Tomorrow is my 22nd birthday. I’ve been looking forward to this birthday for my entire life because it’s 22 on the 22nd and 22 is of course my favorite number! But I’ve also always viewed it as my “last special birthday.” Every year brings something new and exciting when you’re a kid who is constantly developing and growing at a rapid rate. No two years in childhood or adolescence are alike! And then there’s “sweet 16,” and at 18 you can vote and buy lottery tickets. And I think there’s something special about 21, but can’t quite remember what. Some of my friends look forward to 25 because you can rent a car, but I’m not much of a driver, so I prefer not being able to, silly as that seems!
But what’s left? All of my friends (most of which are at least a year younger than I am) keep joking about what an old woman I am, almost 22. And of course it’s just a joke—22 is still young. Thirty is still young! Youth is what you make it. My grandma is almost 80, and I still see a young person in her from time to time. But, while it’s nice to say anyone can be young, it’s not really true to how our society runs. Our western culture has an obsession with youth. Especially when it comes to women. It’s almost like we’re expected to look young forever, which isn’t the case for men. So much commercial time is dedicated to telling women how to get rid of their wrinkles and bags under their eyes. Why is it so important to look young? Yes, researchers say that creativity and intelligence often peak in the 20-30 age range, but then why have we built a society that so often keeps you in school until you’re almost 30 or older? I’m going to graduate school for mental health counseling, and the other day I had the daunting realization that I could be 27 before I’m out in the world working as a licensed counselor. And that’s IF everything goes smoothly. And 27 isn’t old, by any means, but it seems so late to me, to start a career.
We’re also living in a generation that is getting married and starting families later. When I was a kid, I always had this vision of being a young mother, just like my mom and aunts and grandmas were. At one point, I actually wanted to start having kids at 19 because I thought it would increase the emotional connection with my children if I had them that young! (I developed this plan when I was still a kid myself). And here I am, with no plans of marriage or children anywhere in my near future. Given the path I’m planning, I certainly can’t see myself having children before 30.
And I feel like all of this shouldn’t matter to me. But it does. And it matters to almost every young woman I know. Because we live in a world that sometimes makes us feel like we’re worth less as we get older. But what about wisdom? What about life experience? Maturity? Fully-developed brains! Don’t these mean anything?
Part of the reason that this whole rant was sparked, in addition to my approaching birthday, is an experience that I had recently. I was interviewing for a graduate school over spring break, and one of the other applicants was in her 30s. She had worked for a while and is going back to school now—something that seems very common in grad school. The other couple of applicants were about my age. I was thinking that the woman in her 30s would definitely get in and then be the first one placed in an internship and, eventually, a job out of all of us, because of her experience. But somebody else made a comment, something like, “Oh, it’s going to be a lot harder for her. When we all graduate with the same degree, and by then we’ll all have worked for a while, why would somebody hire someone who is almost 40 over someone who is in her 20s?” And I realized that I might have been naïve. Although, I am still skeptical as to whether this other person was correct or not, because the “older” woman does have a lot of additional experience that we don’t have, which I really think could be an advantage. But there is some truth in the idea that people like to hire young when they can. And I think it puts a lot of pressure on us to decide what we want to do early in life, so that we can be ready to beat out the competition while we’re still in our 20s.
And at the same time, there seems to be a stereotype that young adults are irresponsible and too spoiled to work hard in this generation. And we are supposed to be experienced and well-educated, both of which take time. So is any age really the right age? Are we ever young enough or old enough that we can be assured that age is not a barrier.
And in terms of trying to be a woman and a leader, when will we be taken the most seriously? Can a 20-year-old girl start a business and be successfully accepted? Can a 75-year-old woman? These may not be the most common scenarios, but I really think the answer is yes. I’m sure there are examples of both. People of all ages achieve all sorts of dreams! Granted, it may be the exception to have very young or very old leaders who are amazingly successful, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages to age and youth? Does it really matter? Or when it comes down to it, is success really more about things like experience, motivation, and creative ideas?
Have you ever encountered any situations in which you felt that you were being treated unfairly because of your age?
Despite everything that I just said, I do typically try not to pay too much attention to age. I used to put a lot of emphasis on it in my goals. “I’m going to publish a book before I turn 16!” “I’m going to be a famous author by the time I’m 19!” “I’m going to be an established celebrity before I’m 30!” And that was really important to me at one point. It was difficult to start disconnecting my dreams from numbers, but I found that I became a lot happier when I did. I believe that being who you want to be is what matters. It’s about what you are and who you are… not when you are.
LeadHer™ Intern, Campus Calm™
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