Last week, a woman at a Dior counter talked me into buying a fancy age-defying liquid foundation and some even fancier cleanser to remove it. Frivolous as those purchases were, I consider both a sound investment because the very next day I got carded while trying to buy half a pint of stout at a train station in York.
“Do I really look 18?” I asked as I struggled to dig my passport out of my travel pouch, the very existence of which should have proved I was at least 50.
“We card anyone who looks 25 or younger,” the man replied.
“Same question,” I laughed. I find it hard to believe that I can pass for a woman in her mid-twenties – this despite having to buy the foundation not to cover up wrinkles, but to smooth over a recent rash of acne. But there are bigger problems in life than looking young, so I won’t complain.
I might not look like an 18 year old, but I have the tolerance of one, which is why I nursed my single half pint at the York station for a full hour as my train to London was repeatedly delayed. (Apparently there was a switch malfunction. It’s always a switch malfunction.)
As I sipped away, the man sitting next to me motioned to my luggage and said, “I hope you’re not on your way to the airport.”
“I am,” I said. “But my flight is tomorrow morning, so it’s fine.”
And so began the usual round of questions about where I’m from and where I’m going, the answers to which begging further questions about who I am and what I do.
When I explained that I worked in marketing “for a long time,” before switching over to a role as a writer, the man laughed.
“For a long time,” he hooted. “What are you 25?! A long time! That’s not even possible!”
I suppose he has a point: time is relative. My ten-year stint in marketing seems substantial to me, but maybe not to others. Even still, I don’t think it’s anything to scoff at. A decade is a decade. Show me a person who can’t manage to accomplish anything meaningful in ten years, and I’ll show you a person who doesn’t have ambition.
I don’t self-identify as a “young” member of the workforce, but that’s usually how I’m described. I can’t exactly blame people for saying so. I’m unmarried, childless and still suffer from acne. I don’t have any of the typical markings of an adult, so I must not be one.
Technically speaking, I’m too old to be a millennial, but that doesn’t stop people from labeling me as one. It drives me nuts – not just because it’s flat-out incorrect, but because it appears to be the simplest, most efficient way of trivializing whatever I have to say and dismissing me as a person.
When someone calls me a millennial, I feel sorry for actual millennials. Because if they’re treated with even half the insolence and skepticism that I am by strangers in bars and train stations, cafes and libraries, then I hope they really are incapable of listening. Because there are few things more damaging to your professional psyche than having someone ask if you write “love letters” or research “like fashion and things,” after telling them you have a “long career in marketing.”
I see these snide remarks and unsubstantiated opinions for what they are: simple projections from a people who, regardless of age, are struggling for relevance in their own career. The working world is changing and not everyone is capable of keeping up. It’s easier to scoff at someone who went from entry-level to established in the past ten years than it is to admit that they didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented through widespread change.
To those who are not too proud to take professional advice from a pseudo-millennial: Time is measured in days, not years. Waste enough of one and you won’t have anything to show for the other.