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What do I say to people who constantly comment on my age?
February 24, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

What do I say to people who constantly comment on my age?

I'm 23 years old and I recently started a management position with a large nonprofit. I've had no problem with the actual work - it's challenging and enjoyable, and I've gotten nothing but positive feedback from my superiors and co-workers on everything I've done so far. The problem is that whenever someone finds out how young I am, they invariably feel the need to comment on it, and I'm at a loss for how to react. This was an issue in the job I recently left (not the reason I left, of course). Co-workers at that job, some of whom were only 5 or 6 years older than me, went so far as to call me a "baby" to my face or make blanket statements about how all people my age are immature, unreliable, and so on. I should note that absolutely none of this was brought on by my performance, attitude, or appearance at that job. Some people at my previous job got fixated on my age and brought it up time and time again, and I really don't want that happening again with my new job. I understand that some people my age aren't professional, but I am. I have my shit together and I'd rather people focus on my work than the fact that I was born in the 80s.

So, any suggestions for snappy comebacks? (But, honestly, not too snappy; I'm not trying to be an asshole, I just want to brush it off and make it clear that I don't think my age is an issue).
posted by nuclear_soup to Human Relations (50 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
"I try to avoid talking about age, weight, and religion, as the topic is too personal for many people."
posted by Paragon at 5:02 PM on February 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


So, any suggestions for snappy comebacks?

Keep your mouth shut. Snappy comebacks that are unsuccessful will mark you as immature. Snappy comebacks that are successful may make the person resent you. Some snappy comebacks will only serve to remind everyone how old you are. The people that don't notice or don't care about your relative youth? Well, they'll certainly notice it now.

Just keep doing good work.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:03 PM on February 24, 2010 [28 favorites]


The problem is that whenever someone finds out how young I am, they invariably feel the need to comment on it, and I'm at a loss for how to react.

How do they comment on it? Your last job sounds awful, and it's good you got out, but are the new people making such terrible comments? Or is it just like, "Wow, first job out of college, eh?"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:09 PM on February 24, 2010


Nthing a nix on snappy comebacks.

I used to get comments like that when I was working in a hospital as a young man. "You sure you're old enough to be doing this?" was the most frequent comment. It irked me, but I'd generally just say, "Yes," then do my thing as well as I generally did. Afterwards people were so impressed by the competence of such a 'young' man that they were doubly happy with the job I did. Win-win.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work with a guy who's 24. He started when he was 22/23. People give him shit for not knowing cultural things, like who Pearl Jam is. But they respect him for knowing his job. I wouldn't worry too much about people giving you trouble for your age, because I think it's largely about things outside of work. If they actually start saying you personally are immature, unreliable, and so on, that's something else. Until then, it's a reflexive statement of "I'm so old that people younger than me don't know who x is!" At least, that's my take. Regardless, this is one of those things you'll outgrow shockingly quickly—very soon you'll be 5–6 years older than the freshly minted.
posted by ifandonlyif at 5:10 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I guess when I said "snappy comebacks" I really just meant "what do I say in return?". I'm not trying to be an asshole, I just have no idea how to respond at all.
posted by nuclear_soup at 5:12 PM on February 24, 2010


I've had this happen, too (I'm 25), usually along the lines of "Oh, you're only 23/24/25? I thought you were older. You're just a baby!"

I take it situation by situation. With some people, who are well meaning and don't realize how they sound, I say "You know, I get lots of comments about my age, and they're starting to wear on me. Would you mind if we didn't talk about it?"

With others, though (and there's no way to tell except by intuition that they'll react this way), that kind of response would just cause them to bring it up more. Those people I just ignore. Eventually, they stop.
posted by ocherdraco at 5:12 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Generally:
"Why is my age important to you?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Why do you ask?"
"What an interesting/odd thing to say."

to call me a "baby" to my face (this is AWFUL)
"Wow, I haven't been called that for 22 years!"
"Did you just call me a baby? Please don't do that."

how all people my age are immature, unreliable, and so on
"Hmm. [Intentional awkward pause, let the fart-like scent of rudeness hang in the air]"
"I'm glad I'll be able to show you that people born in the same year aren't all exactly the same."
"How weird, I've noticed the same thing about people your age--I guess it's a cross-generational thing."

aren't you too young to be doing this job etc
"I don't think so, and neither does the company, and hopefully, after working with me, neither will you."
posted by sallybrown at 5:14 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Congrats on your new job! First, realize that people are probably jealous that you are so successful for your age. There aren't a lot of 23 year olds who are in management. That's pretty impressive, and also kind of intimidating. People look at you and probably think, How did she do it? Or, I could have been her if I worked hard enough. So they begin to passive-aggressively cut you down and call you "baby."

I wonder though, how does your age come up? How do people know or find out? The only way I've found out my co-workers' ages is if it comes up in some kind of friendly conversation - i.e. they mention it. I don't see the point of asking people's ages so I don't. So if you're talking and you somehow mention your age, I'd take a step back and evaluate how you're doing that and see how you can not bring it up. If people are asking you outright "So how old are you?" (which I think is really bizarre, like I said I don't see the point and really, it's none of people's business) you can say something like, "Older than you think" or something to indicate that you're not comfortable talking about your age; lots of people are uncomfortable doing so.
posted by foxjacket at 5:14 PM on February 24, 2010


Could you just agree and move on? When you totally agree but aren't bothered, people don't really have much to say about something. "You graduated in 2004?? You are YOUNG!" "I guess I am. How about you, where did you go to college?" or "How about you, where did you grow up?" Showing polite interest in the other person will distract them with thoughts about themselves, rather than letting them continue to focus on your age. Since people like to talk about themselves, this distraction will leave the impression that you're nice.

That said, if someone really starts giving you hassles or trying to joke around, I'd go with a joke that's neither overly self-deprecating nor a dig on them, like "yeah, they taught business at my nursery school."
posted by salvia at 5:15 PM on February 24, 2010 [14 favorites]


I have been and sometimes still am in that position. I tend to use self-deprecation where possible. I started losing my hair early so I will for example answer someone's surprise at my age by saying "yes, but I am bald beyond my years."

I only once had a situation where I felt that someone I was supervising did not take me seriously due to the disparity in our age and years of experience. In that case, I took the guy aside and made it clear that I was in charge and it was his failure if he could not understand or accept that.
posted by AgentRocket at 5:16 PM on February 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Rather than telling them your age, tell them when you were born. Most will be too stupid to do the required math and then you can move quickly on to another subject, or just disappear.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:16 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


You should say "thank you". Most likely, it's intended as a compliment. Not everyone has their crap together enough at your age to be in your position. Even if it is a backhanded compliment, treat as though it were genuine, graceful obtuseness can be very useful sometimes.

And trust me, this problem will solve itself - you're not always going to be young to stand out.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:18 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really just meant "what do I say in return?"

Nothing. Laugh, smile, nod your head, deflect. "Yeah, my brother/sister/college roommate is totally immature. I mean, just yesterday, get this, he said..."

Of course, unless this is really, really vindictive shit, and then it's an entirely different conversation about office behavior in which the actual topic is really taking a backseat to dealing with an asshole co-worker in general.

But even then, IMO, your response never starts with, "Oh yeah? Well, let me tell you, Old Timer..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:20 PM on February 24, 2010


So, any suggestions for snappy comebacks?

They're generally not a good idea in the workplace.
posted by Jaltcoh at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2010


I got this when I first started teaching at community college. I was 25 or 26 but people said I looked younger, and my students, especially the ones older than me, often said, "Are you sure you're old enough to be teaching this class?" I usually said, "Well, I'm old enough to have two master's degrees..."

You have a lot of good suggestions and should pick the ones that feel most right for you. But really the only thing that fixed it for me was getting older.
posted by not that girl at 5:23 PM on February 24, 2010


nthing just ignore and move on.
posted by sid at 5:24 PM on February 24, 2010


i took my first management job at 17. cool papa bell has it - just smile, laugh, and change the topic. let your work speak for your maturity.
posted by nadawi at 5:25 PM on February 24, 2010


I really just meant "what do I say in return?"

"I'll outgrow it."

And you will.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:29 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


FYI, some of the commenters above have suggested some replies that I'd consider somewhat prickly. I wouldn't go that way. "You're just a baby" is not meant as an insult in a good portion of the cases. It's a bit impolite, but it's probably the best kind of impolite, where people are moved to comment on something they envy or admire. Reacting in a way that's designed to direct attention to their rudeness could be perceived as defensiveness or rudeness in its own right. You want an answer that works whether they're saying "you're so young" in a good way or a bad way.

A good reply might be, "yes, and I am very glad to be here at SysCorp where people have such a wealth of experience." That works if they mean "you're so young" to mean "you're so young and healthy and beautiful with so much of your life ahead of you," in which case the reply means "and you, you are so experienced and wise; those experiences mean a lot; you have spent your life well." That reply also works if they mean "you're so young" to mean "how can you possibly be competent and an equal when you're so young?" To someone asking that, your response could demonstrate that you have an awareness of your possible weaknesses and the wisdom to get the support you need in those areas, as well as an appropriate level of modesty. "I recognize that I have much to learn from people with experiences that I don't have, so I've surrounded myself with really experienced people." I wouldn't say anything about how you believe you're as competent as people older than you; underpromise and overdeliver, right?
posted by salvia at 5:36 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


People who comment on your age are either giving you a compliment, or betraying their envy (and therefore, giving you a compliment). You win either way - treat it like the compliment it is, and just accept it graciously and move on.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:36 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Rather than telling them your age, tell them when you were born.

Ooh, no. That can back fire if they are a good bit older. It's one thing to be 24, it's another to say you were born the year they graduated high school or something similar. You could offer the year you graduated college or high school. That might add some ambiguity to your age.

Nthing the self-awareness suggestions. Hopefully you are not bring up your age more than necessary. I.e., someone mentions the year they graduated high school and you chime in with "Really? That's the year I was born!" I used to do that without thinking until it occurred to me that people really, really hate it.
posted by parkerjackson at 5:44 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have the exact opposite problem. I'm 43, but I look 29. I'm in a *very* traditional college and one of the few non traditional students in the student body. I'm older than nearly all of my classmates (I've met two senior citizens) and most of my professors.

My age comes up in conversation because I mention often my children, one of whom goes to the same university. I get, "You're how old?" "Why are you in college?" AND I get to listen to all kinds of remarks about how people my age are boring, aren't cool, etc... (usually kids talking about their parents), usually followed by "but you're different" or "I don't mean you..." when I remind them I'm the same age as their parents.

Everyone above is right, smile, nod and change the subject. If it starts affecting your work then you might say something, until then, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
posted by patheral at 5:53 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really think "wow, you're young" is different than "you're just a baby." This is especially true if it's not just an initial, caught-off-guard reaction.

Calling a colleague a baby is extremely unprofessional behavior, and I think it's perfectly fine to ask not to be called that, so long as you do it politely. Yes, it depends how casual your workplace is, and yes, you want to be very careful about making yourself look more immature by taking it too seriously.
posted by sallybrown at 6:01 PM on February 24, 2010


I'm 27, look really young, and was 23 when I started as editor of a long-respected niche magazine. There was (and continues to be) a lot of drive-by awkwardness, from people at the office, from advertisers, and from readers.

Basically, you handle it by never making your age an issue and doing your job really, really well. Never bring your age up, never remark on culture clash moments (oh! yeah, I don't remember the Challenger exploding, since I was 2 and everything), never defend yourself, don't do anything that feeds the "too young" fire, fairly or unfairly - drinking excessively around work mates, complaining about relationship or parent or basically any personal life drama, etc. Do your job in a way that can only provoke positive comment. Don't try to be a wunderkind or a prodigy, and don't bask in that status even if you know that's how other people regard you - that falls away with enough time, and you need to have your shit together even after you can no longer reasonably labeled as precocious.

If you must have something to say to the inevitable "Oh, you're so young!", just say something inoffensive and friendly ("Not for long, in this industry!"). Good luck!
posted by peachfuzz at 6:01 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I usually say "well, I am old for my age" and smile, they smile back, but it takes a second to process what I just said... that is when you change the subject and dont look back!

Mainly the problem I had when I was 23 is that I was doing the same / better work that those who were 28-29, and it sounds like those are the people you are having problems with too.

This is generally because they realize that when you are 28-29 you will probably be in the role that their boss is now, which makes them sad ;-(

Just ignore it, the difference between 23-28 is far more perceptible for someone who is 28 than it is for someone who is in their mid 30s and up, the people who probably have most of the decision making power anyway.
posted by outsider at 6:05 PM on February 24, 2010


As a young person in business as well, I've found it incredibly helpful to study up a bit on how the different generations in the workplace interact. Lots of folks in older generations are not used to Millennials in their midst, so it helps to know what to expect and how to best react in order to have good interactions with your colleagues. I've dealt with a lot of "oh, you baby!" comments as well, and in my experience, ifandonlyif is spot on. It's more an expression of disbelief than a pointed insult. Once you develop a good rapport with the continual disbelievers, it's fun to offer them a Werther's Original in response, have a laugh about how odd life can be and get on with your day.
posted by theraflu at 6:10 PM on February 24, 2010


When I lived in Japan, it was common for people to remark on my foreignness. If I tried to persuade people (via reason, humor, passive-aggression, or outright irritation) to stop, it backfired.

Eventually I learned to not react, and tried changing the subject to something like "Uh, we need to talk about your TPS reports."

I tried to shift the discussion onto a neutral yet compelling topic, well away from me and my foreignness.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:13 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Some snappy comebacks will only serve to remind everyone how old you are.

> treat it like the compliment it is, and just accept it graciously and move on.

Nthing most of the responses in the thread:

Just nod, smile, and get back to work.

Bluntly, making a comment about someone else's comment on your age-- let alone offering a retort-- will mark you out as immature.
posted by darth_tedious at 6:40 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reframe the conversation by expressing how truly thankful you are to have a job in this economy. You might go so far as to say you are humbled to be in your position. I think this would diffuse any further discussion on the topic.
posted by yoyoceramic at 7:16 PM on February 24, 2010


Some people at my previous job got fixated on my age and brought it up time and time again, and I really don't want that happening again with my new job.

Poking people about age is a fairly common interaction and I doubt you'll have much success in stopping people from doing it. To give you an idea, I'm 40 and am the "baby" of my group of coworkers (who range from 41 to 65).

I know these people fairly well, so every time I'm poked about my age I just poke them right back, usually by asking them what dinosaur meat tasted like or just straight out calling them geezers.

In short, I treat ongoing comments about age as an invitation to some gentle fun. You may consider approaching things that way too.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:49 PM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, any suggestions for snappy comebacks? (But, honestly, not too snappy)

"I'm certain you would agree that my age is not a factor in my ability to contribute to this organization."

What are they going to do, disagree with that statement? No, they are going to be mortified and never bring it up again.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:39 PM on February 24, 2010


I started working at my current job (in finance) at 21. Somehow people assumed it was my 2nd job out of college,and I'll never forget the embarrassment when one of the more senior guys picked up my ID and went "hey look at this, I graduated HS when larthegreat was born" to the trading floor. The next few weeks sucked- people either thought I was brilliant, or that I needed to be babyfed everything, and I still haven't heard the end of that and that was 3 years ago. This past year was the first time the summer analysts weren't older than me. I feel you on this.

The only thing that worked was responding "Yup I'm young, and how's that retirement planning going?" and attempting to turn it on them with bad 80's references. To be honest though, it's the people only 5-6 years older who take it the hardest. The old guys just look at all of us like young'uns to torture.


Of course this is in finance, and respect is a little bit more performance based. (26 year old who closes a sweet deal >>>>> 40 year old veteran coasting along)

posted by larthegreat at 8:58 PM on February 24, 2010


In some ways, I'd say having such a negative reaction is in some ways indicative of... how young you are. I mean, put it this way, if you weren't 23, would you care? It's the fact that you are that makes it an issue which means... it is about your age, like it or not.

This is me basically nthing everybody else in saying either smile graciously and move on, or, even better, take it as an opportunity to show how mature you really are by showing humility.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 9:19 PM on February 24, 2010


How about "I'd rather you focus on my work than the fact that I was born in the 80s."
posted by torquemaniac at 9:27 PM on February 24, 2010


Enjoy being a prodigy while it lasts. Before you know it you'll be just as average as everyone else.
posted by crinklebat at 10:19 PM on February 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Yeah, maybe so, but I feel 50. You people are going to give me grey hair already."

Same response works for me in the reverse situation. People find out I was in the military for 20 years and say things like, "What? Damn, I'd have never guessed you were that old."
posted by ctmf at 10:48 PM on February 24, 2010


Or just play along with the "joke" for a minute.

Yep, I'm 23 all right. Hey, that reminds me - you're old, you probably know - I was at this garage sale and saw a bunch of old-time music. You know, like the Police, U2, that kind of thing. But these CDs were HUGE, like more than a foot across and made of black plastic. How would you even play those?
posted by ctmf at 10:57 PM on February 24, 2010


Advice from the start of my career:

"Never tell anyone how old you are, and you'll always be old enough for them to believe what you have to say."
posted by effugas at 4:56 AM on February 25, 2010


There's also the bit where you turn it into something more complimentary:
"Yeah, I was lucky, I guess - my parents really instilled into me a hard work ethic."

And then change the subject. Know what? After a couple of these, you'll be known as the young kid who wants to work hard.
posted by filmgeek at 4:56 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Part of what may be driving the questions is regular old curiosity combined with a bit of fear: how did *you* get your stuff together so fast and so well?/sheesh, I remember what I was doing at 23.../is it already too late for me to kick up my game?

You are an outlier in nonprofit management, and as such, you will draw curiosity. The best anecdote is to just be the best manager you can, recognize that inadvertently or no you have now become a yardstick that other 20-somethings in your org are measuring themselves by (for better or worse), and work to get to know your coworkers on a personal level (i.e. interact as humans).

And then just wait, you will keep getting older (shocking!), but even if you continue to rock the socks off nonprofits, your age will become less and less of an issue.
posted by ilikecookies at 6:58 AM on February 25, 2010


An, non-profits, grinding up the young and naive for little pay, some things never change...

My favorite was to taunt the 60's hippie wannabees. It was entertaining to watch then squirm when asked "so, just when DID you decide to sell out to The Man?" Best way to beat the Man? BE the Man.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:02 AM on February 25, 2010


I'm 23. I get this all the time.

My response to "wow, you're really young!!!!":

"Yep!".

Then move on. Any other response would just dwell on it.
posted by amicamentis at 7:07 AM on February 25, 2010


FYI, some of the commenters above have suggested some replies that I'd consider somewhat prickly. I wouldn't go that way. "You're just a baby" is not meant as an insult in a good portion of the cases. It's a bit impolite, but it's probably the best kind of impolite, where people are moved to comment on something they envy or admire

I can't see how being called a baby is indicating that they admire the OP. It's a condescending put-down. There's almost no good reply to that, though. Getting a rise out of you will be interpreted as immature, you sternly lecturing them on your accomplishments will come off as immature, etc. I'd shoot a quizzical look and change the subject FAST.

My good friend and former boss handled this situation by never ever discussing her age and insinuating that she was quite a bit older than she really was. She's finally 40 now, after having been "pushing 40" since she was about 25.

I agree that the best way to diffuse this is to avoid discussions about your age completely. Don't tell people when you graduated from high school or that you were a baby when the Berlin Wall fell. Yes, this means that you do not get to chit-chat with your co-workers with quite the same familiarity, but you can surely find other common interests about which to chat.

I also find that world-weary "oh but I feel older" comments coming from 23 year olds make them seem younger. Teasing to your "elders" can sometimes work, but I've also seen it backfire.

I look quite young for my age, though at 36, I'm not so much mistaken for a teenager anymore. If you're female, the path from "you're just a baby" into more sexist assumptions gets pretty slippery pretty fast.
posted by desuetude at 7:09 AM on February 25, 2010


In the last three or so companies I've worked in, I've been one of the most senior people in the team and also one of the youngest. When people tell me I'm young, I take it as a compliment.

After all, it's taken me twelve years after graduating university to get to where I am now and yet it's taken others over twenty.

If you really want to respond, you could say "Thanks, I've worked hard to get to here" and leave it at that.
posted by mr_silver at 7:20 AM on February 25, 2010


There have been some good comments in this thread so far. Another possibility would be to think about honing your self-presentation (body language, clothes, etc.) in a way that comes off as more professional. The comments that make you bristle could mean that you haven't triangulated the proper professional distance from the co-workers who are saying these things.

When I taught high school, I worked with an orchestra director who was 4' 11" and 22, freshly out of getting her teaching certification. She would dress more formally than the other teachers, and carried herself in a way that made it clear she was not to be messed with. She commanded the room of 50 high school students armed with devices capable of making very loud noises, but there was not a peep out of place. Once authority was established, she got comfortable with the students to the point where they realized that she had a sense of humor too.
posted by umbú at 7:48 AM on February 25, 2010


I find the types that make rude comments like this are usually the same ones asking me when I'm getting married and having babies. Ignore these nosy parkers and keep kicking ass at work.

Don't worry, you will get your moments of satisfaction. Mine came when a fellow grad student pulled the whole "Aw, you're just a baby" thing on me. He was pretty shocked to find out I was a couple of years older than him.
posted by futureisunwritten at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2010


I'm a 25 year old landlord of several houses. This has cost me tenants and, especially when i'm renting to someone older than me, I have to make sure I get respect.

Nobody's commented directly, but I get a lot of, "YOU'Re the owner?," and attempts at intimidation or people laying out their assumption that I can't know what I'm talking about.

All of this peters out after I come to fix/do the things they don't know how to do, or after I calmly read their lease to them when they demand compensation for unexpected utilities charges, for example.

Other people have it. There's nothing you can say, so just do good work. This advice is not specific to age issues.
posted by cmoj at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2010


While I like Tell Me No Lies's suggestion, that dynamic probably works a lot differently in an office where everyone is at least 40, rather than you being 23 and most other people being 40. There's nothing you can do there really because to them you ARE a baby. Just suck it up and deal and never say anything about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:44 PM on February 25, 2010


"Wow - you're only 23?"
"Not really. I'm actually 17, but I had to lie about my age to get the job."
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:12 AM on February 26, 2010


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