I started my first business when I was 26 years old. I had two business partners at the time and, looking back on it, I'm not sure they even knew my real age then. We parted ways shortly after and I went off to start my own business venture. They were two men, in their mid- to late-40s, and I was just starting out. Our work paths previously crossed while I was at another PR agency and, months later, they had an idea to establish a PR arm of their business and thought I would be a good partner based on our successes while working with them. Forty percent ownership, a brand new car and no one to answer to — who would say no? Thus began my "fake it until you make it" phase.
You often hear of age discrimination when an employee gets to a certain age and is thought to be outdated or can no longer provide current suggestions or solutions. What you likely haven't heard of but possibly have experienced is the struggle on the opposite side of the spectrum — a young professional being told, "You're just a baby" or questioning their amount of experience. Experience is normally defined by years and is worn like a badge (and rightfully so), yet younger professionals have a different skill set and should be given the opportunity to add their input just as much as their seniors. It won't always equate, but a collaboration of age experience and work experience can result in the most creative solutions if given the chance.
The PR industry is filled with younger professionals, right out of college, that are drawn to the thought of working closely with their favorite brands, or the glamour of red carpets and celebrity talent. And there is nothing wrong with that. After all, that's what drew me in (along with my drive to avoid math by any means possible). But as an employer, I can now admittedly say that it is harder to define seasoned talent, and years of experience on a resume often become the first indicator of a candidate's potential. I faced these challenges myself and found that an accumulation of multiple internships helped me land my first job. The beauty of a resume is that only your experience is taken into consideration, and your age isn't (and shouldn't be) listed anywhere.
Regardless of my experience, I was more confident in myself when people thought I was older. Here I was, in my mid-20s, often finding myself in boardrooms or on conference calls with clients or potential clients that were twice my age. A majority of the time, I led those meetings alone. I got in the habit of making comments about things from the 80s and early 90s that I hardly recalled or knew nothing about. Learn your audience, right?
Today, I am still young by most standards and still find myself adding years to my age when I'm met with a situation where I feel it's needed. It still happens more often than not. I often wonder when I'll stop age-shaming myself and embrace my experience with confidence and age honesty. I might end up regretting all those years I pretended to be older but whether it was needed or not, it gave me the confidence to walk into any room and share my insights with no hesitation.
Age-shaming usually stems from within your own insecurities to be taken seriously and to level-up with your seniors. Before any meeting, if you feel yourself age-shaming, try these few tricks to strengthen your confidence:
1. Know who you are meeting with. Sounds simple enough, but knowing their names, industry experience and what companies they have worked with will better prepare you for what input or questions they might offer. LinkedIn is a great resource for this.
2. Understand the purpose of the meeting. Whether it's a new business meeting or a meeting around collaborations, you should understand the goals, previous successes and failures. Layer in topics of advice based on personal successes with yourself or other companies. Case studies are helpful to showcase those successes as well as ROI.
3. Do your market research. Understand the market of the company or person you are meeting with. Do a competitive market analysis to become familiar with trends, competitors and previous successes. You'll be more confident when you can speak to the industry as a whole.
4. Articulate your own experience. Regardless of years of experience, embracing and being able to articulate your very own experience when asked is key. It is almost a guarantee that you will be asked about your experience in any introductory meeting, so being able to confidently speak to that is likely the most important tip of all.
Looking back, I would advise my younger 26-year-old self to focus more on current and forthcoming trends of my time and less of those from previous generations. Our industry is ever-evolving and brands are looking to younger talent to provide insight into successfully tapping into current channels that target newer generations and customers. In a way, I somewhat self-sabotaged my experience by neglecting what those my age were immersing themselves in. I have had to since backtrack to become better versed in my own generation, as well as hire talented, younger professionals around me that embrace and know current trends.
If you are a young entrepreneur thinking of starting your own business, focus more on the idea of your business and less on the judgment or comments from people's opinions on you starting it. Thanks to brands and publications that spotlight young entrepreneurs, people are embracing and enabling the successes of younger generations. If our young entrepreneurs can own their ages themselves, then brands and companies will start and continue to listen to their worth.