Do I look too young?

I am 41 years old, and not ashamed of my age. So maybe my headline seems like a silly question. But ever since I was in my 20s I’ve been told I look younger than my age, and it came up again today in a professional context that puzzled me.

I’ve been asked to teach a course on media relations for Simon Fraser University. I’m flattered to be asked, and think it’ll be a nice feather in my cap professionally. But when I met with the Continuing Studies coordinator today to discuss it, she said she was surprised at how young I was. She’d read my resume, and therefore knew what year I got my bachelor’s degree. But still, when I told her I’d already entered my fifth decade, she was shocked.

Now, on the one hand, looking young is a great bonus at this time of my life. But professionally, I’ve always had to fight the perception that I’m too young to do my job well. There is a real professional divide between “juniors” and “seniors” in my business. Senior practitioners are seasoned, experienced, get paid better and offered better opportunities. And well we should, since we’ve got the expertise and well, seasoning. But juniors are new to the business, and get assigned less strategic roles and are paid less.

Part of my consultancy is training. I train spokespeople on how to deal with the media. I was capable of doing this training in my mid 20s, but never did, because the guys in suits who need the training wouldn’t have taken me seriously enough, especially since I didn’t even look 25 at 25. I started doing my own media training more often in my 30s, and now that I’m over 40, surely I command enough respect to teach the suits.

Yet when the SFU woman today thought I was much younger than my age, I got worried. Do I look too young to get enough respect at this point in my career? Hmmmm….

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