I remember when I was in my early 20s how old, experienced, smart, and amazing I felt. I could take on the world. I knew my stuff and was going to show everybody.
Recently I had occasion to meet a 21 year old who seemed, to me, like he was still in grade school. He’s a smart guy with a world of experiences I’ve never had, but oh…my…gosh. He seemed so, so young to my mid-30s mind. Just looking at him I felt like I was looking at a kid I would babysit, not hang with. And when he said he was born in 1990 I just about spit out my drink. Sweet baby Jesus, I was in high school in 1990. And I’m sure many of you were already through grad school or working in 1990. Scary stuff, the passage of time.
Here’s the good thing that came out of that experience. I now kind of (just kind of though) understand why all of my colleagues treated me like a child when I got my first librarian job at 24. I must have looked to them like this person looked to me–too young to work, too young to be good at what I did. It doesn’t excuse the abhorrent behavior I was subjected to on many occasions (the whole “Why don’t you leave and let the grown-ups talk, Sarah” comment at my first librarian job comes to mind), but it does make a little bit more sense to me now.
Now…twenty-somethings are smart. I would argue they might actually be smarter than we are, because they’re so much closer to all of that wonderful intensive intellectual exploration we call school. Most of us have let the learning slip out of our heads and haven’t put a whole lot back in. We’ve gotten lazy, and probably less smart in the traditional sense. We have built-up knowledge and experience, which is also profoundly helpful, but I would give credit where credit is due to the super smarts of our young friends. We need to look past the baby fat on their still smooth faces and actually listen to them.
But we still do look at our young counterparts differently…and for the first time I understand why that happened to me. It’s a gut instinct, an unconscious reaction to another being so much younger than you that you feel protective instead of on equal footing. I don’t accept it in myself, and I hereby pledge that I won’t do it ever again to anyone else. But I understand it now. And that’s the learning I take with me today in my old codgerly brain.
And I swear, if anyone leaves some “but you’re only 34, you’re still a baby yourself” comments I will throttle you. Seriously…I’m a librarian. I can find out where you live.