ha). Hopefully they just aren’t being nice. And oh yes you will want to look younger when you hit my age. Ugh, I even hate saying, “hit my age.” So I’ll just say when you turn 40.

  • Reply DC @ Young Adult Money December 14, 2012 at 15:20

    Oh man…this is such an annoying topic! I mainly get annoyed about it because people feel like they are free to comment on the age you look. I look younger than I am by a few years, and it’s definitely annoying how much weight people put on looking your age or older. I feel I have to work twice as hard and that I have something to prove simply because I look a few years younger.

  • Reply Veronica @ Pelican on Money December 15, 2012 at 06:54

    People never guess my age right. I’ve been asked what school I go to when I’ve been out of school for quite some time – I guess I look that age? Just today, someone at work presumed I’m still in college! Typically, people under-guess my age by 10 years. I have a feeling that’s why sometimes people I work with are not convinced that what I say is true (because apparently I’m the only one who reads the news that’s not on prime time networks, enjoys TED talks and reads HackerNews on daily basis). When I sound smarter than I look people instantly think I’m a fraud, it’s a disadvantage I’ve gotta put up with but I’m sure it won’t last for too long. Eventually there will be a point where it will flip flop and I’ll start getting offended from the other perspective.

  • Reply Girl Meets Debt December 16, 2012 at 08:39

    It’s my last year in my 20s so I am also “touchy” about my age but luckily most people seem to think I look a few years younger than I actually am. Because apparently there is such a huge difference between a 27 and 29 year old 😛 Maybe my “youthful” personality helps too hehe…

  • Reply The Asian Pear December 17, 2012 at 05:26

    I love young. WAY young. I’ve had people guess I was 10 years younger than my actual age. This is understandable though. I have fairly good skin with no wrinkles yet. I have a round babyface. I don’t think I (know how to) dress professionally enough. And I tend to be a child at heart in any case. I don’t really mind if they think I’m younger as long as they know I’m competent.

  • Reply Kathleen, FrugalPortland December 18, 2012 at 06:42

    It’s good to a point. HOWEVER if you are female then it’s not okay to have gray hair. Ever. That’ the point where it stops being okay.

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies December 19, 2012 at 14:49

    I’ve been told I look younger than I am (I’m 30, but have been told I look college aged or younger depending how I dress), and I think it plays to my advantage when it comes to work. I typically work with middle-aged men, and do most of my interaction via email or phone. So when we do finally meet in person, my physical appearance (young female) tends to be a little bit unnerving because they’ve usually got me pegged as a middle aged dud. I think I end up with the upper hand because of it. Which I’m totally okay with.

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