I met Sarah Cooley last June during Internet Week. At one event that week we ended up standing at the bar chatting while we waited to be served. We were making the usual small talk and in response to a simple “What’s going on with you?” Sarah explains to me that her boyfriend was just diagnosed with cancer and he announced it to the world that day. I think I managed to get all of “Oh I’m sorry…” out of my mouth before being accosted by a girl I had met the night before at a networking event. The girl talked my ear off about the company she was interning for and I couldn’t manage to catch up with Sarah the rest of the night. I’m not sure if this incident even phased Sarah, but I feel guilty about it to this day. She had just declared to me that her boyfriend has cancer and then I abandoned our conversation. Thanks to the power of the internet and social media I soon found out the rest of the story, but not from Sarah.
I had just started a new job and my social life quickly went into hibernation for several months, on top of which Sarah moved to Philadelphia. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Sarah IRL until this week. I am no longer at my 60+ hour per week job and Sarah just moved back to New York. She recently wrote a blog post that really meant a lot to me and I finally had the chance to tell her in person. The post explained that Sarah is a young undergraduate student, a fact she kept under wraps.
I, like Sarah, have been very wary of sharing my true age with most people in my industry. This is not in the usual sense a woman tries to hide her age. In fact it’s the exact opposite. I am younger than the vast majority of people I interact with on a regular basis. While I’ve never outright lied about my how old I am, when the topic of age comes I generally don’t say much or keep it vague. I’ve gone so far as to remove my year of birth from my Facebook profile. I have always looked and acted mature so people generally assume I am older and I just let them keep on thinking that. Not that I don’t have moments when I act like a typical 23-year-old.
I have many fears of what will happen when I share my true age, some of them are rational and some are absurd. Will my friends run screaming in the other direction once they hear they’re hanging out with someone so young?! Well…probably not. I will, however, have to endure the usual “OMG! You’re HOW old?! You’re SO young!” Whenever I let my age or the year I graduated from college slip that’s exactly what I hear every time.
The age issue is especially difficult for me when dealing with clients. My clients trust me to be the expert advising them on important aspects of their business and it’s tough to trust a 23-year-old. I get that. For a 23-year-old I have plenty of business acumen. My parents owned a retail jewelry business and I was employee #3 right after my mom and stepfather. From the age of nine I was put to work behind the counter, not only doing little tasks like cleaning the showcases and organizing piles of gift boxes, but also helping customers. Despite my whining and protests my mother would love to shove me in front of customers and make me handle sales. Imagine walking into a jewelry store only to be greeted by a 9-year-old explaining the difference between a prong setting and a bezel setting. Yeah…exactly! As I got older my role in the business expanded. I eventually got keys to the store and the code to the safe. I took on the roles of buyer, visual merchandising manager, publicist, assistant sales manager and business consultant. As much as I wish that I had a GaryVee like passion for the business, I fought my parents on it every step of the way and when they were getting ready to retire I reiterated to them that there was absolutely no way I would take over the store after college. There are aspects of the jewelry business that I really love, but running a retail jewelry store in a snobby resort town is not one of them.
So what’s my point with all this? First off, I have significantly more work experience than the vast majority of 23-year-olds. This also means that when my friends were spending their weekends sleeping in and watching Clueless, I was waking up early and spending my days behind the counter chatting with people decades older than me. I think it is because of these two factors that I naturally gravitate toward people older than me.
So most of my friends have moved beyond the awkward phase of life that I’m in right now. They’ve been living on their own for a while. Many of them have steady jobs, though not all thanks to the current economic climate. They are confident in their skill set. They know what they want and go after it full speed ahead.
So while I may not always act like your average 23 year old, I still suffer the trials and tribulations that come with being in your early twenties. I can be confused, scared and unsure of myself, but one thing I am most certainly not is naïve. People may be shocked when they hear my age. They may run screaming in the other direction or do a slow fade out of my life. They may even assume my age is synonymous with inexperience, but I know (and thanks to Sarah I can finally accept) that it’s their issue to deal with and not mine. I’m 23-years-old. This Friday, February 5th will be my 24th birthday. I figure if in the “age of transparency” my age is the worst skeleton in my closet then I must be doing something right.