Bullish: How to Use Your Age to Your Advantage (at Any Age)

One’s twenties (when you can get away with being cute and flighty
but will suffer for it later)

A decade after my stint as a teen writer, I found myself talking to a 45-ish colleague who was enraged that he had not been selected for a gig, and that a guy in his twenties had gotten the job instead. Despite the fact that, obviously, a company can hire any keynote speaker, corporate trainer, or logo designer they want, he felt that he had earned that job by having built up a reputation in the field and done other, similar jobs so that this one was the next step in a logical progression. I listened a bit more, and the situation became clear: I don’t think the hiring manager really cared that much who he hired — the money wasn’t coming out of his own pocket, and any of the candidates would’ve succeeded at the gig. So, the hiring manager had a little bit of power, a favor to offer. If he gave it to my colleague, he would have gotten no satisfaction whatsoever — my colleague felt that he had already earned the job, and would have shown no gratitude at getting what he felt was his by right. But by giving the job instead to a young upstart, the hiring manager received the upstart’s gratitude in return! And maybe if the upstart went on to
become very successful, the hiring manager could claim that he had had a hand in the guy’s career! It’s like buying stock in someone else’s success!

That is, if you help someone move one rung up a ladder, they don’t think much of it — but help someone move four rungs at once, they’ll hit you back later. If you’re looking to move up four rungs at a time, find someone who could use their ass kissed a bit. (See Bullish: How to Win When the Workplace Runs on Feelings.)

When I was 20 (in 1998), the Internet was a very scary thing to older people running businesses. Many people just assumed that young people “knew all about that computer stuff,” and this assumption was more true than not. In 1998, the way to become master of the Internet was to learn HTML. So, I did. At the moment, “the thing” is probably Twitter, and whatever comes after that. If you are an intern, just out of college, or in your early twenties, one competitive advantage you have is the assumption by nearly everyone that you just intuitively understand what Twitter is for and how to use it. So, make sure that
this is true. And then, if your company is not yet using Twitter (or whatever the next thing is), offer to take care of that.

When presenting these offers to a boss, here is a technique that has worked well for me — I call it “Terror and Relief.” Introduce the topic (“So many companies are doing amazing promotions with Twitter!”) Then talk nonstop for approximately thirty seconds: brain-dump complicated facts and terminology! Explain how one uses hashtags and finds out what topics are trending! The more complicated and obscure the better! This is the “terror” phase. Once anxiety has been introduced, swoop in and save the day! “As you can see, I find this very exciting! I’d be happy to manage the company Twitter account and send you updates.” If you can do Terror and Relief three times in a single interview, I think you’ve locked some shit down. (In 1999, I was very successful with “Many organizations are creating websites that look nice, but can’t be viewed by blind people using speech
browsers. I’m sure accessibility is important to you. Putting in these special tags OMG COMPUTER TALK IF WE DON’T DO WHATEVER SHE’S TALKING ABOUT WE WILL BE DISCRIMINATING AGAINST THE BLIND OMG HELEN KELLER MIGHT NEED OUR INFORMATION will allow us to make the site accessible to everyone!”)

If someone is already doing well with Twitter, try claiming Facebook or Digg or Stumbleupon or SMS marketing or whatever else I’m too lame to know about. Alternate plan: do you know a lot of people who are still in college? If your company’s product is appropriate for that age group, email your college friends and ask what they think about things, and write up little reports, with quotes. You’re a market researcher!

Adding “social media guru” or “youth marketing maven” to your repertoire creates an effect kind of like how a lot of people remember very fondly the time their dad took them out for ice cream and made them feel like a little lady, but they kind of forget about that time he went to work every day and paid the bills for twenty years. People remember the little extras more than the big obligations (i.e., your actual job).

Finally, your twenties is a time to be a natural hottie, but also a time when dressing like your peers will keep you progressing at their rate, which in a bad economy is likely no rate at all.

I was once doing a presentation, and a woman who could’ve passed for any age between 16 and 24 was helping coordinate the event. The first thing I noticed was her cute, slightly dominatrix-like peep-toed cage booties, worn with leggings. Later, after the presentation, we chatted, and she said she felt self-conscious because she had skipped two grades in elementary school and was actually even younger than people thought. My first thought: Booties and leggings! My second thought: What a smart girl, skipping 1st and 4th grades! Then again: Look at the lower half of your body!

I responded by telling a story about when I ran my first company, from when I was 19 to when I was 23, and I was constantly trying to make myself seem older than I was. Sometimes I’d convince people (through assiduous wearing of suits, refusing to discuss my personal life, and dropping frequent references to “dancing to Karma Chameleon at the prom”) that I was thirtyish, at which point I would get queries about how I kept my skin so nice, and I would feel a little bad when I said “Oil of Olay” when the real answer was “I am an estrogen explosion!”

I wrote in Bullish: How to Dress for Battle about a book, first published in the 1970′s, that reported the results of scientific studies on people’s reactions to women dressed in various incarnations of business clothing. One finding: both men and women treated more seriously the requests of women wearing jackets over blouses or dresses (rather than the same outfit without the
jacket), unless the women’s nails or speech patterns gave away the ruse by marking them as lower class (see Bullish: Social Class in the Office).

Nobody wore leggings to the office in the ’70s, but they did wear leisure suits. Leggings are sort of the leisure suit of pretty young girls. If your clothing is comfortable enough to curl up and take a nap in, it’s probably not officewear.

I’m hardly in a position to declare by fiat that an item of clothing is inappropriate for an office, but I daresay I can report that –
just as old ladies will protest if you wear white after Labor Day — people over 35 will probably think you are not dressed appropriately if you are wearing leggings in any other context than as tights under a dress on a cold day. In sum:

What People Born Before 1980 Mostly Think About Leggings:

Worn as Tights – Who cares?

Worn as Pants with Tunic Top – Not really sending the message that you want to be taken seriously. But you do look ready for a cuddle!

Worn as Pants With Your Butt Showing – No. Just no.

Leggings In Any Color Other Than Black Worn With Your Butt Showing – Laughing hysterically as you walk away. Even if you are a size zero, you now have crazy-haunches!

Maybe it’s just me, but I also am personally of the opinion that I should never be able to see all of your feet in an office. Peep-toes, yes. Flip-flops, even the sparkly kind? No. A million other styles of shoes in between? It depends. I suggest going for “50% exposed surface area or less.” Looking like someone who could be seriously injured by falling objects, the wheels of various pushcarts, and stampedes just makes you look vulnerably part-naked. Being basically barefoot is not assertive. Unless you are Bruce Lee.

Obviously, there are many exceptions: if you work in a surf shop, for instance. But even if you think I’m a sartorially judgmental jerk, surely, you must admit that chances are high that other people are, too! Why risk it? Also, statistics suggest that at least one man in your office is really into feet. Just saying.

Your twenties are an excellent time to dress like a thirty-five-year- old by day, making all the actual thirty-five-year-olds jealous of your barely existent nasolabial folds! And then, you can dress however you want at night, in a Clark-Kent-to-Superman fashion! In other words, your twenties are the time to use every weapon available to leave your peer group pathetically lost in the dust that you leave behind, tragically muting the metallic properties of their inappropriate footwear.

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