*I thought it would be appropriate to have this posted on the one day of the year that I get older! ;)*
"So...how long have you been doing this Ms Lemme?" or "What academic background do you have?" and how about "Oh, you just do CVs, cover letters and workshops..." there are many other examples I could write to you, dear bee readers, that demonstrate an all too true battle I, and certainly other individuals, face in the work force on a daily basis: that of looking too young.
I can hear some of you snort already "yeah ok there blondie, that's a REAL big problem" the truth is, it really is. Career wise, when you look young and the essence of your work relies on gaining your client's trust as a counsellor, you will not get very far if he or she thinks you don't know what you're doing. Their preconceived ideas of your appearance will mark your abilities and how receptive they will be to everything you are saying and doing.
Five years ago...
When I first began working as a career guidance counselor, it was quite a struggle. I looked even younger then, and to add to it, I started in a private company which, at the time, had many senior employees at its service and very few of my kind i.e. that were born in the 80s. A young face with lots of enthusiasm and a an easy smile? I was doome and labeled as a child. In fact, I am certain many of my then compadres thought I would be eaten alive by the more senior way of thinking that once ruled and that I would lose my way in the corporate battle field. One would think I would most probably head to work in a school or the more traditional route for my line of work.
But no. It had been my choice to start my career in a private and more corporate company and I was given that chance. I wasn't about to blow it. Giving up was never an option for me anyway. It was the same in school. Once you start, you finish. Even if you change paths, that's fine! But finish it. Like pretty much everything in my life, when I believe in something, I have a reputation to last for long hauls and commit to it. That wasn't going to change now. Especially not when I had just landed my first job, I was not abandoning ship. So, on a daily basis, I handled the disbelieving faces of clients that couldn't possibly believe I had a Master's degree and a professional reserved title. Looking back, I don't blame them! They were more than fair. They all shook my hand and within a few minutes, we were on to business. Still, it was hard work to overcome the age gap and each time know there was hidden judgement somewhere waiting for me like a mine bomb.
No, I didn't dye my hair grey
After a while though, I had to admit it: it got painful. My ego was starting to get bruised even though I was doing well. I let everyone give me advice on what THEY thought was right for me. Someone even told me what I should wear to look more serious and how I should cut my hair (how evil, I know). At one point I realized that I was trying to please everyone and my efforts weren't even being noticed. I may as well do what I think is best? The moment I decided to drop everything and just take my own advice, everything changed. Don't get me wrong, the advice I was given was well intended but it had sharp edges sometimes. But then, the people who gave it to me hadn't been a 27 year old for a really long time and let's face it, times have really changed since the 1970s, haven't they?
After eight years of university, working at a bank and writing a thesis, I had already developed my own secret tool box of psychological weapons. The difference is that I had let my environment make me believe that my own tools were no good for the work force...they were! And the moment I decided to fetch them and put them to use, the world was mine.
A BIT OF WHAT'S IN MY TOOL BOX:
For example, as a student, I had dealt with tons of group projects where classmates don't do their work or just don't show up on the day of the presentation.
GAINED TOOL: keeping cool under stress and working double-time to compensate.
Or when I had to fight with a teacher after she had made a major "calculation error" on my grade which affected my entire GPA.
GAINED TOOL: determination, communication skills and defying authorities.
Or how about not giving up after 7 years of study to reorient my path and finally cross the finish line.
GAINED TOOL: perseverance, hands-on, keeping sight of the big picture.
Most importantly, the core of my tool box is made of this:
Growing up and watching my mother work very hard in the corporate banking world with the most positive attitude and in heels. She had successfully evolved in her career when times were sill significantly more challenging for women. She also made time to sew cool Halloween costumes for my sister and I and helped us with homework.
I witnessed my father managing multiple demanding projects as a consultant civil engineer and making time for diner, helping me with math homework (it blew my mind that he still, to this day, remembers certain math formulas and geometric rules like he learnt them yesterday) and teaching us music, going to swimming classes and much more.
I also had an older sibling who was a natural born leader with avant-garde outside of the box ideas and who made my life easier because I always had someone who experienced what I was about to go through before I did and someone to look up to. An individual who challenged me, kept me in line and consequently gave me the spine I have today.
A husband, mature beyond his years having successfully faced life obstacles and who had an endless pit of strength and has never, ever, given up on anything. His ever inspiring big heart and not minding to get his hands dirty when the going gets rough!
I can even go back as far as my grand-parents, who were very prosper, but who left the lands they harvested and the country that was their home to start a new life and explore new opportunities without knowing the language. Did they even worry about looking too young? Ha!
When youth is a weapon
Equipped with that, I changed my perspective...
I didn't have 30 years of experience under my belt but, I had 3 diplomas, technological and social media skills and most importantly, something no one else seem to have: my youth!
I couldn't help but wonder. Maybe just maybe, some were envious of that? Jealous even? Perhaps I was the threat, not the victim here.
From then on, I stopped listening to expired advice and also changed my wardrobe, for good measure! I wore what I always wanted to wear: tons of colours and less traditional outfits that fit with my personality, not just my frame. I plastered my office wall with my degrees, like doctors do to reassure the doubtful souls. In essence, with time, I turned my youth into the ultimate weapon using it to my advantage.
Like Ivanka trump (interesting similarities hehe!) said in her book, that people judged her harshly as they assumed she was daddy's girl, that she had never worked a day in her life and new nothing of the business. Instead of letting that get to her, she uses it as leverage and pleasantly surprises everyone when, oh look at that, she lured you in with her charm and before you know it you're doing business with her. That is precisely what I have done.
When you look young and you've been working a solid 5 years, you start knowing the roads a little more: expecting certain comments, certain glances and certain judgements. As opposed to before, I now relish those moments as it gives me a nice jump start while those who judge me set the bar quite low for me. Fortunately, I am also blessed by meeting great individuals all the time. Individuals who trust me, listen and take notes as I speak (one of the most rewarding gestures to see as a counsellor in my opinion). Even the tougher ones who are more skeptical end up leaving with a different mind set. One of my the loveliest feedbacks I received from one of my clients was: "You sound so much older than you look".
A few years ago, I temporarily filled in for one of my colleagues' appointments. He was running late due to another appointment that was taking way longer than scheduled, which is quite common in our practice. I replaced him and was meeting the client for his first appointment and he was definitely not expecting to see a young girl greeting him. I sensed his judgement right away and knew it wouldn't be an easy session, but I let that roll off my back like nothing. I continued smiling warmly though he didn't reciprocate. Surely enough, after discussing for 45 minutes, he warmed up to me but I still offered that following our meeting, he could continue his program with my colleague like it was originally planned, if that was his wish. Without a blink, he said he had appreciated my smile the entire time and that he would like to carry on with me. Clearly, we had bonded and I was able to diffuse his preconceived ideas on my abilities.
If that is the "cross I have to carry" then please let it be because either way I cannot lose. If a person refuses to work with me based on my looks, that is discriminatory and quite honestly I too, have no interest in working with he or she. I will gladly refer them all to someone with more grey hairs and not worry about the wrinkles I apparently lack. Anyway, the clients I do work with now ask where I buy my outfits, what website or social media they should use and they write the kindest recommendations on my LinkedIn page.
The last time someone tried to make me feel as though I had to envy his senior years, it went a little something like this:
The senior: with a pompous tone "Ohhh, but you'll only understand that when you're my age!"
Me: with a wink and a smile "I'll keep my youth over your wisdom, thanks!"
The senior: picking up his jaw from the floor.
But, I must have been too young to know what I was saying, right?
Happy birthday to me! :)
My name is Ivana. I love photography and meeting people. I hold a Master's in counselling psychology and work as a career consultant. Music is my fuel and an important source of energy in my life. I drive my vespa around the city and I love what I do! :) About this blog: me on my artistic soap box!
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