Something has been on my mind lately has been the perception of others when it comes to my physical appearance in comparison to the trajectory of my career. You see, I am younger, but not overly young. I do; however, have a youthful appearance. I am on the short side, and have long hair with nary a grey in sight (thank you genetics!). I typically always dress professionally; and avoid wearing a hoodie at work even if it is a spirit day of some sort (as it makes me look like I’m closer in age to our 10th graders than my colleagues). But what’s been troubling me a lot lately is this: even if I am younger than expected for my role, even if I look youthful on any given day…it actually bugs the heck out of me to have others comment on it.
“You’re a baby,” is a common phrase I hear when discussing historical elements of education, or even things occurred 5 years ago. “You were probably still in high school then!” is another favourite. Even if I was, it doesn’t mean its okay to comment on my age. I don’t go around calling my colleagues with grey hair geriatrics, so the double standard is somewhat perplexing. I am more than my age, certainly more than my appearance. While it does happen occasionally; I know that typically my male counterparts don’t need to constantly defend themselves to colleagues or peers when it comes to their youth and/or appearance–despite the fact we are actually close in age.
Before I go on, I just want to be clear: I am incredible proud of my successes. My path to my current role was anything but a straight line; and if I’m honest with myself, some of the challenges along the way were related to my age and, in part–my gender vs. the hours of time I put into broadening my “district profile”. I think that one crucial choice I made to get to where I am now was to move on–and find opportunities outside of my comfort zone. While it was difficult to make the transition, recognizing the toxicity of waiting to be seen vs. the benefit of a fresh start has been absolutely key.
That doesn’t mean that some elements of those challenges hasn’t followed me. In a lot of the situations or conversations I’ve been in where my age or youthful appearance has become a topic of conversation, I’ve laughed along with the joke. I shouldn’t have to laugh at my own expense, or in some cases be unfairly judged for being a younger leader.
Here’s the thing though; someone, or in my case, a lovely group of someones recognized that my education, skills, abilities, personality and experience was a fit for my position. I wasn’t arbitrarily placed, I was vetted through processes and then selected. This means something, it means that my age wasn’t a factor. My appearance wasn’t a factor. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I still have much to learn, and I love that about my career. It has so many opportunities for growth and mentorship; however, I shouldn’t have to work harder to prove myself as being just as worthy as peers that “look the part.” I shouldn’t have to self-deprecate when it comes to my youth–and neither should anyone else who have put in the time and work to get to a place of leadership.
So, please don’t call me a baby. Please treat me as you would anyone else in a leadership position. Judge me by my work ethic, my compassion and my enthusiasm for education.
*This post is not directed at anyone specifically; and is a culmination of events and conversations that I’ve been a part of for the last 5 years. While there are times that are appropriate to discuss age and appearance, it shouldn’t be the default joke. The best part of being so young is that I know I have a long career ahead of me, and lots of time to achieve all of my professional goals.