I am so lucky I can grow a decent beard.
Maybe I should explain that. See, I have this problem, one which many other men also face: I look a lot younger than I actually am.
With facial hair, I can reasonably pass for an adult. When I'm clean-shaven, you'd be forgiven if you assumed I was a tall infant.
Yes, this is me from high school, but I assure you, I haven't aged at all. Seriously, I still look just like this.
Sure, with millions of people across the globe shelling out their hard-earned cash for cosmetic products they hope will deliver the “I can't believe it's not Photoshop!” results promised in commercials, I should be happy with my situation. And in truth, as far as annoyances go, it's a pretty minor one. I can admit that.
But it also has a real effect on my life, especially in the work force. Here's just a quick glimpse into the life of a guy who looks younger than he is.
1. People talk to you like you're a kid.
“There you go, Chief.”
That dreaded word. “Chief.” Spoken to me, once again, by a pimply teen manning the checkout counter as he hands me my change.
He's talking to me like I'm his little cousin because, despite the fact that I've been on this planet nearly twice as long as he has, he assumes I'm younger. I'm surprised he didn't ruffle my hair and tell me how much I've grown.
Granted, I could be reading way, way too much into that moment. But if you're constantly aware of how young you look, reading into such verbal choices is essentially second nature to you.
And don't even get me started on being called “big guy.” As in, “Take it easy, big guy,” or “You got it, big guy,” or “No sweat, big guy.” Come on. We both know you're saying that sarcastically. I'm theoretically taller than a hobbit.
2. You don't look professional.
After graduating college, I spent a year of grad school as a teaching assistant, teaching one section of a first-year composition course each semester.
One summer, while planning my syllabus for the fall, I headed to campus to check out some books from the library. I happened to be there during a summer orientation session.
More times than I'd like to admit, other professors stopped me in the halls to ask me if I got separated from my orientation group. I was old enough to be teaching these kids, and yet everyone assumed I was one of them.
In any instance, this is mildly embarrassing. In this case, it was a reminder that I still didn't look mature enough to be a faculty member.
As a result, at every job since, I feel the constant impulse to assure everyone that I'm not a student intern getting some college credit. I'm old enough to have a real-person job.
3. You worry about being taken seriously.
Flash forward to the first day of the semester: I've put on my best “I swear I'm a young professional” outfit and am heading to my classroom, eager to meet my students.
A tall guy, studying a piece of paper with a look of confusion on his face, stops me in the hall.
“Hey, dude,” he says, pointing to the paper, “Can you tell me where this classroom is?”
“Oh, sure, I'm headed there myself. Just follow me.”
“Sweet, bro. So, you're in that class too?”
“Uh, actually, I teach that class.”
Just about any adult job requires the ability to command respect. As a teacher, obviously you don't want your students thinking you're young enough to party with them. But in any professional environment, you still need to display authority, be it in a meeting with your staff, a consult with a potential client or a negotiation with an outside company.
And if you look younger than you are, you'll constantly worry about pulling that off.
4. High school is (somehow) even more awkward.
As a teen, I wasn't exactly what you would call “smooth” with girls. We'll leave it at that.
I had a friend who was, though. He had that seemingly magic ability to hold a charming conversation with the opposite sex. And like an adolescent superhero, he wanted to use that power to help others...meaning me.
Declaring our school district sadly devoid of any worthwhile women (his assessment, not mine), he decided he'd show my picture to some of his friends from neighboring schools to see if they'd be interested in meeting me.
Across the board, the response my picture received was something along the lines of,“OH MY GOD! HE IS ADORABLE! HOW OLD IS HE?”
Dating in high school is already hard. It just gets worse when girls respond to your picture the way they respond to their friend's new puppy.
5. You're always ready to be carded.
At this point, I am basically incapable of buying beer or ordering a drink without instinctively reaching for my wallet, ready to supply proof that I've been able to legally drink for quite some time now.
When I order a beer and don't get the, “Sure, I just need to see ID” response, my mind sort of freezes for a moment, trying to process this strange situation.
6. You stress over job interviews.
Job interviews are nerve-racking experiences for most people, but for people like myself, there's an added layer of worry to wrestle with.
Most of us know you need to make sure your appearance is professional when interviewing for a position. Proper clothes, decent haircut, hygiene, that's all important.
For someone like me, though, you never walk out the door satisfied that you've done enough. You spend the entire interview mentally repeating the refrain, “Please take me seriously, please take me seriously, please take me seriously.”
7. It still sometimes takes you by surprise.
Once again, my beard, along with a proper haircut, goes a long way these days toward making this issue less of a problem.
So, when you do notice the problem, it's that much more surprising.
Scrolling through the pictures of my friends' recent wedding, I stopped in horror when I came across an image of myself.
“WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME I LOOKED LIKE A FIVE-YEAR-OLD THAT DAY?”
Seeing myself sporting a suit was like seeing that weird kid in third grade who dresses up as a CEO for Halloween. Cute, but kind of creepy.
8. You're the only one who cares.
As with most insecurities, the only person this issue matters to is you.
Sure, if pressed, your friends and family might admit that you probably look a little young, but it's never something they really noticed. And they're probably telling the truth. All your worries are, essentially, pointless. You're simply overthinking the issue.
But, just to be on the safe side, I'm never shaving my beard.