Does Age Really Matter? Why Age Markers Shouldn’t Compromise Your Life Experiences

October 22, 2011  |  
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During adolescence and late into my teens I anxiously awaited the day until I could confidently say, “I’m a grown A$$ woman”. But it was only in my early twenties that I learned that Aaliyah may have had a point when she sassily serenaded, “Age ain’t nothing but a number.”  Age without experience is somewhat irrelevant.  And while the law may deem you an adult on paper and endow you with privileges like voting, purchasing alcohol, being allowed entrance into bars and clubs, and basically having to answer to no one else but yourself, nowhere is there a handbook that details how to navigate all of the responsibility that comes with those privileges.  As a teenager if I knew that a tart side of responsibility came with that privilege platter, I might not have been in such a rush to reach my eighteenth birthday.

Something funny happens when you reach your late twenties.  As you and your friends start to approach that milestone of the almighty “thirty-years” your lives start to take distinct directions, peers start to reach significant points in their personal and professional lives and you may start to feel like you still haven’t left the starting mark.  Increasingly you may find yourself in situations where the instinct is to fib a bit so that you appear a few years younger than you really are if not for the fear of aging, then to avoid the judgment you think comes with feeling that you haven’t achieved what you had hoped to by a certain age.

It’s no secret that our society is obsessed with youth, but why do we place such significant emphasis on age when determining a person’s experience level, successes or failures?  I guess when it comes to certain situations, age is a good way to gauge what to expect from someone’s behavior, but most of the time age isn’t as good as a determining factor as maturity level and experience.

What’s your take on the part age plays in the following life situations?

1.  Moving out of your parent’s home

Traditionally, the American dream came complete with a college education that transitioned into a full-time job with a salary that would allow recent graduates to be able to live independently, but in these economic times that dream is growing into even more and more of a fairytale as recent grads find themselves highly educated in the midst of a job shortage and are forced to accept jobs that barely allow them to handle daily expenses, let alone rent or a mortgage.

Even those who chose to forego formal education are finding it harder and harder to leave the nest, because frankly it’s too expensive to live on one’s own.

Don’t feel guilty if you’re not putting an address that’s all your own on your voter’s registration.  I’ve witnessed many people burden themselves with bills and expenses they couldn’t handle all because they felt like it was embarrassing to return to their childhood home after college.  My advice:  If you’re going to move out, do it right and make sure it’s not a situation that will be more stress than it’s worth.  Thank your lucky stars if you have parents who are willing to accommodate you while you get your life on track.  You could be one of those folks who live on their own in theory: Live by themselves, while someone else foots all of the bills and responsibilities.  But then what would you really be learning about being an adult?

2.  Getting married

Many women get especially manic if they find themselves approaching thirty with no view of the wedding aisle in sight. Marriage is a lot like baking: when rushed you can end up with a big old nasty mess.  There’s no rule that says if you’re over the age of thirty and have yet to become a wife you will no longer be eligible for a wedding license in the continental U.S.

For some women the right person comes along at 21 and for others he doesn’t make his appearance until mid-thirties.  Regardless of whatever age you make that commitment, when it’s right, it’s right. Don’t be afraid to slow down and take your time.

 3.  Having a baby

Same rule for a marriage applies to maternity.  Your eggs are not labeled with an expiration date of your thirtieth baby.  In my opinion, the best age to become a mother is when you are willing to sacrifice your wants and needs for the well-being of someone else for the rest of your life.  For me the ideal time to be a mother will hopefully come when I feel I have a good amount of life experience so that I don’t necessarily feel like the duties that come with motherhood will interfere in my happiness or self-fulfillment, but only make me an even better person.  This age is obviously different for everyone and every woman has her own opinion about the point she’d prefer to be in her life when she becomes a mommy, if she even wants to become a mother at all.  It’s also important to remember that we can have all the opinions we want, but motherhood isn’t something that is always planned or ever perfect, regardless of your age.

4.  Being promoted to a management or executive position at work

I’ve recently went through a career change in which I worked for a youthful thirty-something director of a department and who oversaw supervisors who had decades of experience under their belts.  And the truth is I can’t say one was necessarily more qualified for their positions than the other because they all brought a different skill set and point of view to the table.  The truth is when you’re good at what you do, age doesn’t matter as much.  And while the thought of an 18 year-old prodigy performing brain surgery on you might make you uncomfortable, does it really matter if he’s great at what he does?

Job experience is irreplaceable, but some people naturally have a talent for their chosen field that is only complimented by their years on the job.  Don’t tell me you’ve never had the “mature” supervisor who couldn’t “manage” her way out of a coffee mug.  As a young professional you have to have a certain humility when it comes to listening to those with more experience, but don’t ever let anyone discredit your skill just because you’re young.

5.  Owning your own home

The process of achieving home ownership can be intimidating for both young and old.  It’s another level of responsibility where there’s not necessarily a landlord you can call to come and save the day.  In fact, it’s a level of responsibility that some decide that don’t ever want to achieve.  Home ownership definitely comes with its share of benefits, especially in the long-term, but it’s a choice that you should make when it’s convenient for your lifestyle. That may be at age twenty-five or forty-five.  If you plan on a fulfilling life with just you and your partner and your two pugs, it’s understandable that you may not ever want to own a three bedroom/ 2.5 bathroom townhouse.  What’s most important is not how much property you own at what age, but what best compliments your lifestyle and finances.

6.  Becoming sexually active

The decision to become sexually active is so complex, that the age at which a person can even legally consent to sex is regulated by the state.  With so many mixed messages that exist in our culture about what’s deemed appropriate sexual behavior, we find ourselves on either side of a thin line where sex is frowned upon for teenagers and young adults, but once college age hits we either place a person on a pedestal for waiting or we wonder what went wrong? Laws about sex are needed to protect children, but sex is something that is affected by an individual’s values, relationships and ability to be sexually responsible.

7.  Furthering your education

The idea of returning to school when you’re well beyond traditional school age can be an intimidating experience.  You may just want your degree without the
kegers and sorority rushes which is why it’s great that more and more universities have programs that accommodate the lives of adults with families and careers.  I remember having a classmate in undergrad who was an older grandmother, but not only was she a great student, she was also involved in many extra-curricular activities all the while not ever trying to appear anything less than her age, and many of us respected her for that.  When you grow older you may sometimes feel the expectation to know everything, but education doesn’t have an expiration date and you’re never too old to learn something new.

8.  Dressing your age

You should never judge a book by its cover and I personally believe people dress best when they dress for their individual personality.  Just because you woke up a grown A$$ woman one day doesn’t mean you have to retire your graphic tees with the cynical sayings and start exclusively shopping at White House, Black Market.  What it does mean is that you may have to take your wardrobe to new level of sophistication in order to be taken seriously.  Instead of pairing up those tees with jeans and Air Jordans, try a putting a funky blazer over it and pairing it with some skinny jeans and wedge boots. The woman makes the clothes, the clothes don’t make the woman.  I’ve seen just as many silly, immature well dressed women in business suits as I’ve seen the most mature and confident women in Adidas sweat suits.

Toya Sharee is a community health educator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.

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