“When’s your internship over?” A question I am inevitably asked whenever I meet someone new in my office. While I am admittedly young (25) to be where I am in my career in child welfare, I look even younger. People regularly think I’m in the office for school credit, not a full-time employee who has her Masters in Social Work.
There are positives and negatives to being up and coming in your field as I’m sure many of you know. I particularly struggle being in an area that isn’t always open to change or welcoming to those who haven’t “been in the trenches” as our field workers like to say. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly admire all of the frontline workers in child welfare who do a job that I never could. I’m just not good with such fluctuating schedules and to be honest, I think I’d be a little afraid to go into some of the situations they’re forced into for the benefit and safety of the child. Here’s a huge high five to all of you who do what I’m too scared to!
Through all the struggles of trying to make a name for myself, though, it’s changed my life and attitude towards my career for the better. The going may get tough, but I promise you that it will be worth working through. I’m living proof that age doesn’t need to hold you back. Now, let’s learn a little bit more about ageism and its influence on the lives and careers of many young women, including myself.
Ageism (and how it made me a fighter): Ageism is prejudice or bias based solely on someone’s age. While it’s most often used to discuss older individuals, I encounter ageism almost every day and have since I was in my teens. The fact that I look young, and actually am young, causes people to discredit my ideas and how I got to where I am. When meeting someone new I’m rarely asked “What accomplishments brought you here?” Instead, it’s usually “How did you get here? You’re so young.” It’s assumed that nepotism was a key part in my landing a good job and that I won’t really be able to hack it once the going gets tough. My looks don’t help when I meet colleagues who think the real Lindsay Driver sent her daughter to talk to them instead. It’s a daily game of proving myself, without the use of heavy make-up and clothes to make me look older, that I play every day. I’m pretty sure I’m winning.
People’s ageism towards me has done nothing more than make me want to work harder and be better. As the youngest of three children, my goal has always been to be the most successful of us all (which I’ll admit is going to be pretty hard to do). I’ve fought long and hard to get the recognition I deserve and bias won’t stop that. Refuse to let the little voices that tell you “you’re too young” to get the best of you. You’re not too young. Everyone else is just scared that you’ll make them look bad.
People will doubt you and your work ability: The first time I was introduced to people as the new contact for a large project, everyone’s mouths dropped (albeit, probably subconsciously). It would actually start to be fun for me to anticipate the confused horror on people’s faces that I would be given such an important role so early on. These responses were both condescending and motivating. The more people doubted me, the more I wanted to prove them wrong. Who cares if I look 16 (18 on a good day)? I got here because I’ve earned it. Don’t doubt my work until you actually see it.
Ageism and its influence on becoming an entrepreneur: As if it wasn’t hard enough walking into a career looking young, now I have the task of making a bigger name for myself as the co-founder of Animal Lover Funding. If people doubted me before, they definitely doubt me now. It doesn’t help that my husband looks almost as young as me. At the end of the day though, how I look doesn’t matter. I am a strong and confident woman who knows the value of her mind and her love for research and child and animal welfare. I am a leader who enjoys working with her husband at coming up with great ideas to help our business grow. I get frustrated and I work through it like workers twice my age. I’m resilient, have been my whole life, and plan on staying that way.
Looking on the bright side: The one way looking so young benefits me is that I can ask questions others might not be able to. Certain people want to teach me and guide me along the path of child welfare and I appreciate that more than anyone could ever know. Whereas older individuals might not have this luxury, I am able to use the “well, I’m just not as experienced yet” to my advantage. It’s something I try to use often to learn as much as I can. I recommend you use it too. You’d be surprised how much more you will learn!
I can attest to the difficulties of being young and career driven. People don’t think you’re capable of the work and sometimes it’s still an old boys club making it even harder to break through that glass ceiling. On days that I’m feeling particularly defeated, I listen to a motivational speech by Eric Thomas (it’s the one posted here). My favorite line states, “At the end of pain is success.” My new mantra! You may feel discouraged and people may discount you based on your looks, but go through it. You’ll be proud and more confident when you do. You’ll be successful and will have proved everyone wrong. You will have surpassed your own expectations and it will be totally worth it. You and that young, baby-faced brain can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let them tell you any different.
Now it’s your turn! How has ageism affected your career? How did you overcome this?