“You’re too young to be a director!”
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How many times have I heard that? Or a similar quote:
“You look too young to be a principal!”
It is usually said as a compliment. It’s said with a bit of surprise. And while I don’t take offense, it sometimes sends a chorus of thoughts through my mind.
“Why? Do I have to be a certain age to be a director? Is it going to be harder to earn their respect now? Am I going to have to prove myself because I am younger? No, I don’t want this to change how I act, I just need to be myself.”
And then I start thinking about other implicit biases I see, in myself and sometimes in others. When am I caught off-guard by how somebody looks in comparison to what I “thought” somebody should look like? Is it based on age? Race? Physical appearance? Gender? Something else?
If I am honest with myself, it happens. I think that, if we are all honest with ourselves, we experience this. And…truly…it’s okay. I’m not writing here to make anyone feel guilty. What matters is how we respond.
I can question myself: “Why did I think that? What did I expect? What is causing this cognitive dissonance? What does that tell me about myself and how I perceive the world? How does this change my understanding and perception?”
Honestly, it usually happens in the flash of a second, and I can choose to either ignore that brief moment of surprise or dig it out to see what it means. I’m trying to get better at choosing the latter, to recognize my own biases and where I need to grow.
As for being on the receiving end…I can just smile, say, “Yes, I know I am young, but I’ve grown into it and it’s been a great fit,” and move on and do my thing. I am in a leadership role because of my character, work ethic, and ability – and that will shine through on its own.