I have been lying about my age for years. I know it’s a huge stereotype about women, but bear with me – it might not be what you think.
I’m 29 years old, turning 30 this year. I have a job I love in advertising and I’m generally very happy with my life. But for a few years now, almost any time someone asks me how old I am – especially at work – I lie.
At this point it’s more of a reflex than anything I put any thought into – and the root of it comes from wanting to manage the way that I’m perceived.
I’ve spent years pretending to be older than I am to stop people from underestimating me. 30 has been my go to age for a while now, so when I have my actual 30th birthday this year I’m going to have some explaining to do. So, let me explain it to you first.
When I was younger people always thought I looked older than I actually was, I was the one who didn’t need the fake ID to get into the club or to buy the drinks. Except for the one time an ex-boyfriends’ mum told me I looked ‘too old’ (for what!?) I had no complaints.
It wasn’t until recently that I realised that I was being treated differently because people had misjudged my age. On my first ever shift behind a bar I was a supervisor despite not knowing how to pull a pint, as customers were keen and quick to point out. Immediately after graduating I was given a job managing a small team of people and reporting directly into the CEO of the company – a role that in retrospect I wasn’t at all ready for. But maybe I looked ready, and I got treated as though I were ready, and over time the things that had seemed impossible became second nature, because people trusted I could do them.
How many opportunities for interesting, fulfilling, career progressing work was I missing?
People misjudging my age meant that I wasn’t even being considered for work that I could be great at.
I got very used to being seen as capable, reliable and all round pretty great! Someone who knew what to do and was probably already getting on with it before you even thought to ask. But slowly, over time, the way new people reacted to me started to change. My baseline had shifted – I was capable of doing things, quickly and easily, that would have left me in a blind panic a few years before. But whilst my skills were growing, the opportunities I was being offered weren’t growing with them. At times it felt as though they were decreasing. I wasn’t getting challenged or called upon in the same way any more. People started asking if I’d ‘be ok having a go‘ at something I’d been doing on my own for years, or telling me what ‘good experience X or Y’ would be, if I thought I could do it. My face hadn’t kept up with my birthdays and suddenly I looked younger than I was, and new peoples’ ideas of what I was capable of had shifted, in the wrong direction.
I say ‘new people’ because once I’d taken on a ‘do you think you might maybe be able to try having a go at?‘ task and proved myself people trusted that I did actually know what I was doing, and started to work with me in the way I was used to.
But that got me thinking:
How many opportunities for interesting, fulfilling, career progressing work was I missing? People misjudging my age, and by proxy my capabilities, meant that I wasn’t even being considered for work that I could be great at.
And so it happened – I started saying I was older than I was. And it worked. The challenges came back, the trust in my opinion and my ability to deliver came back. And nothing caught fire. In fact projects went from strength to strength. I could do it, and I knew I could – I just had to find a way to convince everyone else.
I’ve had many happy and fulfilling years of being 30. When I started the lie 30 seemed such a long way off, and so grown up – practically middle aged. But now it’s almost here and I’m going to have to think about what comes next. I’d like to think that I’ve established myself enough now that that uphill struggle is done and we can live in harmony and truth. Only time will tell.