Help me explain my age
September 25, 2011 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm in my early twenties and I look like a teenager but I'm top-level management in the company I work for and I'm also serving on the executive board.

Some people who I meet for work purposes and short term periods might find this incredulous and thus affect their trust in the company I work for. When they find out my position, they scoff, "How old are you? Twelve or thirteen?" Help me find a good answer to put them in their place stop them from giving me crap about it. Something like, "Old enough to ___ but young enough to _____", or something. Entertain me with your sassiness, and help me compensate for my yet-undecreased hairline with your wit. (Sweet and gracious sounds good too, because options are nice.) "I'm actually in my early twenties" doesn't really do anything to displace anybody's suspicion.

(If it matters, that comment came from a senior citizen earlier today. The most I've ever gotten about my age is, "Wow, you're so young... wow.")
posted by drea to Work & Money (63 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been partial to Neil Gaiman's "As old as my tongue, and a little older than my teeth." Not sure how general-purpose it is, though.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

"Heh. They said that to Bill Gates too."
posted by MuffinMan at 7:35 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by argonauta at 7:38 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

You could tell them that you're actually 95 but you've been eating the souls of puppies and kittens in dark Nilotic rituals to preserve your youth.
posted by XMLicious at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

"Old enough to prefer not to discuss my age in the workplace. Let's get down to business, shall we?"
posted by amy lecteur at 7:39 AM on September 25, 2011 [27 favorites]

You'll get this until you ... look older. Just say "Old enough" and give them a stern look.
posted by Diag at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I find it hard to believe that a witty response is going to assuage those who don't trust you based on your age. In fact, unless the remark is delivered with perfect timing and has a rock solid message, it could do more damage.

I think your best bet is to dress appropriately, speak confidently, and develop a reputation that precedes you. It sounds like you're well on your way.
posted by jeffch at 7:40 AM on September 25, 2011 [18 favorites]

Well, I guess the your best proof of being as responsible as your age and position indicate, and not a bit peeved or defensive, is acting like it. Give them the old charming smile and say, "I'm twenty-whatever, so I guess I was lucky," without sarcasm (remember Daniel Craig's debut as Bond: every one of his little lines and gestures and fight scenes is also about "Yup. I'm the new Bond and it feels GOOD).
[Of course for the one-time jerks without repercussions-to-fear, you always can do the "look in the eye, smile, and very slowly ask "Yes??" bit. You wanna make them blush. Work on it...]
posted by Namlit at 7:42 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

"You're asking that? Seriously?"
posted by anaelith at 7:54 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Marry me!" (a la "Arrested Development")

More seriously, I found (as a short person who has always been mistaken for being much younger than I am) that after a "You're so young!" comment, a quick, "Yes, so I've heard" followed by an immediate "now, about that [business issue]" was the easiest way to acknowledge it, discharge it, and move on.
posted by mothershock at 7:56 AM on September 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

I've always found a genuinely baffled with just a tiny hint of offense coupled with an "Excuse me?" to offensive questions works well. They have to repeat their ill-thought-out question, highlighting their rudeness. Most times, they mumble a "never mind" and you get down to business.
posted by smirkette at 7:56 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're in your early twenties and you're executive management. You have a long career ahead of you.

This isn't a good idea. You're developing a reputation always, and a snarky reaction is going to make you seem insecure, thus confirming their suspicions.

I would just ignore and move on, or smile a little and say nothing (and move on--I guess those are the same option).
posted by J. Wilson at 7:57 AM on September 25, 2011 [16 favorites]

You have to be chill about this sort of thing. I'm not on an executive board or anything, but I've gone to meetings where everyone is C-level. I always get these comments. Take it as a compliment. The worst thing you can do is come back with a clever retort that would give away the fact you're in your early twenties and are a smart mouth.

I realize this might be insulting, but your'e young and you're in this position. Smile, move on and if you're good as you say you are, no one will care.
posted by geoff. at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2011 [12 favorites]

Old enough to drink, but not old enough to rent ultraporn
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:58 AM on September 25, 2011

Use that line from Drive where he's in the bar being bothered by someone he worked with. I can't remember exactly how it goes but it's perfect for your situation.
posted by fraac at 7:59 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sadly, just old enough not be considered an actual prodigy. Then make a business-related comment or question.
posted by theora55 at 7:59 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please don't do this. As an executive, you are part of the face of the company and should act accordingly. Trying to out-snark someone is not very becoming and does sort of show your age.
posted by TheBones at 8:02 AM on September 25, 2011 [27 favorites]

Just act sort of puzzled. When I was 25 and people would ask me why I wasn't in school in the middle of the day, or where my parents were, I'd look at them funny - not rudely, just confused - and answer as I would for any other absurd question. Pause, maybe laugh a bit, and say good-naturedly, "School? I graduated from college years ago and you couldn't make me go back!" or "My parents? I don't know, I guess they're at their house, why do you ask?"

If you think of "How old are you, 12 or 13?" as a strange, nonsensical question, and answer it as such (think "WTF?!" in your head but smile and say politely, "Goodness no, but sometimes I wish I was 13 again!") you will instantly come off as more mature, b/c that's a natural adult reaction. The person will then feel sort of dumb, but not insulted, and you can both move on.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 8:06 AM on September 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

@fraac - are you talking about the scene in the diner where Ryan Gosling's character runs into a man he drove back from Palm Springs? Where Gosling tells the man to turn around, leave, and never speak to him again?
posted by jeffch at 8:08 AM on September 25, 2011

But using the exact words, yeah.
posted by fraac at 8:11 AM on September 25, 2011

Bill Clinton has a line in his autobiography on this topic. From memory, someone had told him he was too young for something or other that he wanted to go (be a lecturer, I think), and he laughed and said 'People have been telling me that for years.' Could be worth checking the reference.
posted by StephenF at 8:12 AM on September 25, 2011 [10 favorites]

A friend of mine had a remarkable career trajectory and...and I cannot for the life of me imagine him ever asking this question, because part of the whyfor of the career path was, I'm sure, a lot of maturity along with the precocious skill. What is wrong with a (friendly, not condescending) smile and "I'm twenty-three"? That would do a lot to reassure people that you are a competent, professional, pleasant adult, and not a snarky kid. Way more productive to put people at ease rather than on the defensive.
posted by kmennie at 8:15 AM on September 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

The vast majority of people who say something like that aren't really concerned. You present them with an easy topic of small talk. They take it. That's all. If you had a funny name, you'd hear the same hurr-hurr comment about that all the time, too.

Q: "What are you, 12?"
Short answer: (chuckle) Yeah, I wish.
More open-ended answer: (chuckle) I get that all the time. You know how hard it is to get a drink around here when you look this young?

Small talk accomplished, nobody offended.
posted by ctmf at 8:17 AM on September 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

I had that problem until I was 30.

I usually just smiled or laughed as if they had said something unique and funny, then went ahead with whatever I needed to say or do.

But sometimes I would give a joke response. "Wow thanks, I'm actually 58!" or the standard Dorian Gray reference: "Yeah but there's a painting of me in the attic that that's aging rapidly." (No, most people won't get it but who cares?)
posted by The Deej at 8:19 AM on September 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

I tell people that in the future I will be happy looking younger than I am (with a smile).
posted by mkdirusername at 8:22 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding mkdirusername... I always went with "I'm X... yeah, I look a lot younger. I'll appreciate it when I'm 50."
posted by Golfhaus at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, another one (I think stole from Dana Carvey): "I'm 25 but I read at a 27 year old level."
posted by The Deej at 8:36 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

If the point is that you want people to focus on the work and your position rather than the age, steer the conversation - firmly and immediately - to the work at hand. "How OLD are you?" "Older than I look. Now..."
posted by entropone at 8:52 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I might say something like "Oh, that's so nice of you!" as if you're really in your mid to late 30s and thrilled to still look young enough to get carded at a bar. Because I bet a good deal of the time they're really trying to be nice, in a way, assuming that everyone is flattered to hear that they look younger. That's how I handle this kind of thing; last year an acquaintance of my parents' said to me, "You're old enough to have a job!?" and I'm like.. I'm almost 30! I know some of the older folks at my office believe I'm a lot younger, so I just try to present myself well and not get flustered by anything or upset easily - don't let comments faze you or blow them out of proportion - it seems to me younger people are more likely to overreact.
posted by citron at 9:06 AM on September 25, 2011

Believe me, it will pass ... it might take 10 or 15 years, and then you'll start missing it. ;-)

Meanwhile, I would suggest that you do your best to ignore those types of remarks when they seem to be negative, and acknowledge the positive ones by a simple "thank you" or something similar, and moving on.

If you absolutely must reply in a slight putdown, I'd suggest something like "old enough to have learned not to judge people by their appearance; now about X..."
posted by aroberge at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2011

I have always had this problem too, being and looking younger than people expect me to be for where I am in my career. When someone asks, I look at them with puzzlement and concern, as if they've just really offended me but I'm too graceful to show that. I usually say, "Like you, I'm somewhere between 18 and 65, but I prefer not to discuss age at work, as it can be troublesome for all involved." That usually shuts them up, and gets you some respect points in the process.

As a side note, never, never dress your age--always suits and very polished, and always speak confidently. That goes a long way when you're trying to be taken seriously, and when you're trying to put someone in their place for asking such a rude question.
posted by thisness at 9:23 AM on September 25, 2011

I used to get this all the time. (Well, I still do, but I'm starting to get to the age where it actually *is* flattering. Sigh.) I think the key is to react as little as possible and stay cheerful. Just pretend that whatever the person's just said is an enormous compliment and then answer whatever business-related question they should've been asking.

"Are your parents available?" "Oh, no, I'm afraid they live out of state. But if you need to speak to the owner, that's me!"

"Are you the intern?" "No, I'm the manager. May I introduce you to my staff?"

"What are you, fifteen?" "No, I'm twenty-three. But that's very flattering, thank you."

"Which high school do you go to?" "Oh, that was so long ago! Why don't I tell you about my master's degree instead? I studied public policy at Cornell."

Etc., etc.
posted by Agamede at 9:24 AM on September 25, 2011

I used to get that problem until I grew a beard and waited about fifteen years. :)

I'm not sure the first is an option for you, and the second takes time, so:

"Older than I look. [divert]"

is the best tactic here. Snark will peg you as insecure, and anything more than mildly aggressive will engage people who aren't worth your time. If you're the face of the company, you need to act like it. Even if they're jerks, you don't rise to the bait.
posted by canine epigram at 9:26 AM on September 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

No snark! No sarcasm! No jokes! If you believe that you belong in the position you hold, then act like it. Let your work speak for itself. Tell them your age if they are curious and move on.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:27 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think the OP owes anyone an answer on that one, frankly. Don't play the game.
posted by canine epigram at 9:28 AM on September 25, 2011

My husband has a baby face and gets this all the time and he's 27.

If someone goes "What are you 12?" he'd just respond with "Yes."

Because really its a dumb question for someone to ask. Also it either shuts the person up because they then realise it's a dumb question to ask someone in his position or they go "But wait you can't be because you are doing XYZ." response to that is then "So why did you ask?"

He is always very polite about it with no snark underlying anything. It works for him, well that and he' jokes about taking up smoking as they say it makes you look old before your time.
posted by wwax at 9:36 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

My stock response is a playful "How old do you think I am?" Most people know there's not a good answer to that. Like most sassy responses, this works best with people you're already on good terms with.

If they give you the "are you twelve?" line, you can respond with "you're only off by two years!" (Which way? Either!)

But I agree that it's best not to rise to the bait. Likely a lot of people who give you crap about your age are resentful or jealous that you've risen above them so quickly, or suspicious that your top-level role is the result of nepotism rather than experience or talent. The best thing you can do is be diplomatic and likeable, so you don't give them more reason to doubt or resent your age/role discrepancy.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:57 AM on September 25, 2011

"Yeah, I get that a lot. Anyway, as you see on page five of the report..."
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:59 AM on September 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm in my 30s and I still get this. I have tried everything, but what works best is, "Oh, you're sweet", smile, then "Now in this report...." It suggests that the other person is off the mark and that they surely meant what they said in a positive way, but does nothing to affirm or condone what they said. I also use this with compliments as it also keeps people from thinking you are egotistical by agreeing or thanking them or creating a need to artifically reciprocate.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:03 AM on September 25, 2011

Are there things you can do to look less young and fend off the question before it is even asked?

It sounds like you can afford to spend money on your wardrobe. Maybe you already have this covered, but looking the part will help people take you more seriously.

Dress sharp. This is not just about buying nice/expensive clothes, but about ensuring that they fit you perfectly. I'm going to assume that you have a slim to average build. Make certain that you don't have bunched up fabric anywhere.

Pants too long? Get them hemmed. Shirt billows just above the waist line? Just don't buy it. Sleeves too long? Get them shortened. Blazer bunches in the back? Get it hemmed.

I would say that the fit of your clothes is far more important than the finish. If you wear a $5000 Zegna suit that is a size too big for you, you're not going to look as sharp as you would in a perfectly tailored suit from JC Penny.

How about your haircut? Does it look both natural (not like a slicked over helmet) and groomed (neat, in control)?

How about footwear? If you wear a suit to work, complement it with some clean, business-like oxfords. Rule of thumb: choose a shoe with a leather (not rubber) sole. Even if you don't wear a suit to work, these shoes will subtly signal your confidence and good sense.
posted by reeddavid at 10:09 AM on September 25, 2011

I handle this by being extremely capable and good at what I do, and letting those people find out for themselves what assholes they were not only to judge me by my looks, but to do so out loud and to my face. I try not to let it bother me and just smile when someone makes a comment, and I focus on doing my job.
posted by so_gracefully at 10:17 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have this problem. I am 31 and work in politics/government and for the majority of my career people have asked me "when are you starting college?" or similar questions. People don't want to listen to a kid so I kill them with professionalism and knowledge. It is an impediment at first when you meet people. But I try to demonstrate that while I may look young I can run campaigns better than anyone else. I try to build up friends and references whose names command respect.

So, it is awful at first. But after a while they have to confront this wall of professionalism and references that is insurmountable. And if they still insist on second guessing you because of your perceived age they loose credibility, like the guy who wont take advice from a woman or racial minority.
posted by munchingzombie at 10:48 AM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

(With a grin) This is what clean living can do for ya. Or innocently "Oh, I moisturize regularly."

I once had a doctor who had quite the babyface. When I first met him (I was much younger and dumber then) I blurted out "My god you're young!" And he blandly replied "I get older every day ... So you've been having some [healthconcern], Ms Bunderful?"

I immediately got it, realized that wasn't the most tactful thing I could have said, wasn't offended (as I would have been if he had seemed angry), and we moved on. And I grew to really like and respect him as a doctor.

I also really like the "I get that all the time" and "Yeah, you wouldn't believe how hard it is to get a drink with this face" suggestions above. Anything too harsh/snarky will come across as insecure/immature. A polite, low-key response, with a little humor, followed by just being competent and confident, will move them past that initial impression.
posted by bunderful at 10:48 AM on September 25, 2011

Are you looking to be witty to defuse the situation, or are you trying to make them think of you as a top-of-the-hierarchy adult?

Witty responses encompass many of the replies here. Top-of-the-hierarchy ones just shut the whole conversation down - "I get that a lot, now on to..." or "Old enough to be CEO." Dressing sharply can help, as can growing a beard (if you can - if you can't grow a good beard, don't do a half-assed one, as a half-beard is worse than none).
posted by pmb at 10:53 AM on September 25, 2011

"How old are you?"

"How old do you think I am?"



Then move on. Really, this question says much more about the one asking the question than it does about you.
posted by 4ster at 11:08 AM on September 25, 2011

Keep in mind that most people who say things to you regarding your age (if they are under the age of, say, 40 years old) are probably intimidated, or more likely, very jealous of you. Like "holy crap, how smart must this kid be to be in this role? I was getting coffee at his age." Or "I can't believe i was out-promoted by this 22 year old, where have i gone wrong?"

Being snarky or otherwise indicating you're overly self-concious will just turn give people a reason to shift their feelings from intimidation to a sense of superiority. Everyone wants to feel confident at work, and if they can find a way to shift your presence from somehting that makes them nervous to something that makes them feel superior, they will. So being snarky will just make them think "ok, this kid might be book-smart, but clearly they don't have the life experience to handle this. I'll show him who knows what's going on!". You are jealousy inducing. Don't give people a reason to try and tear you down.

Smiling and saying something like "yes, i know i look young" and then moving on (or any of the other phrases given by people who've advised you not to engage) is a good idea.
posted by Kololo at 11:31 AM on September 25, 2011

Alternatively, when i was younger, i liked to reply to comments about looking young with "Oh yes, well I moisturize/use sunblock every day!" But i'm not sure if that really served me well or not.
posted by Kololo at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2011

"You have to be chill about this sort of thing. I'm not on an executive board or anything, but I've gone to meetings where everyone is C-level. I always get these comments. Take it as a compliment."

This. I work (as a peer) with a group where, until quite recently, literally everyone else was my parents' age (now there's a guy who's only 7 years older than me). I'd usually just smile and take it as a meaningless pleasantry. If people were dicks about it, I'd just smile, be professional, and blow them out of the water later. Being underestimated is often to your advantage. If you're professional, the comments don't last that long (other than the obvious age difference in social chatter, but generally they talk about their grandkids who are usually about the age of my kids, so we can discuss that).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:42 AM on September 25, 2011

I'm 27 and had to show ID to get a library card because the librarian did not believe I was over 13, so I sympathize. (fwiw, most people don't think I'm *that* young, but some 13 year olds look older so I think that's why she was suspicious) Anyway, act and dress appropriately, and when people ask you questions like that, just smile, tell them your age, and say you get that a lot. That's what I always do, and people usually chill and end up saying something like, "I suppose it's better than looking older," and I just shrug agreeably and say that's how I try to think of it.

I fear some cutting comment will only hurt you in the end. Early 20s people need to avoid coming across as defensive or ego-ful or snarky or touchy, so I'd prioritize that over dealing with people thinking you look young. Those are the negative things they associate with young people, aside from inexperience, and you'd just be feeding into their fears if you don't seem chill and agreeable.
posted by Nattie at 12:22 PM on September 25, 2011

Go with something along the lines of -- always remember that Bill Gates looked like he was 12 or 13 until just a few years ago.
posted by minx at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2011

"Are you 12 or 13?"

"Yes. Let's get to work."
posted by mhoye at 12:28 PM on September 25, 2011

I don't get this as much as I used to, but it was annoying to be in my early 20's and have people think I was still in high school. Now, I usually say, "I'm a lot older than I look" or make a joke about remembering something from the end of the 20th Century.
posted by luckynerd at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2011

Respond, "Sunscreen."
posted by lulu68 at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2011

Also there's always some type of people who seem to think they must say something no matter what, so I guess you can go safe by ignoring it. When I finally got some muscle in my late 20s, some people skipped the how young I looked shtick, and instead began commenting about me getting 'broader' which didn't strike me as all too flattering either. Put it down to a lack of manners and hang out with the people who know how to be kind and natural.
posted by Namlit at 4:13 PM on September 25, 2011

It's really not the slightest bit more appropriate than scoffing at the idea of senior citizen colleagues by saying "You're still working, not retired at your age?"

It is one thing to be taken by surprise at someone as young as a twenty-something in a such a position. It is quite another to tell that person that they appear to be 12 or 13, i.e. a barely pubescent child. It's obviously not possible, it's condescending as hell, and no, it's not a compliment.

My safe bets are "I've been getting that for years," or "sunscreen/lucky genes in my family" then cheerfully and briskly moving on. I will also pull out Dorian Gray references on occasion, and very occasionally will be in a position where a dryly delivered "yes, I'm sixteen," will work.
posted by desuetude at 5:07 PM on September 25, 2011

If you're male, there's really one answer: grow a (neat, professional) beard.

If you're female, I have no idea. New haircut?

Either way, snark and sass won't be a good look on you. Instead, the best response is to turn it back on the other person. As mentioned before, put a puzzled look on your face ask "How old do you think I am?"

When they say "17" (or whatever), you could respond with your actual age. As you mentioned, though: "I'm actually in my early twenties" doesn't really do anything to displace anybody's suspicion. Instead, I would say "Oh," maintain the puzzled look on your face, and then change the topic back to business.
posted by lewedswiver at 6:34 PM on September 25, 2011

I don't think I've really seen this come up, but I wanted to add that "early 20s" is a particularly bad age to give, IMO. They're going to assume that means younger than you actually are or, at most, equal to your age -- and you will additionally seem more insecure than just saying "22" (or whatever) instead.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:16 PM on September 25, 2011

Stay classy - smiling and redirection works well for the politicians no matter their age.

Alternative: "two words: Mark Zuckerberg."
posted by chrisinseoul at 8:20 PM on September 25, 2011

I get this all the time. Grates, doesn't it?

I'd just say, calmly and neutrally, "Oh, my surgeon is a GENIUS."
posted by mornie_alantie at 10:25 PM on September 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

So many of the responses are so sarcastic, which is a real way to get people offside who you've just met. Don't be mean or snarky. They're not out to get you.

Just be open and honest. Say "Oh, I know, I have a baby face!". Smile, then move on.
posted by dave99 at 4:25 AM on September 26, 2011

Oh, and please don't compare yourself to Bill Gates or the like, this will massively hurt your case for credibility.
posted by desuetude at 7:42 PM on September 26, 2011

"How old are you? Twelve or thirteen?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:56 PM on September 26, 2011

I would like to thank everyone for their responses. They'll help me laugh through awkward situations like these in my head, and get rid of that not-so-pleasant feeling that I was defenseless over these put-downs. I'll bear in mind not to actually say these comebacks. At least, I can feel dignified over a completely straightforward, sarcasm-less response, like, "I get that a lot, I'm actually twenty-two".
posted by drea at 5:07 AM on October 4, 2011

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