I’m about to tell you something really personal. I’m going to put it out on the internet for anyone searching for me to see.
I used to think it was small-minded and coy when women refused to say their age. Perhaps it was because my parents had me in their 40s. I learned early that, for many people, age has very little bearing on life events or personality traits or health. Even now, I can barely guess which decade my coworkers are in.
And why were only women ashamed of their ages? It seemed to me that by not admitting their age, they were perpetuating the myth that women lose value as they get older, while men hold on to their worth. Say your age and be proud, ladies!
But this past year, I realized that there’s an age-shaming culture apart from women being too old — which is women being too young.
I didn’t notice it as much at NPR, probably because NPR, like most organizations in D.C., relies upon a small army of college interns and recently graduated 20-somethings. Occasionally, an ambitious 20-something will get promoted, and no one is phased. Heck, one of Guy Raz’s claims to fame is that he was promoted to NPR’s Berlin bureau chief at 25.
But outside of Millennial meccas, people seem to have lower expectations for what one can or should be capable of by age 25. When people ask me my age, especially in a professional setting, I feel … embarrassed. They shake their heads. They tell me I’m “a baby!” They start talking about things I wasn’t alive for, as if to confirm that I was, indeed, not yet alive.
Rationally, I know that’s not my problem. If my very presence offends them or makes them uncomfortable, there’s little I can do about it. And it’s likely that their reaction is neither — perhaps, for example, they respect me more for being a radio reporter at my age. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that they’ve stopped taking me seriously, because they see me as their child’s peer. Or that they think I’m an overachiever, which still carries the sting of being singled out in grade school for getting high grades on exams. Or that they resent me, seeing me as an entitled 20-something with little experience acting like I know what I’m doing.
(It doesn’t help that the general public has no concept of what young women are supposed to look like, and most people assume we are all younger than we are. This doesn’t just happen to me — almost all of my girlfriends, from age 22 to 29, have been mistaken for teenagers recently. Youth is wasted on the young, maybe, but I find this kind of thing annoying.)
So how old am I, you ask? I’ve spent the better portion of my first year in Nashville trying to come up with ways to avoid answering the question.
“How old are you?” a coworker asked once. “You can’t ask a lady her age!” I joked.
“You don’t look old enough to be working!” one woman told me recently. “That is so sweet of you!” I replied.
And then, this past week, I celebrated my birthday. Let me tell you, I love birthdays. As I contemplated ways to tell people it was my birthday without telling them how old I was turning, I realized: This is stupid. Why shouldn’t adults get used to the idea that young people exist, and will always continue to exist, in their professional circles? Why can’t I break the myth for young women?
So here it is: This past week, I turned 24. Yes, that means I was born in the ’90s. I wasn’t able to walk when the USSR fell. My earliest memory of a major news event was the O.J. Simpson trial. I got my first email address in grade school. I was in fifth grade on 9/11. Go on, reread this paragraph in shock. Shake your head. Get it all out here.
And if you read this and respect me less, so be it. I’m proud of what I accomplished, and I’m proud of what my peers are accomplishing. Eventually, you’ll stop making that mistake.
I’ve been a great beneficiary of your achievements in the years that I’ve known you. I was a “young” achiever back in the day myself. Still going at 55. I finally started wearing my high school class ring again. It used to be a marker of how “young” I was with that Class of ’77 showing. But, hey, it still fits and is so shiny from its long years tucked away in the jewelry box. “Let no on despise your youth,” Emily!
And Happy Birthday!
Me again with a correction of my typo: “Let no one despise your youth!”
I love this! I’m glad the ring still fits.
Be young & proud! Be old & proud! And always carry your ID 😉
I always enjoy your reporting on WPLN. Okay, you are 25? So what? BY 27 1/2 Jim Morrison recorded 7 albums with the Doors, authored 3 books of poetry, made two films, and played 150+ concerts of which 40 were recorded. You ask who is Jim Morrison? Well you have to be between 55 and 70 to really know! Many people have lot’s of success early, so don’t mind the haters. Arthur Rimbaud wrote all his poetry by age 19 and 200+ years later we are still reading it.