“Is there an adult in the room?” the host asked.
I raised my left hand (the one with a wedding ring on the third finger).
“Any adults?” the host repeated.
My hand stayed up. Some of the 18 year old high school graduates raised their hands too, proud of their newly acquired adult status.
“Are there any leaders, I mean, any adults?” the host asked a third time.
I waved my hand slightly and made eye contact.
“Do you know where the adults are?” the host asked me.
“I’m the youth minister” I answered, not sure whether to be flattered or embarrassed.
I was 19 the year I began youth ministry in earnest. People were indulgent, sweet, and didn’t expect too much. They were beyond grateful to have someone working with their students, but had low expectations nonetheless. When I left that role one parent nodded understandingly saying, “Time to get a real job, huh?”
Years later I am still in youth ministry, and though I have aged, I am still the youngest on staff. I am not alone. On our conference call a few weeks ago, other contributors were sharing their secrets for looking older than the students they work with.
“Facial hair, always” was a common answer. “Yeah, dude, when I shave, I look like a baby.”
For my part, I started wearing makeup regularly, quit the chipped nail polish look, and upgraded to dark wash jeans. I look almost 18 now.
What to do when you are a youngish person, working with older people, on behalf of even younger people? When you find yourself the youngest at the finance meeting and the oldest at the cafeteria lunch table, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. First Impressions Matter.
For guys, facial hair really can separate the men from the boys. For girls, I have found that keeping the same modesty standards as I require from my students is not only essential for integrity’s sake, but also for looking a bit older. For guys and girls, upgrading from work out clothes when not at the gym is perceived as a real sign of maturity by older generations.
2. Speak like an adult.
Somewhere along the line I started saying “like” way more than my friends who do not spend their days around teenagers. I have noticed as I try to limit the use of “like”, there are other words I also use a lot. The second offender is “actually”. I also say “the worst”, applying it to things that are not worst case scenarios at all. My vocabulary, instead of bathing me in a youthful glow, can cast the glare of immature drama instead. Inventory your vocabulary. Do you sound like you fit better in a boardroom or a middle school? Notice, then adjust accordingly.
3. Work hard.
One complaint of older generations tends to be that young people are entitled and lazy. While this may be true of some people, don’t let it be true of you. Work hard, keep your word, be on time. These things will help you appear more grown up than you may feel.
4. Ask for help.
Older folks don’t tend to love it when you ask them to do your work for you. However, everyone older than you was once your age. Ask the previously young for insight, wisdom, stories, and plain old help as you take responsibility for your own stuff. Many will say yes, and almost everyone will be delighted that you asked.
Your age can be a handicap or an asset, and most days it is probably some of both. You are in direct control of your actions, however, and can change the percentage of the days that your age acts as an impediment. There is grace for the handicapped days. But there is also help available if you want to grow. In the next article we will discuss event planning for the young and young in heart (and habits).