ask the readers: how do you start feeling more like an adult when you’re still pretty young?

I’m throwing this one out to you guys to answer. A reader writes:

I’ve been thinking about the “girl” vs “woman” post a lot recently, and it really struck a chord with me. How can I get out of the mindset of feeling like a “girl” and start feeling and acting like a confident, mature woman?

I am 27 years old and I notice that my default behavior towards people I look up to in my company is almost submissive, and I always feel like a child around these people. I should note, it isn’t at all how they interact with me that causes my shrinking daisy behavior. I think I am just intimidated by people I revere, like my mentor and my boss. I know it probably makes me come across as meek or reinforces how young I am. I’d love any advice on how I can change my own behavior to feel more confident in these situations, so I can be perceived as mature and as an equal.

I’m throwing this out to y’all, because my advice on this all revolves around “fake it until you make it” — pretend you feel like a confident adult and eventually one day you’ll notice you’re not faking it anymore — but I’m sure there’s better advice to be had on this.

So readers, what do you say?

{ 298 comments… read them below }

  1. Alicia*

    I am very interested in this post and will be watching the comments. I am in the same situation – later twenties, trying to establish myself as a woman rather than a girl, and to get some gumption. I have been trying the fake-it-til-you-make-it, but honestly, I am not making it yet.

    1. Kshitij*

      Alicia things like this take time and with time you will get gumption also., and belive me faking is the best other rather then establishing your self into a women.

  2. fposte*

    You used the line I was going to. Even more specifically–find a model, some models, to emulate, and think about “What would Wakeen say here?” or “How would Jane phrase her objection?” Practice out loud at home, or with friends and family, just so you get the hang of hearing yourself sound the way you want to.

    And if you’re in the habit of criticizing yourself after you take an action, redirect, redirect, redirect–that’s one of the best ways to stunt yourself. Instead, reward yourself and celebrate the achievement–hey, I thought I might not manage to speak up in that meeting, and I did! Go me! A year ago I wouldn’t have done that!

          1. Pussyfooter*

            Wakeena, Wakeenella, Wakeenia…If she’s Greek, maybe Wakeene or Wakandra or Wakeenora

      1. fposte*

        Some people have brought Shuvon in as Wakeen’s partner; I didn’t recall her in time.

          1. fposte*

            Not in the same full narrative way, but I think somebody has mentioned similarly working with a Siobhan and mentally transcribing it as Shuvon.

            1. tcookson*

              None of the Irish names are pronounced the way I would think . . . when I first saw Siobhan, I thought it was SEE-o-bahn. The manager of our local grocery is named Siobhan, and I didn’t even realize it was the same name when they would page “Shuvon” to answer line one.

              1. Felicia*

                My ex girlfriend is named Saoirse, which is pronounced Seer-sha, and even though I knew her how to pronounce and spell it from the beginning I’d always visualize it Seersha

                1. tcookson*

                  I love the spellings of the Irish names . . . I would have read Saoirse as SAY-o-erse . . . weird, huh?

              2. Aoife*

                Yeah… having a hard to pronounce Irish name does not make life easy in US or Australia!
                Aoife = Ee-fa. Or, pronounce it backwards & leave out the O.
                And yes, I am tempted to stick in a U, just so I have all the vowels in my name :)

                ps: love the site, read every day & am very interested in this topic. Think I’m only just becoming the “woman” at 32

            2. Loose Seal*

              That was me. Except that she actually did spell her name Shuvon and said that it was Irish. It took me a while to twig to the fact that she probably meant the Irish name Siobhan.

              So I don’t know if whoever named her wanted the Irish sound but more spelled more Americanized or if they had just heard the name spoken and didn’t know how it was spelled.

      2. Chinook*

        I thought Shavon was Wakeen’s coworker? Or was she escorted mysteriously out of the factory one day with email explaining who was to take over the chocolate teapot handle refits?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’ve actually avoided using both because I don’t want someone who doesn’t know the background to think we’re just making fun of names from other cultures :)

          1. Jessa*

            I can understand that. Someone just getting here would NOT understand. I tend to use Sam as it is gender neutral.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I was at a client’s yesterday and during a presentation saw that they had used Chocolate Teapots as a placeholder organization in their database. I was delighted.

          2. SW*

            Ha, that was my first impression when I first read “Wakeen” without being clued in to the story behind it.

          3. Chinook*

            I totally respect that you don’t want new people to think that you are makign fun of other cultures, but it does give me a chance to ask a serious question – is it more important to make new people comfortable by trying not to make comments that could be considered insulting in a completely different context OR is it okay to keep going with a current culture that is full of respect and humour but could be seen as disrespectful by those who don’t have the full picture?

            BTW, I would be more than happy to help create a Chocolate Teapot Factory FAQ with our 2 favourite staff members if that would help with the confusion.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Hmmm. I’m not sure of the answer. I did just notice that on Facebook someone commented that the comments on this post were just “pages of inside jokes,” which isn’t true — but it IS true that this is a long conversation at the very beginning of the comments about an inside joke, which absolutely could turn off a new reader who wouldn’t necessarily realize that if they kept scrolling, they’d move past this and get tons of helpful advice. So in my perfect world, we’d be sensitive to that and stay focused on the topic, but I also know people enjoy talking to each other and don’t want to be heavy-handed about it.

              1. HR lady*

                One idea might be to create a kind of an FAQ for the blog – a little explanation of some (all) of the inside jokes. I’ve seen other websites/blogs that do that. And really, I don’t think this blog has too many inside jokes – maybe just a handful.

      3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Think about how many people you actually know named Jane, though. How many of them are below the age of, say, 50?

        My niece is named Jane, because it’s a good, solid, cute, traditional name, but isn’t overused. Because while everyone thinks it’s super common, it actually isn’t (it was ranked at #340 in the US in 2012, with only about 900 babies named Jane). I know way more Michelles, Kaitlyns, and Tiffanys (not to mention Hannahs, Annas, and Abigails) than Janes.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Jane is coming back as a name. I teach elementary school, and I predict that in about 15 or 20 years you’ll have Janes interning at your office…

        2. tcookson*

          One of my best friends at college had an arch-rival in dirty dancing named Jane . . . they were the two best ones at it in the whole entire school. That has been more that twenty years ago, and I’ve only known one or two other Janes since then. Kind of funny for a name that is suppose to represent the generic female name . . .

    1. Hooptie*

      This is funny – I’ve started asking myself, “What would Allison do?” and I’m no spring chicken!

      1. Me2*

        I lament every single day that I’ve never worked for a manager as sane as Alison. Clearly, I need to be vetting my workplace choices more carefully, but unfortunately there have been times of “a paycheck anywhere vs. eviction.”

        1. Clarissa R.*

          I always tell my managers about this blog, in hopes that they will soak up all of the knowledge and sanity from Allison.

  3. COT*

    I’m also 27 and sometimes still struggle to feel like a “real adult” or peer among co-workers who are older or more experienced than I am. For me, it helps to review the talents I bring to my work and to remind myself that they hired me and like me. That helps me feel like an accomplished contributor.

    I think being a little intimidated by higher-ups that we admire is common at any age. Especially when we don’t have close relationships with them, we don’t see their “human” side. We forget that they also make mistakes, feel in over their heads, or collapse on the couch and watch TV at the end of the day. Don’t forget that they are just human, too, and have their flaws.

    1. OP for today!*

      This is great advice – I notice that my VP seems so intimidating when emailing, but in person he is much more “human”. Great advice!

    2. Melissa*

      I’m 27 and I have just recently started feeling like a “real adult” in the last year or so.

  4. Malissa*

    Fake it till you make it is very good advice. I honestly got over it when I had to. I had a position where I was a leader of a team of people who were mostly older than me. I quickly learned that if they thought they could intimidate me and walk over me they would. And then I wouldn’t be getting my job done as effectively. I had to make decisions and guide the team through it, while letting them know that I wasn’t going to lie down and take any crap in the process.
    Once I figured out that I was indeed capable of doing this and getting results I started feeling more like a grown-up/equal in the working world.
    Honestly it comes down to realizing that you should be being treated with respect and sometimes demanding it. The best way to do this is to give respect with-out reverence to your coworkers. It’s something that doesn’t come easily and takes effort.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      Yours is the only example of “fake it til you make it” advice that’s ever been helpful to me. This is because you put it in context. Every time I’m in a situation where I don’t understand, but I act like everyone else is (copy the norm to the best of my ability) I’m faking it. This can mask opportunities for growth and actually leave me faking it indefinitely. I think “fake it til you make it” may only be helpful in situations where you’re going to *have* to do things you haven’t before–sort of forced learning, while you keep your chin up.

  5. James*

    Power poses! Seriously, just as our emotions shape our body language and facial expressions, so too can our body language and facial expressions shape our emotions.

    On top of that, try to take some of your mentors and superiors off their pedestals, if you can. It’s not easy, but we’re all just people. You only see one part of them, and that part can be very impressive. But if you let them loom larger than life in your mind, it can be hard to feel like an equal as a peer and colleague, let alone as a human being.

          1. Been There*

            Me too! I’ve shared Amy to many friends and family. I also channel Alison too. BTW I am 47 and still have this problem. Hard to grow out of. I look young and act young. Not immature but not old. I’m starting to notice my peers are getting frumpier and older looking and leaving me behind. I’ve been working on this for years. What Malissa said above though is significant. Start cultivating an attitude of EXPECTING to be respected. (Not necessarily demanding it) Source out some people that do it well and model them. I wish we were taught this social skill better when we were younger. I am also a Girl Scout Troop leader and very conscious of what I am teaching the girls as well as what behavior I’m modeling for them.
            You’re on the right path. Keep going!

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        OP, of you’re still checking this thread, I’d just like to second this. In 11th grade, I had a (male) English teacher who just sat us down for a whole period and talked to us about using words like “like” and “mean”. His point was basically this: you have to speak better and work harder to be perceived as an adult and a professional than a man would. You need to think about exactly what you’re saying and what it tells people about you, and you can’t afford to dumb down your language to be relatable- it’s not worth the payoff. A manager is rarely “mean”- there’s always a better word for it that will make you sound like less of a victim and child (like “cruel, harsh, etc”) . “Like” as a filler has no place in an intelligent conversation. It’s not your fault that the world is this way, and it shouldn’t be, but you’ll do better if you recognize it now and modify your voice, vocabulary, and posture accordingly.”
        (That was at an all-girl’s school, so they were pretty open about fostering awareness in us, etc.)
        TL;DR: People don’t always default to respecting a young woman in the workplace, so speak like you’re a force to be reckoned with. And don’t end a sentence with a preposition like I just did.

        1. Nichole*

          “Speak like you’re a force to be reckoned with-” I like the phrasing on that. I do ok with toning down informal speech patterns in the workplace, but I’m very conscious of making sure I don’t intone my statements as questions (not sure if intone is a word, but it makes my point…). I remind myself often to say what I mean and say it like I mean it if Iwant to be treated with respect. I definitely still feel like I’m faking it sometimes (I’m 29 and just hitting my stride as a professional), but my coworkers trust and respect me, so I guess I’m doing it right.

  6. Sascha*

    I noticed my attitude towards myself started changing when I started dressing better. My office is very casual, and I love to be comfortable, so for a while I wore jeans and casual tops and (gasp) flippies on occasion. When I started looking for opportunities to advance, I started dressing for the jobs I wanted, which meant more slacks, nicer tops, nicer shoes – all still comfy and business casual (definitely no suits), but it changed my demeanor. I took better care of my hair and made it look nice (note: I still don’t wear makeup). That’s one concrete thing that helped me start viewing myself as an adult. I work at a university, so dressing nicely also helped me separate myself from the students in my mind – I tend to look like a student since I appear younger than I am (I’m 29).

    I also started to realize how much I have to offer. I tend to get meek around people I respect as well, and I tend to feel inadequate, like I don’t have anything to offer people. But slowly I became the go-to person in my office, and I realize I have more value than I assign to myself. I reminded myself that I am a hard worker, a good employee, and I am very knowledgeable about my field. So find those positive things about yourself, and focus on those. Keeping a “Sascha’s Awesome File” also helps with that – save emails or conversation notes where someone compliments you or your work, and review it every now and then.

    1. Briggs*

      +1 on the dressing for success. Our office is also very casual, but for me the simple act of putting on a blazer with my jeans and blouse makes me feel a lot more confident.

      1. Sascha*

        Also – glasses! I got some recently and I adore them. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I look smarter or I look like a professor – which is a huge improvement over “you look like a freshman.”

    2. Oxford Comma*

      I concur on dressing up. It really does help me feel more professional and more competent. Yes, it’s a psychological thing, but it works.

      1. Chinook*

        I saw how clothes can change the way you perceive yourself. I had a summer camp involing the government where we teens all had to dress for business. We were all well behaved except the one day we could dress in jeans because we were going to the zoo after. The behavioural difference was like night and day and so was how other adults interacted with us. Ever since then, I see my clothing as a costume that transforms me into whatever I need to be for an event.

    3. Del*

      Another +1 on dressing for success. There’s a reason clothing often comes up in free speech discussions — what you wear is an immediate primer to someone else on how they should interpret you and what your attitude is toward your surroundings. There have been studies (sorry, don’t have links right now) showing that people perform better if they’re dressed more formally or professionally.

      Dress like a businessperson, and you’ll give yourself a big bump toward being treated like a businessperson, and it will be easier for you to treat yourself like one, too.

      Another good thing to do is reinforce your feeling of confidence or expertise on your work. Even just rehearse in a mirror how you would discuss what you do, being authoritative and in-charge. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

    4. OP for today!*

      It sure does make a difference- I really like ritual of getting ready for work as the whole process boosts my confidence. The part that I WISH I didn’t have to deal with is all of the second-guessing and wondering about how I will be perceived, including on my appearance.

      For example, when choosing business attire for a big client meeting, I wonder about how a flat shoe would be different than a power heel, a silk blouse under my jacket vs a cotton blouse, etc. “Is this too tight? Is this too loose? Do I look frumpy or at all like I’m trying to look sexy?” I feel like I never get it “just right”. It’s like being the Goldilocks of getting ready for work.

      And then there is the makeup, hair and jewelry aspect… it takes me for friggen’ ever to get ready because I worry so much about how business colleagues that are older, wiser, and more seasoned will perceive me.

      Luckily, I’m confident in my work and not afraid to be vocal. I struggle more with “playing the game” of the business world. Know what I mean?

      1. Malissa*

        I know what you mean. Start dressing for you. You want to look good and feel more powerful in those business meetings? Strap on the power heels.
        I know my confidence came when I stopped caring so much what everybody else thinks of me. The truth is unless your boobs are hanging out or your shirt is on backwards, chances are people really don’t think of you and how you look nearly as much as you think they do. Well unless you are working at Mode.
        And if they are thinking about you, you really can’t control their thoughts anyway, so why worry? ;)

      2. Aisling*

        This sounds like me in my first professional office job. I finally realized that it was because I was buying what I thought of as “business attire” but which was all wrong for me. I never felt comfortable in the clothes, because I was (still am) a jeans and t-shirt girl, and I jumped too quickly into business clothes. I stepped back, bought a lot of khakis (it was a business-casual office), and started adding business-suit type items a little at a time. I found that I felt more like me, more confident, when I was comfortable in my clothes. Otherwise, it felt like I had to change my persona to fit the business clothes, and that’s when I really felt like a kid playing dress-up.

        1. Sascha*

          Totally agree. My transition to more professional clothes has been slow and steady…I didn’t start stepping out in my business threads overnight. Also if you make a drastic change people will think you are interviewing and about to leave.

          Knit blazers – I love them. Normally I hate suits. I am petite and suits tend to swallow me up. Blazers have never looked right on me, and I felt like I was playing dress-up, like you said. Until I found a couple of knit ones, and I feel fantastic. I can also wear them with jeans. That helps me feel professional, but I’m still comfortable and pulling off my style.

          1. Aisling*

            I’m also petite, and yes – I hate blazers because they tend to swallow me whole! I’ve got a few chino blazers that I can dress up or down, and one woven blazer that works well for interviews or more business-type events.

            I’m still more comfortable in jeans, and you’re right – pairing them with a blazer also makes me feel comfortable, but still professional.

            1. Malissa*

              If you can find a Macy’s with a proper suit department, not one with a few rack in the ladies area. They actually have suits and jackets that are made for short women. I had to visit 4 different stores until I found this section.

              1. Kerr*

                Macy’s also carries Calvin Klein petite jackets, and CK has a few styles that actually end at the *high* hip, not the the low hip. (Hate, hate, hate “boyfriend” jackets. “Boyfriend” on me = box-like and ill-proportioned.) The former looks professional and flattering; the latter just looks like I grabbed a tall woman’s jacket from the 80s.

      3. Nichole*

        I hear you! Good advice here. Something that helps me is I remind myself that as long as they look generally put together, I don’t think about what my colleagues wear that much. I feel overdone if I wear heavy makeup or accessories and tend to default to cardigans because I get antsy when I take risks. When I do branch out, I tell myself that I don’t notice when other people make a minor fashion faux pas, so they probably won’t notice if I do either. We tend to think that people judge us more than they do.

    5. HAnon*

      I’m in your age group (OP’s), and I definitely agree with this — although I do wear *light* makeup (for me, a little bit of foundation, a touch of blush and a colored lip gloss — easy and done in 5 minutes — the goal is to look polished and put together, not like I’m going on a date). I definitely feel different when I’m wearing a suit or a classic, sophisticated work ensemble than I do when I’m wearing my “weekend clothes.” Also an adult hairstyle…while it’s not an exact parallel, think about Peggy’s evolution on MadMen as far as her look from the first season to the last season — wear clothing that makes you feel confident and looks age appropriate and is flattering to your shape/coloring rather than just what is trendy. Stacy London from What Not To Wear has great suggestions on how to put together hair/makeup/clothes to portray what you want others to think about you and what you want to feel about yourself! I like to invest in really great styles and fabrics that are classics that I can mix and match for a few seasons, and then update my jewelry or accessories to be on-trend…I don’t have to buy as many new clothes that way :)

      Another thing I do…wear heels sometimes. Not 7 inch spikes, but heels that look decent and make me a few inches taller definitely help me walk with more confidence than wearing flats (although I do wear flats sometimes).

      Also, don’t end your sentences with question marks when you speak, or use vocal fry — it sounds girlish, not womanly :) Lake Bell just did a great interview about this last night on NPR.

    6. Sue D. O'Nym*

      “Dress for the job you want” is great advice. Until you want to become an astronaut.

    7. SarahJ*

      I find people treat me like more of an authority when I’m dressed well. For instance, when I facilitate a meeting or training, I wear a sheath dress with a statement necklace (at least during the summer). My clothes make me feel like a professional woman and the accessories let me show a little more personality.

      I also thinks it’s important to decide what your look is and own it. I have big, curly hair and I get more compliments when I wear it straight or pulled back but I like it big and curly. Maybe not everyone thinks it’s the most professional way to wear it, but it makes me feel good.

      Lastly, while you’re figuring out what your look is, err on the side of neatness, quality and wearability. You can buy clothes at any pricepoint but if they look poorly taken care of or you can’t walk in your shoes, it detracts from what you’re trying to accomplish by putting all the time and effort into getting dressed for work.

    1. Sascha*

      I’ve seen some women with shorter hair and it made them look younger (including myself) – too cutesy and teenager. I think it all depends on how you style it. My hair hits the bottom of my shoulder blades, but I keep it straight and smooth, or pulled back in a low bun or ponytail. Whenever I had short hair I looked like a teenage boy.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t think it’s simply about how you look, though, it’s about making a change from your younger self. You could go either way–growing out the pixie cut from your teen years could be psychologically effective as well.

      2. littlemoose*

        Yep. Shorter hair looks terrible on me, but I know I feel more professional when my longer hair is neatly trimmed. Just don’t let it get scraggly, and you’ll be fine. But the overall point about professional appearance is a great one.

    2. Malissa*

      Shorter hair=grown up?

      While I don’t agree with this idea, I think the sentiment is good. I do agree that getting a new hair cut/wardrobe/taller shoes can make a big difference in how a person feels about them selves.

    3. Ashley*

      I hate the advice of “short hair = professional/more grown up.” No. I do not need to look like a man or take away my femininity in order to look professional or grown up. I’m a woman, and I will wear my hair how I see fit. As long as it’s neat and clean, I see no problem with it.

      End rant.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          + me too.
          This got discussed quite a bit in the thread for “Do women have to wear makeup to look professional?”, 6-3-2013. I’m 41 and don’t want to age myself, so I’m *not* wearing nylons whenever I can achieve a polished look without them AND I’m growing my hair any length that best compliments me and my physical tasks. Polished is good.

      1. Another Anon*

        I’m sure you didn’t mean to imply that short-haired women are man-like or somehow unfeminine.

        1. Ashley*

          Oh gosh, no! I’ve seen many women with short hair that are very feminine and can totally pull it off. It’s really a personal style choice. I just feel like when people suggest cutting hair short in the context of “how to look professional/more grown up”, it’s said with an undertone of “you shouldn’t look ultra feminine” or “you should carry yourself like a man”.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think that’s the undertone–it’s more that there’s a long convention of women putting their hair up when they become adults, and the modern version is cutting it.

          2. Anon*

            Some women look masculine, too. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I think that we agree that femininity and masculinity shouldn’t be associated with professionalism at all.

      2. AP*

        That’s funny, I had the same ranty reaction but in my case it was because I tend to think of shoulder-length hair as the typical “mommy” haircut that you get when you’re pregnant.

    4. LV*

      The head of my department has almost-butt-length hair. She’s also very confident, assertive, and generally fantastic at her job – and always looks professional and polished at the office.

    5. Anon*

      I’m 23 and feel very much like any other person at work. The key is that I don’t think about my age and strive to see every co-worker as a peer. Granted I show respect to the companies executives – but everyone does.

      My hair is down to my waist – and it’s one of my features that is memorable and sets me apart. I believe hair length is and should be a personal choice. It works just as well to tie it up in a bun, tie it back or simply keep it well groomed at work.

    6. Lanya*

      I cut my *very* long hair just before I graduated from college, because I had read it would be difficult for prospective employers to take me seriously otherwise. Then, I cried for three days. Although I got a job within the next few months, I did not feel like my true self again until my hair finally grew back out. I have kept it long since, and had no problems professionally. I feel much more confident, and like more of a woman, with my beautiful long hair.

      1. Tasha*

        I’m going through the same process right now, unfortunately. An older relative gave me a hair salon gift certificate as a college graduation present and advised me to get a shorter, professional haircut, which I did about a month ago. My hair was down to my waist before, and now it’s a chin-length bob. I’ve *tried* to like it, and I’ve even gotten compliments for it, but it just doesn’t feel right. It’ll grow out eventually, I suppose.

      2. Nusy*

        I went the other way around – cut my hair super short in high school, after spending my entire childhood shunning the shears, and wearing waist-long hair. Then, as I’m coming up on graduation, and starting my internship, I started growing it back out. I find it easier to keep long hair neat – if all else fails, I can put it into a bun, and it’s not a big deal. It’s not really an option with short hair!

        My bigger hair issue is grays – I’m only 25, but I’m graying fairly fast (my mom was completely white by 21… so I guess I’m doing OK). I don’t like coloring my hair, because it ends up ruining my hair for weeks – and by the time it’s not uselessly dry and limp, it’s time for a touch-up. On top of that, that peroxide-y smell lingers on forever, which both my husband and I hate. Does it look seriously unprofessional if I have tinges of gray in my hair? It’s not like exposed roots – more, a silver hair here and there.

        1. Anonymous*

          Good heavens, no. It is not unprofessional. Unkempt is unprofessional. Going grey is human.

    7. Bea W*

      The sentiment is a good one. “Start dressing like an adult.” That applies less to hair length though and pretty much more to everything else that goes into creating a more mature, working adult look for a young woman. The super low-rider pants, cute short dresses, flip-flops, etc aren’t going to cut it in the workplace. It’s the whole package and how a person puts themselves together, and not only that but how they carry themselves and their posture and body language.

      I remember hearing the hair advice as a teen/college student, that once you were a professional woman, long hair was no longer appropriate and you absolutely had to cut it above your shoulders. Not sure where it comes from or why. My guess is along the lines of what Ashley says below, outdated gender stereotypes. *shrug*

    8. Melissa*

      Why? You can tie up long hair into buns, braids and updos to make it look professional but still long.

      Personally I prefer my short to medium-length hair (much easier to manage) but there’s nothing inherently unprofessional about long hair, it’s the way it’s worn.

  7. Sydney Bristow*

    It may not be completely applicable, but is recommend reading Yhe Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young. It’s a great book about imposter syndrome, which may be part of the issue here.

  8. kdizzle*

    I feel like at 31, I’m finally transitioning from the girl to woman world. And a large part of it just has to do with not being the youngest in the office. Unavoidable, really.

    However…When I was younger, I found that it helped to create niches of specialized skills to boost my confidence. Then I’d work tirelessly to become the best in the office at those skills. It’s empowering to have more experienced workers come to you as the expert, and then you’re not known as the office infant as much as the”excel wizard” or “statistics guru.”

    1. Loose Seal*

      I have to plus this comment. A lot of my confidence just happened after I hit my 30s but before then, I felt the most confident when talking about “my project” or being the only person in the office that could reliably un-jam the copier or remember how to mail-merge.

      To be perfectly honest, the first time I truly felt like an adult had nothing to do with work, per se. It was when my refrigerator kicked the bucket and I bought a new one all by myself; I didn’t call parents or a boyfriend to help me with the project. But I credit the reason I was able to just do it (instead of collapsing in a teary mess with one finger on my speed dial) to what I had learned at work. I was responsible for a lot of stuff at work and it stood to reason I could handle this relatively minor catastrophe at home. And oddly, being able to take care of my home life made it easier to be confident with myself at work.

    2. littlemoose*

      I like this idea. My suggestion is to focus on not just being competent but excelling at your job whenever possible. When you know your work product is good, it’s easier to feel like you belong in your workplace, and that you are among peers. Being capable also helps mitigate uncertainty that can lead to feeling like you are too young or inexperienced for your job. If your job lends itself to it, focus on your measurable accomplishments and metrics to show “hard data” that you are, in fact, doing well at your job! Also, check out the recent post on professionalism if you haven’t already – it can help you improve in any areas if you need to, and if you don’t, then draw confidence from the fact that your behavior is professional and not hindered by youth.

      That said, I’m 30 and still struggle with this sometimes. I tend to have some of the “impostor syndrome.” Remembering that I’ve been out of law school for five years now helps some – clearly I’m not a baby lawyer anymore. I think sometimes we tend to think that a job or profession must be harder than it is, especially if it has connotations of prestige, but when you’re doing your job capably, then there’s no need to think that you’re not good enough.

      Finally, I think some of it will just take time. You (and I) are still relatively new to the workplace, and it’s totally reasonable that you still aren’t 100% comfortable. You are correctly observing that your coworkers and mentor have more experience than you, and it’s natural to feel a little intimidated by that. Frankly, if you didn’t ever feel that way, then you would likely be ignorant or overconfident about your own experience and room for growth. I think it’s a pretty natural stage that conscientious professionals will experience, and that you can expect to gradually transition out of it.

    3. J.B.*

      I agree, being invited to give presentations and being considered the expert did wonders for my confidence.

    4. Jen in RO*

      I’m 29 and I still think of myself as a girl (rather, as the female version of ‘guy’ – we have a word for that in Romanian). What made me feel more confident at work was interacting with people in my profession who have been doing it since before I was born… and who needed ME to explain stuff to them. (And they were so nice about it too!)

    5. Manda*

      If I ever become known as the “statistics guru” at a job, I’ll be a happy girl woman.

  9. Brett*

    One day in grad school I simply realized that “leaders” in my field were normal people too. Since then, I’ve made it a habit to introduce myself to such people and just talk with them, take a picture with them, etc. I once had a great 30 minute conversation on the plane with one of the top three people in the Army Corps of Engineers that was pivotal to first (and still only) job out of college.

    No matter how rich, powerful, experienced a person is, I am still really their equal in plenty of other ways.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    Want to feel older? Go sign up for a 101 course at the local community college. The true college-age kids will treat you like an old woman and you will be lumped in with the nontrads of your age on up to 50. If you’re really lucky, the instructor will be about your age, with a Ph.D.

    I’m kidding, of course, but I think our own growth and maturity is sometimes hard to internalize until we look back at where we were 10 years ago and see that we aren’t there anymore. Look at how much you have accomplished and you might not feel so intimidated by what others have done or are doing.

    1. Sara*

      I just bought this book a few days ago, still in the middle of it….can’t wait to read the advice in it!

  11. KayDay*

    hmmm….I don’t have much advice on how to feel more grown up other than fake it ’til you make it. Having more seniority in your office, even if you are still the youngest, can also really help change your perspective. Personally I started feeling like an adult the a few months after turning 26. I’m not sure what happened, but it felt like someone flipped the switch over to ‘adult’.

    1. tcookson*

      I still didn’t feel like an adult in my late twenties, either, even when I got married. When I had my first child, I was terrified that I wasn’t equipped enough, maturity-wise, to handle it. I had always been pretty self-indulgent up until then and I didn’t know if I had it in me to knuckle down and take care of really serious business. It took me two – three years to finally feel like I wasn’t faking it and could handle it. But I think the key to feeling like a grown-up is to have something really important (it doesn’t have to be a child) that you are responsible that has serious consequences if you screw it up. I think you have to feel like you were able to prove (to yourself) that you won’t let yourself down when the stakes are very high. When you’ve done that, then you can feel like an adult.

  12. B*

    For me I sometimes still feel like a kid. But for the most part I have found dressing in nicer clothes (not more expensive but more professional and perhaps with the times), sometimes jewelry, and decent looking makeup (not a lot but enough), having my nails can instantly make me stand taller and feel more adult. But that is also me.

    It also comes with time and knowing what you are doing in your field. As well as, being independent. If you are still living at home with your parents it can be very hard to feel like an adult. If you need to be at home, then try and go out with friends. Do things out of your comfort zone.

    But I would also look at yourself. Realize how far you have come from college. What have you done? You have a professional job, you are doing x, y, and z. Sometimes look at it from a different perspective can be immensely helpful. What would the college you think of you now and vice versa.

  13. Anonymous*

    I’m intern age and I feel like this all the time. I’m not an adult, everyone feels like their my parents age and I’m a little kid. Didn’t know it was called imposter syndrome though, just thought its a position where you have to fake it ’til you make it, because I am awfully under qualified (see: intern).

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Imposter Syndrome is when you feel like you’re not really qualified to do what you’re doing, and when everyone finds out, they’ll fire you.

      Feeling more adult is a different matter, and it can take quite a long time. I would suggest that you stop occasionally and think about what you’ve learned since you started your internship (or job). We don’t notice day by day what we’re learning or how much we’re growing, but when you look back you’ll be surprised.

      It took me until about age 27 to stop feeling like a kid and more like a young adult (I’m really old now and I still feel young). Just living your life will make a difference.

  14. J*

    I’m 25.

    Sometimes I behave submissively because I’ve read too many click-baiting Gen Y articles about how we’re all arrogant and entitled, and I want to avoid that perception with my co-workers.

    Also, when you’re young you’re often at the bottom of the hierarchy anyways, are more expendable, and experience less job security, so it feels very risky to rock the boat.

    Those are my personal hurdles.

    1. Elle D*

      I often feel the same way.

      I’m currently working on not saying “I’m sorry” so much.

      1. TL*

        Yes! That’s a huge thing – young women being socialized to apologize for having dissenting opinions or doing something different or just being present! (Okay, a slight exaggeration but…)

        OP, if you’re a big apologizer, it can be hugely helpful to stop that.

        1. OP for today!*

          Great advice – I’m not an apologizer, but I am an over-praiser I think. I tend to gush “thank you’s”. Maybe this is the same vein. Some else posted “Respect without revering” and I think that was astute.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I definitely over-thank too. It comes from having worked a lot of food/retail jobs where the training was to say “thank you” way more than people ordinarily do in conversation, and in contexts where most people might say please or you’re welcome or just nothing.

      2. Alicia*

        My graduate school supervisor tried to beat that saying out of me… she said something to the effect “you’re a young, female Canadian from the East Coast – you’re already pre-disposed to saying “I’m sorry” for things that are not even remotely in your control.” After that I was aware of it, and I’ve calmed that down in the following years. Because really, I wasn’t sorry (it wasn’t remotely my fault), it was just a turn of phrase. Before she mentioned it, I had no idea I said it so frequently.

        1. OP for today!*

          Ha! Minnesota here – we have a similar culture of being ultra-apologetic. I love that episode of How I Met your Mother where Robin goes into the Canadian bar, and she knows she’s amongst her people when she bumps into someone and they apologize to her!

        2. Felicia*

          Excessively saying I’m sorry is definitely a Canadian tendency:) As a Canadian and a woman, it’s socialized into me in two ways, and it’s something I have to be very conscious of. I’ve definitely had someone apologize to me after I bumped into them, so that’s one of the few Canadian things on How I Met your Mother that aren’t totally exaggerated.

          1. Sue D. O'Nym*

            I think the Arrogant Worms said it best with their song “Forgive us, we’re Canadian”

        3. Kou*

          Haha, mine’s similar– I’m from Texas and gotdangit you call your superiors “Mister” and “Ma’am” and you smile and nod when they talk.

      3. Tasha*

        Same here! I’ve started grad school recently and am running into a few technical problems with the computer models. When sending e-mails describing the problem, I write them, then go back through and delete all the apologies and “this must be a silly question, but…”

        I’ve realized that people don’t want to hear how sorry I am for missing an important file, but they would like to see a concise description of the problem so they can give me the file and go about their days. It’s not always easy to live by my own advice, but I’ve improved.

      4. Lindsay*

        That was going to be my advice too – stop saying you’re sorry for things outside of your control, and stop qualifying your statements and be more direct.

        Also, one of the best professional development exercises I ever did was sit in a group of women and everyone had to compliment each other, but the person being complimented could only say, “Thank you.” Women often need to just accept praise without diminishing the compliment by explaining it away.

    2. Kou*

      This is my issue. I have no problem being assertive and confident, and that’s actually an issue– I don’t want to look like some punk who just strolled in and thinks they know better than everyone else, ESPECIALLY since the “entitled egomanic” stereotype became the complaint du jour about people my age. I don’t know where the line is to keep from accidentally walking into being That Spoiled Kid.

  15. Joey*

    To me it revolves around confidence- confidence that you belong and that your contributions are valued in the same way that they would be for a “woman.”

    Part of that is putting things in context. You have to accept and remind yourself that you were chosen for your position without regard to your age. This means that you were chosen over folks who were probably both older and younger, and more experienced. This means that you boss (and by default your company) already view you as an equal- as someone who can contribute just as much as anyone else.

    The other part of it is identifying exactly what your older co-workers can learn from you. Is it a different perspective? Is it a knack for doing things more efficiently? And, to me this is the most important part- realizing that you won’t only be “sponging” info from your older, more experiences colleagues, but that they will also be “sponging” off of you.

    1. N J*

      I’ve never felt compelled to respond to anyone’s comment before, but yours really hit the nail on the head for me, especially the part about viewing myself as an “equal.” This is something that I try to remind myself of but it’s easy to fall into ruts of self-doubt. Thanks for putting these affirming thoughts into words so that I can always remember it!

  16. Cat #2*

    For me, the most noticeable switch was being forced to do a public presentation (CLE credit) on the area of law I’m focusing in. It made me realize just how much I’d learned in just 3 years out of school, and finally got me out of feeling like I was playing dress-up in a suit.

  17. ArtsNerd*

    You can overcome this! I’m just on the other side!

    Focus on your professional successes – and if you don’t feel you have any, focus on creating some. It doesn’t have to be in your office, just in your field. And anything that gives you exposure to people in positions that intimidate you without the hierarchy pressure is even better.

    For me, sitting on a grant funding panel a few years ago was intimidating at first but by the end of it I realized that my opinion was just as informed and respected as the others at the table. And now I realize that panel organizers are ALWAYS looking for good people, so if that’s an appropriate opportunity for your field, I highly recommend volunteering for it.

    Also, when I was frustrated by a lack of official accomplishments at my old job, I embarked on a (publicly visible) volunteer project that used my professional skills, partly as a resume builder. It was successful, and the praise I got from my immediate network was incredibly validating – and it was recently used as a positive case study in a professional development webinar by someone who’s never interacted with me! So I think I’m officially an expert in that thing.

    I’m 28.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      Oh, another advantage of the funding panel is that I had to weed through lots of VERY low-quality submissions, which really put my skills and knowledge in context.

      Not sure what an equivalent might be in other industries…

  18. Leah*

    I have found that I’ve gained respect from more established colleagues by being attentive and perceptive and offering insightful solutions to problems. Even if you don’t feel like an expert in your field, your colleagues will appreciate the perspective.

  19. Claire*

    In addition to the very good “fake it till you make it” advice, I recommend learning a bit about Imposter Syndrome. I, too am a woman in my mid-twenties trying to build a career and understanding what the Imposter Syndrome is was really an a-ha moment for me.

    Also, I really recommend trying to eliminate the passive voice from your writing – emails, resumes and cover letters. I do this all the time and my partner calls me on it. It weakens your writing. It’s hard to overcome but it makes a huge difference and for me, I eventually became more comfortable with stronger statements and began believing in myself more. It’s a good example of how I faked it until I truly believed it.

  20. Claire*

    Everyone has those days (they may be rare) when they really feel like they know what they’re doing. Start working at noticing when those days happen; recognize them and even record your thoughts on them. Look back on that on days when you feel totally lost and confused.

  21. Chelsea B.*

    I’m with everyone else here – fake it till you make it. I’m 27 now, and just starting to feel like a “real” adult. Mostly it has taken finding my niche at work, the things that I’m better at then everyone else. Having everyone come to you about that thing makes you feel competent and in charge. Notice how handling that makes you feel, and try to project that into the rest of your interactions. It takes time, and will be different timing for everyone.

  22. Jazzy Red*

    I have an aunt who I love and admire. When I was starting out, I would “put on” my aunt’s personality and professionalism. I really thought of it that way, just as if I was putting on a blazer. It was very much “fake it ’til you make it”. Remaining calm, thinking before speaking, doing the work to the best of your ability, and being kind are all attributes that will help you grow into your “adult self”.

    If you have an opportunity to do some presentations or other types of public speaking, go for it! Your first one won’t be great, but you will start to get over any nervous feelings. If you know your material and your audience (and your time limit), you can do a good job, and I guarantee that people will admire you. Before you know it, you’ll be a role model to younger people.

  23. Lora*

    I’m 37, and for me there were three big changes: 1) I had to train newbies and got an intern to manage 2) I had a boss who was significantly dumber than me, and I had to teach him everything about the job, the science and what exactly we did at Company. (Fortunately he was quickly replaced with someone much better, but it was a rough couple of months.) 3) I worked in a startup that had Issues and ultimately went out of business because of Issues, and it was like dog years or something–as much insanity and drama crammed into two years as a normal company sees in two decades.

    In comparison, most of my peers at that point had had one, maybe two jobs, always with bosses who were much more qualified than them, in companies that were more or less normal.

    1. Lora*

      Disclaimer: I’m ridiculously immature in a lot of ways. I tell Your Mom jokes at work, wear jeans, boots (cowgirl, engineer and riding) and steampunk shirts, and I often reply to other people with incredibly intellectual refutations like, “Nuh-UH!”. I once turned in a weekly project report using Rage Comics to illustrate my experiment; at a technical board meeting, when I was asked for a description of my proposed research program, I started the discussion with, “I got so many solutions, they’re fallin’ out of trees. It’s fan-TAS-tic!” But, I get away with that because Quirky Geek is seen as a merit in my industry.

  24. Marina*

    I’m 28 and while I feel fairly confident about my own abilities, I think I tend to sabotage myself by using my youth as a tool. I am the grumpy old man whisperer, I swear, people who start a conversation swearing at me are saying “thank you, sweetie” by the end. There are a lot of people who let down all their defenses for a ~young, ~pretty girl, and that comes in really handy. I don’t feel like I have enough experience to really hold respect in tough situations if I gave up that tool, but it’s definitely not helping my co-workers and supervisors take me seriously either.

    1. Claire*

      I can totally relate. I used to do the same thing and probably still fall into every now and again (I’m 27). For me, moving beyond that was a combination of natural progression and will power. Try to stop yourself from putting it on when it’s a small, unimportant issue and then work up from there.

      I definitely started noticing when I was able to accomplish the same things without resorting to the “but I’m a young woman and you should be nice to me.” Noticing it when it happens is a huge confidence boost.

  25. Kirsten*

    I’d like to echo the “dress for success” sentiments.

    In addition, how you refer to people at work is important. Try not to refer to people older than you as Ms. Jane or Mr. Wakeen. Don’t refer to your parents as Mommy and Daddy in a professional environment. This is likely a Southern thing, but I’ve noticed it repeatedly in the office with younger professionals.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      LOL. I thought I was too mature to call my parents Mommy and Daddy when I was about 8. (But I’m not in the South.)

      Probably best not to talk about your parents too much at work, regardless.

    2. Kristen*

      As a Southern young lady who will call my parents “Mama and Daddy” until I die, I tend to only use those references jokingly or with other Southerners. But quit hatin’ y’all.

      1. fposte*

        Grandparents are even better. Small-town midwest is full of people with meemaws. Which, again, is a term best commuted to “grandmother” while you’re establishing your chops in an office.

    3. Kou*

      Chiming in as well: This is totally a Southern thing. It is *highly* disrespectful to not do it, so it’s not a habit I’m entirely comfortable eschewing just because I’ve been reassured it’s ok.

      I’m the only person where I work who always calls the physicians Dr. Smith instead of Joan, and I just… Can’t… Stop… Feels wrong… Ugh

      1. annie*

        I get it, as one of my best friends is Southern (living in the North) and I find it absolutely charming when his young daughter calls me “Miss Annie” when I see her. It’s how they are raising her to address her elders and I totally respect and appreciate that as part of their culture. Heck, I even default to their way of talking and call his mom “Miss MomsName” when I see her because I love her and I also know she finds it cute/sweet coming from a Northerner like myself.
        But, seeing people do it in a workplace just makes it feel weird because of the strange power imbalances in any office. It also makes other coworkers wonder if they too should be calling Bob “Mr Bob” instead, and probably makes Bob feel weird too.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My very religious, home-schooling friends are doing this with their kids. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I like it. I was charmed by being called “Miss Liz.”

      2. Rana*

        I went through something similar when I finished grad school and was suddenly on an equal footing with my former professors and mentors. For some of them, switching to a first name basis was pretty easy. For others… not so much. Our chair, for example, had always been Professor Lastname, and I just couldn’t make the switch to calling him by his first name. Even now, a decade later, I refer to him as Firstname Lastname, and the thought of referring to him by his nickname (as some of his friends and closer colleagues do) just makes my brain freeze up. Given that I usually tend to make respect errors in the opposite direction at this point (that is, calling people by their first names too soon), I find this both entertaining and weird.

  26. IronMaiden*

    I suggest deportment classes where you learn about personal style, poise and etiquette in social and corporate situations. You would have the opportunity to practise certains styles and behaviours before unleashing them on your friends and co-workers.

    Another thing that might be helpful, especially if your awe of authority figures stems from childhood issues is psychodrama. This is an experiential therapy that uses spontaneous (usually) acting to uncover and evaluate their behaviour and a deeper understanding of their particular situation. there is often an element of discourse (such as to release oneself from an authority figure) or rehearsal of an event to come. A psychodrama group should be run by a trained “director”.

    These are resources that have been useful to me.

    1. Pussyfooter*

      ” deportment classes where you learn about personal style, poise and etiquette in social and corporate situations.”

      I tried to find these and couldn’t figure out what the modern equivalent of a finishing school type business is called. What is the term for these businesses? How do I find one?

      1. Chinook*

        If you can’t find a “finishing school” type of business, you could think outside the box and try volunteering at a costumed historical site, especially one that does something from the Victorian era. I did this one summer and there is something about being a costumed interpreter in a faux corset (the whaleboning was sewn into our blouses to give the look) and being expected to hold myself a certain way while interacting with the public really did affect how I carried myself. It won’t give you modern etiquette and skills but it will give you a chance to try out being a more formal version of yourself.

        1. Pussyfooter*

          I was thinking more of the corporate social skills coaching that some people get. What is the term for that kind of company? Can you only go by referral from your employer or can anybody set up a few classes?

  27. Kate*

    I’m about the same age as the OP and have dealt with this, too. Some tips (with the usual caveats about knowing your office culture):

    A lot of submissive posturing comes from a fear that you’re inconveniencing others just by existing. Trust that your colleagues are adults and will tell you if there’s an issue.

    Related: Stop apologizing unless you’ve actually screwed up. If you drop by your boss’ office to ask a question, don’t say, “Hi, I’m so sorry, I hate to bother you, do you have a minute?” Say, “Hi, do you have a minute?”

    Realize that you should think before speaking, but that everything that comes out of your mouth doesn’t have to be perfect in style and substance. Notice how often your colleagues make very minor mistakes in conversations and meetings and how everything’s fine. Don’t hold yourself back from fully participating because you’re afraid to make even minor mistakes.

    Make small talk with the higher-ups when appropriate (before meetings start, in the hall, in the kitchen, etc). You’ll feel less intimidated if you know some very basic things about their non-work lives. It gives you practice in talking with them as equals in a low-stakes atmosphere. Most importantly, it lays the groundwork for you to feel comfortable approaching them with work issues.

    Think of a professional woman you admire. Identify what it is she’s doing that makes you respect her, and adopt the habits that you can quickly pick up. Maybe you can’t become an expert overnight, but you can take initiative in introducing yourself to new people and start arriving at work five minutes earlier to prep for your day.

    Take advantage of any training your company offers and request to attend seminars and conferences. Feeling confident in your professional knowledge helps you feel confident overall.

    And good luck!

    1. OP for today!*

      I love this whole entire post. Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and encompassing response!

      1. Kate*

        Aw, thanks! I try to be very conscious about presenting as an adult and these have all been helpful to me. Glad I could help!

  28. Katrina Prock*

    I’ve made my career in finance, which is a sensitive subject with people (for obvious reasons). Shortly after I was licensed at the ripe ol’ age of 22, Lehman colapsed and I cut my teeth on a strange market. I learned right away that my demeanor had to reflect confidence above all else, and that people appreciate it more if you say, “I’m not sure. Let me check into that and I’ll get back to you shortly.”

    Projecting confidence to clients, and realizing that the majority of the time I did have the answers, made me feel internally like, “Hey, don’t discount me because of my age. I can do this! I can help you, get the answers you need, and deliver quality.” That was all it took. I’ve viewed myself as a grown woman ever since – and I even had a two year stint in braces! (Truth be told, people thought I was the intern then…)

    Don’t let ’em discount you girl :)

  29. S3*

    I agree with much of the advice stated here, particularly about dressing better. Just for context, I’m in my mid-30’s and have been at the same company for almost 10 years. When I started, I was put in a room with the summer interns (who were all high school & college students). Since then, I’ve been promoted 4 times and am now the manager of a team. So I can definitely relate to this journey.

    A couple of things that helped me make the transition:
    1. Try to separate yourself professionally from your less-driven peers. My industry is very male dominated. And there are quite a number of younger men at my office who are just simply sitting around in their office, twitting their thumbs & waiting to be promoted like it’s 1965…and frankly, sometimes it kind of is. I’ve tried to neither let that deter or discourage me. And I’ve tried to create some distance between peers who aren’t as serious about their jobs as I am. At least in my field, the higher-ups can be suspicious of younger people in groups. Sadly, you’ll be taken even less seriously than your male counterparts if you’re part of the crowd that leaves at 4:55 for Happy Hour every day.
    2. Force yourself to get face time with the people who matter. I really have to thank my dad for this because he told me a number of times that I’d never get further in my career without having real conversations with the decision makers about what I wanted my career to be like. By talking to my boss & my boss’s boss regularly, they knew what I was about & when there were opportunities to advance someone, my name was on their minds. Also, it helped me be more mature. I was shaking like a leaf every time I walked into their offices, but I walked out stronger & more confident each time. And it helped more firmly establish the high expectations I had for myself because I was letting everyone know what I was thinking.
    3. Challenge yourself: like any other part of growing up, you’ve got to do the work. The more you practice at being more assertive and mature, the easier and more natural it will become. Several people here have mentioned that at a certain stage in life the switch flipped & they felt grown up. I’d argue that if they really thought about it, they’d realize that this change happened slowly, over time with a lot of work.

    1. Rindle*

      Oh, your second point is great. When I was in my mid-20s, a friend and colleague who was a couple years younger than I found herself on the elevator with the president of the company. She struck up a conversation like it was nothing, and he always knew her name after that. I was in awe of her (still am). She rose quickly through the ranks, and a big part of it was her willingness and ability to get to know the right people.

  30. Stacy*

    Lots of good advice here but I just can’t get on board with “fake it till you make it” as a way to get treated as an adult because it’s the hallmark of an adolescent to walk into a room full of elders thinking that if they ACT like they think of themselves as someone who should be respected, it will come to be. I have seen this backfire many times. I know how frustrating it can be to have your contribution summarily dismissed as coming from the mouth of a girl child, but faking at being an adult is not the way to fix this. Yes, be sure to dress, speak and behave like a grownup but also be quick to show respect for the superior age and experience of all people you worth with, including the maintenance guy. This does not mean you should ever downplay your contributions! It just means you have enough maturity to know that you may not already know everything and your lack of arrogance will put you on the right path. Giving others the credit they deserve will generate more interest in what you have to contribute so make sure that you know what you have to say has value by doing your homework. Always be learning and looking for new ways to approach old problems. Stay current with new developments in your field – something that your more established and complacent co workers or bosses may have neglected. I would say the first step to being seen as an adult is to be seen as a respectful younger person whose fresh, insightful viewpoint has a lot of value.

    1. Colette*

      I do agree with the fake-it-til-you-make-it advice, but I don’t think that means assuming you have all the answers. Everyone, no matter their age, should be willing to hear other’s viewpoints and put in the work so that they know what they’re talking about. It’s about being confident in what you do know, and about communicating that confidence without downplaying your own knowledge or skills.

    2. AnonHR*

      I think you may be on the same track as how I imagine “faking it” should look like… not that you should act like you know everything and need no one, because that’s immature and not the kind of adult you should be acting like, but doing your job (or acting like the adult you want to be) with confidence.

      A lot of your suggestions fit in with the advice in the link of Allison’s above- her points there (if I may paraphrase) are to 1. be confident in the position you are in even if you worry you are a fraud, 2. admit if you don’t know something or made a mistake, and 3. focus on your work, not any feelings of inadequacy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — it’s not about faking that you know things that you don’t; it’s about faking confidence if you’re not feeling it. Even extremely accomplished, experienced people still don’t know everything and admit it when they don’t (if they’re healthy and confident), and that’s who you want to have in mind when you’re faking confidence.

  31. Anonymous*

    I think it has a lot to do with confidence and mindset. I remember going to college and all of a sudden everyone was using the word “woman” rather than “girl”. It felt weird, but I soon got used to it. When I was 25 I started my own company with a business partner, and by the time I was 27 we had about 50 employees. So I had to grow up real fast in a professional sense. I’ve always looked younger than I am, which didn’t help. But I was the boss, and I had to act like it. So
    I think it’s all about having confidence in your skills, understanding that you ARE a grownup, and acting like an adult…no matter what your job is. It’s all part of growing up! :-)

  32. Rindle*

    This is a great question, and I agree with many things that have been said above. There are a few factors here. One is how you feel about yourself. One is the image you project. One is the way your colleagues choose to read you. You can impact all of these things to some degree.

    If you lack self confidence, fake it as long as necessary. If you struggle with self esteem, work with a therapist or professional of your choice to root out your bad feelings about yourself. Develop your work wardrobe to include polished, tailored pieces. Wear makeup if you feel you need to wear makeup. Do something with your hair; any length can be professional if you “fix” it right. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for hair and makeup. Practice different looks, and ask your honest friends for advice.

    Stand up straight. Figure out a natural way to hold yourself – especially hands and arms – when you’re standing in a room with other people. E.g., if you’re waiting for a meeting to start and everybody’s milling around. Don’t fidget or slouch or stare at the floor.

    Drop your vocal register if you have a naturally high voice. Do not make statements that sound like they end with a question mark (including when you state your name for your voicemail system).

    What about identifying fictional characters – TV, movies, books – whom you admire? I haven’t done this myself, so I’m brainstorming here. I would like my professional persona to be a cross between Miranda Bailey from Grey’s Anatomy, Abagail Bartlet and CJ Cregg from West Wing, and Olivia Pope from Scandal. (Off the top of my head.) Pay attention to how the people you admire act – this includes your mentors, colleagues, and friends as well as fictional characters!

    Good luck. I truly wish you the best.

    1. Amy*

      I like this! I think I would try to emulate married, post-Zola, post-airplane Meredith from Grey’s. Mature, less dark & twisty, gives good advice and insight, but still appreciates being silly and having some tequila now and then.

      1. Sali*

        You mean happy Meredith? I loved her when she was happy! She actually really irritated me when the series first started out and she was all dark and twisty. When she became happier she was full of good advice and much wittier I think.

  33. NutellaNutterson*

    Read Dr. Lois Frankel’s books (Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office). It really is the best writing I’ve found about how women are socialized to self-sabotage at work.

    Also, check out Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on “power poses.” She is amazing, and I love her variation on the phrase aam used above. She says “fake it till you *become* it.”

  34. Anonymous*

    Seconding the dressing up, and fake-it posts. Also, do not end every sentence as a question. If you don’t have that habit, good for you!

    1. Another Claire*

      I’m 21 and a few months into my first real job. It’s frustrating to read that it takes many people years to feel like an adult. And has anyone ever had to deal with unsolicited “mothering” in the workplace?

      1. Sascha*

        Yes. I’ve worked as receptionist in various offices for a large nonprofit during my college years, and there was usually a woman who would try to mother me. It started out as “She’s offering help on work tasks, I will accept this” and turned into “She’s trying to give me clothes and tell me how to conduct my personal life.” I think a good way to shut it down is to not give them what they want – in other words, don’t talk about your personal life, don’t go to them for every need, keep it strictly business.

        Also, don’t be discouraged about it taking so long to feel like an adult – reading all of this will put you ahead of the game. Like I wish someone would have told me sooner to dress for the job I want.

      2. Malissa*

        When I’ve had unsolicited mothering I’ve looked at the person with a point-blank stare and told them that I already had a mother so they didn’t need to bother themselves with trying to act like my mother.
        Then again the only time I’ve had this problem is with a woman who had boundary issues anyway. Nothing like having to remind a coworker that I do have a name and it’s not “Miss Priss, Missy, Girly or anything remotely like that.”

      3. Anonymous*

        I once had someone step up to me to fiddle with my hair to straighten my part. I looked her right in the eye and asked if was going to spit on her hand and clean my face next!

      4. Rana*

        I hate to say it, but with some people it never goes away. I still get occasional attempts aimed at me, and I’m 43, and not particularly “girly” in my mannerisms. All you really can do is learn to ignore these sorts of comments and view the person making them as the one with the issue, not you. (I find that attitude a helpful one to take in other situations, too. You can’t control other people, but you can control your own reactions to them.)

        1. Library Jen*

          This happens to me too constantly! I used to work in customer service where everybody was a similar age to me (18-25) bar one woman, who is about a decade older with kids. She constantly treated me like a little girl who couldn’t do even the most basic of tasks. High points include her taking a new bin bag out of my hands to open it for me or ‘rescuing’ me from a bug when I was only pointing it out to her, not saying I was afraid of it.

          In this case I think it was both my fault and hers. It really made me look at my behaviour and whilst I m

          1. Library Jen*

            (Oops hit submit)

            I did not deserve to be treated like a child and I eventually spoke to her about it but it did make me examine my behaviour and realise that I often asked for help like a girl rather than stepping up and doing it myself like a woman. I also found that asking for clarification or informing a supervisor of what I was doing (normal in this retail environment) often lead to them thinking I couldn’t do it and was asking for help.

            Now I am starting a new job alongside one other person who I have just learned is male, much older than me and a former teacher. Even though we will be at the same level I am already worried about being treated like a little girl who needs help all the time. This is definitely my chance to fake it!

  35. km*

    I’m a 30-year-old woman and I really feel this post, even though I’m in senior management at a mid-size non-profit, I still half-expect someone to say, “Hey, what’s the GIRL doing sitting in that office?”

    Couple things:

    – Projecting emotional maturity. This is something I realized I needed to work on a LOT in my early-to-mid twenties. Don’t get get overly emotional about work-related discussions and decisions, take criticism in a thoughtful but matter-of-fact way, don’t excessively apologize. Especially don’t apologize if what you’re about to do is correct someone else’s mistake, rather than admit your own. I totally think that this can be a challenge for people of all genders, but unfortunately women can get judged more harshly for it.

    – Echoing what others have said about dressing well. Figure out what style of professional dress makes you feel the most confident, though. I still think I look about 13 years old when I try to put on a suit, but I have a dress & cardigan game that makes me feel like a pulled-together adult.

    – Become an expert in something no one else wants/knows how to do. I say all the time that 78% of all my professional success is because I’m the only person in my office who knows how to complete a mail merge and format a pivot table. When you’re the expert on something, no matter how small it is, it can help you feel more confident and indispensable.

    Also, I honestly don’t mean to sound like a suck-up here, but my best advice would be to keep reading AAM. Even though I’ve never met Alison, I feel like I’ve learned as much from her as I have a lot of my in-real-life female professional role models.

    1. IronMaiden*

      I agree with you about reading AAM. I have learned a great deal, particularly how to take the emotion out of situations and deal with the raw issues.

  36. MiaRose*

    This is one of the most difficult things to overcome. Worse still if you look very young for your age as well. Honestly, keeping a polished professional image (yes, this does help, whether you are in your 20’s or just starting back to work again after being out of work for family reasons), and sticking to professional behavior while doing your job, go a long way in helping you project “I’m an adult”.

    However, the question is phrased in an interesting manner: “how do you start feeling more like an adult when you’re still pretty young?”
    That will depend on personal confidence based on valid accomplishments. If you feel good about your work, and you know your work is good based on what our peers and superiors say, then that boost of confidence may show through to the outside. Also, People who take responsibility for their mistakes and fix them right away, rather than try to hide them or blame someone or something else, are those I view as being mature, no matter what their position is in the company hierarchy.

    Let me tell you, the worse thing I’ve ever had done to me to make me feel like a 3-year-old was when, during my college years, I worked with a security company assisting with installing systems. One of the clients thought I was the cutest thing (I’m just above 5′ tall), and was the small and young one who was limber enough to climb and crawl through small spaces. He patted me on the head. Seriously. I’m working with tools and electronic equipment, and I got patted on the head.

  37. Amy*

    I hate how it seems like the only romantic labels available to unmarried people who are dating seem to be “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”…it just reinforces the idea of thinking of yourself as younger, and to me “gentlemanfriend” and “ladyfriend” don’t sound right, either. They sound almost comical/condescending.

    I’m 24, and I feel weird saying “I was chatting with a boy at the bar last night”, but just as weird saying “I was chatting with a man at the bar last night,” because for some reason I still think of myself as a college student where ‘men’ are much older than me and not socially acceptable to date.

    I also feel really bizarre referring to myself as a “woman”, as if it makes me sound like a whiny teenager, “MOOMMM why cant you treat me like an ADULT!?”.

    What age do you make the switch to being a “woman” in vocab? Probably doesn’t help that my supervisors (both at least 20 years my senior) refer to me and the other temp as “the girls”…

    1. TL*

      18. I decided that all females 18 or older are women; everyone under is a girl. It works for me. :)

      1. fposte*

        That was my call, too. Old enough to be tried enough as an adult; old enough to be referred to as one.

      2. Chinook*

        I use “have you graduated high school” as my guideline for whether it men/women or boys/girls. That being said, it is more the tone of voice that implies immaturity than the word “girl” that gets my back up.

      3. Sydney Bristow*

        I’ve been working on this myself and I think it helps me feel more like an adult as well when I refer to other women my age or younger as women instead of girls.

      4. Library Jen*

        This just makes the Britney song ‘I’m not a girl, not yet a woman’ play on a loop in my head. Although perhaps referencing Britney puts me in the girl category!

    2. Leslie Yep*

      I have been referring to myself and other women as “women” since I was in college and had a professor point out that we tend not to use it because it feels *consequential*. “Women” are serious people who deserve consideration; it’s a big label to take on yourself. So we see women called girls, ladies, females (ugh), etc. because it feels like less pressure.

      That really stuck with me. It was a standard I wanted to hold myself to, and a challenge I wanted to make to those who use other labels to treat women as less-than-consequential.

      1. Amy*

        That makes a ton of sense! Maybe because I’m so tomboyish, I always got irked when my mom would talk about “womanhood” as though it was this special sacred thing that was somehow tied to my getting cramps once a month. I like the idea of framing it around responsibility and being deserving of consideration, as opposed to a biological function.

        1. Leslie Yep*

          That’s an excellent point! Maybe it’s the result of teen years filled with sexual exploration solely through erotic fanfiction that I can’t hear the words “manhood” or “womanhood” without assuming they’re just euphemisms for genitals.

          Gender is so deeply embedded in our culture and how we relate to each other that it gets kind of slippery! Makes for some interesting conversations (and copping to weird teenage experiences), but also lots of these dilemmas.

      2. Chinook*

        Whenever I hear somone refer to another person as “male/female” I think of an episode of ER where the doctor goes back to the UK and describes the patient as a 46 year-old male and then gets dressed down for using and adjective instead of a noun and had it pointed out that they treat men and women and not animals and they should be described that way.

        It made the grammar nerd in me smile.

      3. Rana*

        That’s a great point. I usually think of myself as a woman, unless I’m making fun of myself – then I end up saying things like “don’t mess with the pregnant lady.”

        And word on the lack of an acceptable adult-sounding word for “person you are in an intimate relationship with but not married to.” It was such a huge relief when I could use the word “husband” to describe my life companion, though I made “partner” work well enough for a while (with the added entertainment value of confusing people who assumed I was a lesbian). The other options – boy/girlfriend, significant other, lover – ugh.

        1. Amy*

          I think living with your parents at 23 makes it hard to think of yourself as an adult…

          “you know, your frontal lobe hasn’t finished developing yet, so you’re not *really* an adult, Amy” – my mother

          1. Felicia*

            Amy, my mother has said the exact same thing! (Im also 23 and live with my parents, which I really hope to change soon)

          2. Rana*

            Oof, yeah. I have to admit this was one of the reasons I made a point of selecting an out-of-state school for college. I love my parents, and they’ve always been good at respecting my independence, but I myself needed that distance to get a sense of myself as an independent adult. And even now, it’s hard not to revert to “kid” status at least a little bit if I stay with them for more than a week or so. ;)

    3. Kou*

      The boyfriend thing, oh my god yes. I’m the youngest here by a decade and the only one with a boyfriend instead of a husband, and I feel like it’s a big neon CHILD sign every time I have to introduce him. We just bought a house together but it still feels like “heeey look at me, I’m a baby!”

      I don’t feel like “partner” works either, it feels so… Euphemistic somehow. Like something atypical is going on that I’m trying to delicately communicate.

  38. Anon*

    As my mother has often said, I have an ego the size of Texas. But still I get where you are coming from. I remind myself that Alexander the Great conquered the known world by 34 (of course he was dead shortly thereafter but still…) and there is a verse in Timothy where Paul tells him to not let people look down upon him because he is young.

    Remember they were young once too. You’ve probably accomplished some cool things in your own time.

  39. The IT Manager*

    This is interesting. Perhaps the girl vs woman post inspired the phrasing. I totally understand where the LW is coming from because for the first 3-4 years after college I still felt like a “college student” rather than a “adult”. But I absolutely never thought of it as feeling like a child or girl though – just not a fully responsible adult who should be making decisions for anyone but myself.

    I do have an idea of when that feeling faded and I think I know why although I didn’t initiate the actions so I’m not sure if is anything the LW could do herself, but I will think on it.

  40. ChristineSW*

    Great post! I still sometimes have trouble feeling like an adult; it comes in fits and starts, depending on what I’m doing and how confident I’m feeling. I’ll be 40 in a couple of months….I have a lot of catching up to do. It doesn’t help that I’m short (just 5 feet) and have a somewhat childish voice, particularly when I get excited. That’s why I tend to be very quiet in meetings.

    I find I feel grown up when I’m well-dressed, hair is neat and my nails are well-manicured. Sounds really superficial, but it is what it is, lol.

  41. Jill*

    I haven’t had a chance to read through all of the comments but I can completely relate to the OP. I am 25 and since I graduated college at 23 I have trouble feeling like an adult in my workplaces. What I have found to be the biggest problem for me is boundaries, in my first job out of college I was the same age as my bosses kids and there were times when my boss talked to me the lines were blurred between Employer/Employee and Mom/Child. I started to “fake it til I made it” and very clearly drew the line and after a while I noticed that things changed. For me it also helped to spend time outside of work learning about my industries, continually educating myself and getting face time with the people who I admired and wanted to be like (professionally). Working along side of them helped and interacting with them more really helped me.

    Good luck!

  42. Xay*

    I agree with a lot of the advice and I would just add one thing.

    Sit down and look at your resume, think about your accomplishments and remind yourself that you have something to offer. Although you are still learning and growing in your career, there is already value in what you have learned and how you have grown so far.

    I’m 34 and I still have to remind myself of these things when I look around my office at my coworkers who have a lot more work experience and an alphabet soup of degrees, certifications, and in some cases ranks. But I know I wouldn’t be here and they would not ask me for recommendations and to sit in on high level meetings if I had nothing to offer.

  43. Joshua*

    The key here is not feeling more “adult” as opposed to realizing the gap between experience levels. There is also an opportunity for you here, if you can make use of it. Since you are young and comparatively inexperienced make it your mission to learn from the positive and negative people in your workplace. Be a sponge for the first few years and rather than focusing on being “part” of the fabric of the office, recognize that there is value in not being part of the fabric. You can see more, learn more and ultimately do more from that perspective.

    The benefit you can derive from this is building relationships and mentor-ships at the same time. There is a great rule of business:

    “All things being equal, people prefer to do business with their friends.” All things not being equal, this is still true… So, the best thing you can do is approach those more experienced than you and build rapport with them by asking for their advice. Then, when the relationship is established, you can benefit them with some of your fresher ideas.

    This works well and is also a great way to put yourself on the promotion track. It worked for me.

    Hope that helps you,


  44. klaygenie*

    I’m also 27. Most of my co-workers have children my age and many have been doing their job for almost as long as I’ve been alive.

    My advice is to realize what you bring to the table – aka know what you know. I spent three years at my first job feeling like I knew nothing in any situation. It wasn’t until I left that I realized that I was THE expert in my company in my area and I had to switch my mindset of thinking I didn’t know the answers to realizing how much I did know.

    Now what gives me more confidence is that my manager, while great at managing our team, isn’t an expert in our system. She relies on me and others to give her the right information. So even though I’m still young and am learning new things every day, I know my input is just as valuable to the team.

  45. OP for today!*

    WOW everyone – there are so many great posts here, I can’t keep up with all of them!

    A few things that I really love – someone posted about watching your vocal inflections and trying to avoid the tendency to speak in a high voice or use upward inflection, even in your outgoing voicemail greeting. This is so timely – I was just trying to figure out my outgoing greeting and trying to sound better without sounding grumpy.

    I think a lot of you posted things that made me realize that it isn’t a confidence issue for me, but rather an issue of worrying that I’m going to irritate or inconvenience my colleagues. Also my personality and style still outside of work leans “younger” and I find it difficult to be myself at work while still trying to be more adult, if that makes sense. Alas, there must be a balance to be found.

    Some of my other fav tips from you all:
    *Stop apologizing all the time
    *Remember that everyone is human
    *Recognize how far you’ve come and remind yourself of achievements and talents
    *Dress, pose, and generally behave in a way that makes YOU confident, all the time
    *Recognize and deal with inklings of “Imposter Syndrome”
    *Emotional maturity in the workplace! This is so hard sometimes
    *Take responsibility for your mistakes and act with bold integrity
    *And, of course, keep reading AAM!

    Thanks Alison for posting this, and thank you everyone for all of your input. I truly appreciate it. Off to Amazon to go buy the books suggested here!

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      “I was just trying to figure out my outgoing greeting and trying to sound better without sounding grumpy.”

      A great trick is to smile while you leave your message. You can even start smiling while you’re dialing in to the system to get extra non-grumpy mojo. Your voice can still be mature sounding, but it will sound happier!

      1. Confused*

        “an issue of worrying that I’m going to irritate or inconvenience my colleagues”
        I struggle with this…a lot. Esp when it comes to networking.

  46. Bonnie*

    My advice from the very old (and hopefully wise) 40s, is get to know them as people. People you get to know will start to seem more like peers than figureheads. If you think of your VP as Susan instead of the VP, you will be much more comfortable being with her as yourself. Being comfortable with yourself is a big part of being an well-adjusted adult.

    1. ChristineSW*

      That’s very true. I used to feel really intimidated by the idea of talking to management-level people. However, having volunteered as a grant proposal reviewer for the past 1.5 years has been incredibly helpful. The way both of my groups do it is to allow agency representatives come in and talk to the panelists. It’s all very relaxed (while remaining professional) and it’s helped me see these managers as real human beings who aren’t there to bite or show their egos (well….most of the time. lol). I’ve gotten to know some of them fairly well and consider them to be really fabulous people.

  47. Kelly*

    I am 50 years old and the Controller/Office Manager of a $20 million/year company and I STILL don’t feel mature. But, when I walk through that door I put on my management face and I make it happen. The other/older people I work for can’t see inside me, they don’t know my insecurities – all they see is that I’m getting my job done and doing it well. So long as you’re not filing your fingernails and wearing pig tails I’m sure your peers and figureheads don’t view you as “young” as you feel.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am a couple years older than, you, Kelly. I so agree. There is an intimidation factor that goes on. It comes up a lot when we first start working- not so much later on but it never seems to totally stop.

      OP, you will meet people who remember the terrible twenties and just starting out. Everyone assumes you know everything- the pressure is not good. At all. Some of the older workers DO realize what you are going through. If you are doing your job, bringing your brain to the table every day, these older workers will take an interest in you and give you pointers. Unsolicited advice or info, simply because they see you working at it.
      Young people who work at their jobs and try to learn all aspects are very interesting to older workers.
      (I hope that does not sound condescending- I have been both on both sides of this story and I just now understand it… sigh.)

      This snowballs. You learn a couple helpful things, then you learn a few more and so on. Keep collecting up tidbits.

      I found that self-disciplines at home helped me to perceive myself as more mature. Pick something- healthy eating, exercise, budgeting, volunteer work- that requires self-discipline and stick to it.

      Learn people’s names. Learn one thing about them. If you find a person formidable learn three things about that person.

      Be sincere.

      And lastly spend time reading about your field and learning more. Something as simple as keeping up with a few current developments in your arena will give you food for conversation. When you have something to converse about everything changes.

      Our daily habits not only shape us but also can radically change what our future opportunities might be.

    2. Hauntedlibrarian*

      I’m 42 and don’t feel that mature either. I work for myself and most of my clients are very accomplished and 60+. It doesn’t help that I am petite and look very young. I have to remind myself that I have skills they need – that’s why they hire me! Focus on your strengths, wear nice shoes and don’t let others intimidate you, even when someone 30 years your senior calls you “kid.” Grrr…

  48. Amanda*

    Fantastic post. I will be checking back regularly and ordering the book that was mentioned.

    I struggle with self-confidence and self-doubt in general and I was just pondering this yesterday. My director gave me something to copy and there was an error on it which meant we had to make more copies (and thus kill more trees). In retrospect, I should have scanned her work for errors, but it didn’t occur to me because, after all, why would a “fake” adult like me find an error that a “real” adult like her wouldn’t find?

    One thing I do wonder is how one’s personal life might play into this. Meaning: do people who are married, own a house and more than 3 pieces of furniture, have substantial disposable income feel more adultlike and carry that into their worklife? For me, not having achieved many of the societal benchmarks of adulthood (even though I’m not in a big hurry to get married or buy a house) possibly does contribute to a lack of confidence in the workplace. But who know, maybe even if I had the whole husband/dog/house in the ‘burbs deal, I would still feel like a kid masquerading as an adult.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Excellent point. Although I myself have not yet been lucky enough to marry or have kids, I think that contributes. I started feeling more like an adult when I moved to Belgium for work, rented a house instead of an apartment, filled that house with actual furniture (although a gmost was loaner furniture from my employer), and found that suddenly my collegues were now all much older “adults” – usually married with kids and some of those kids were younger than me.

      Before I moved, my closest co-workers were all unmarried, recent college grads who lived in small apartments or had roommates. I’m not saying getting new friends is a solution, but the people you associate with do influence your own perceptions about yourself.

      1. Amanda*

        Actually, as a Midwestern transplant in NYC, I find myself compartmentalizing (in my own mind, I’d never actually say this out loud or off this forum) my Midwestern peers as the “real” adults and my NYC peers as the “fake” adults.

        I think this is proof of how Facebook effs with your perceptions of things. I see pictures of weddings and dogs and pregnant bellies and home remodeling projects-and I think, “I’m not actually the same age as these people, am I?”

        And while I’m not ready for marriage and kids and the thought of home ownership makes me shudder, it still makes me feel behind. And not wanting these things at the present moment/ever makes me feel even more unadultlike because shouldn’t a “real” adult want all that? (I know that’s not true, but it’s just how it works out in my subconscious sometimes.)

      2. Anne 3*

        I’m in Belgium too! Didn’t know this blog had other commenters from around here :)

        1. The IT Manager*

          I am no longer in Belgium, but I lived and worked in Mons for two years … US military

          Leaving the US for the first time to move to another country where I didn’t speak the langauge was a go way to help me grow up and to feel it.

    2. Marmite*

      I do think reaching some of the perceived benchmarks of adulthood have made me feel like an adult, but not the financial ones (renting a decent place, owning furniture, having decent disposable income, etc.). I found the ones where I was responsible for someone else’s well being made me feel like a real adult rather than a kid doing grown up things. Having a child, making end of life treatment decisions for a terminally ill partner, researching nursing homes for an elderly grandparent. Those were all the times I really started to feel like an adult. I think it’s the stuff where you have to buck up and do the right thing/make the hard decision rather than the accumulating of adult accessories (property, pets, spouses etc.) that make you lose the kid feeling.

      I think you’re correct that that kind of feeling like an adult in life can carry over into feeling like an adult at work.

      1. Amanda*

        “accumulating of adult accessories”

        Love this.

        And I’m truly sorry for what you had to go through with your partner.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I used to ponder the same thing. Buying a house did help me to feel more like an adult but for an odd reason. I had to let stuff at work roll off my back more. I need a job to pay the mortgage.

      So being married, having a house etc is not a magic bullet. It was a goal of mine to get a house. Definitely, respecting my own desires and reaching that goal did help me feel more rounded out. I think the important answer is to respect your desires and honor yourself by reaching your own goals.
      Maybe your goal is skiing in Switzerland or redoing your parent’s kitchen for them, whatever your goals are get on it and stay on it. Make it happen.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I thought buying a house would make me feel like an adult, but I only feel like a kid with my own play house.
        Maybe if it were bigger and there were someone in it besides me?

    4. Anonymous*

      To answer your second question – getting married did not make me feel like an adult.

    5. annie*

      I’ve found the opposite – many of my friends have made really poor decisions in who they marry, buying homes, and having children, largely based on (in my opinion, obviously) the desire to “feel like an adult” by reaching these benchmarks – a lot of it comes from immaturity, I think. The result has been many divorces, being underwater on homes they couldn’t afford, and having a lot of struggles with parenting. All of these things also create workplaces pressures as well too! Anyway, I think it is important to do things on your own time when it is right for you.

      1. Amanda*

        That’s very true and something I have to remember. For example, I’m the foot-dragger re: marriage in my relationship because I care much more about staying married than getting married. Which means I want to take the extra time to build the strongest foundation before taking that step. I think that’s a mature decision.

    6. Rana*

      I think it’s less that you feel more “adult” and more that other people see you as more “adult.”

      (Speaking as a 43-year-old who’s only now getting around to things like starting a family and buying a house, but who has felt like an adult for a decent while now. An often immature adult, yes, but still an adult.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’m 48. I BETTER GET GOING.

        But when your mom calls you “Baby girl,” and you don’t have those things, it kind of makes you feel even more like a baby. She doesn’t say that to my married sister, or call my brother (who is twice a grandpa now) “baby boy.” (LOL although my cool coworker calls me that too, and I’m older than she is. Maybe I really AM a baby!)

  49. Marmite*

    I’ve found I feel most like a real adult when I’m out of my depth/out of my comfort zone and forced to find answers to challenges. This doesn’t happen at work very often now, but when I first started my current job there was always something cropping up that made me think “Argh! Who do I turn to for help here!” Being out in the field I often just had to figure it out as best I could. I learned so much more that way, often through trial and error, than I would have done otherwise. It also made me realise that, hey, I’m adult I can do this stuff.

    I don’t get those challenges very often at work anymore, but I challenge myself to try new things and get out of my depth a little outside of work when I can. I volunteer in a role that stretches me in a completely different way to my work. It’s all a good confidence boost and confidence is key to feeling like an adult, I think.

  50. Windchime*

    I haven’t read any responses yet, so maybe this has already been said. I think that the first step is to stop “revering” people like your mentor and your boss. Because you are putting them on a pedestal, then it makes sense that you would feel “less than” them, which might result in your self-described “shrinking daisy” behavior.

    It might be hard to do at first. But you are a co-worker to these people, maybe even a peer to some of them (like your mentor). You are on an equal level as a human being, and are no longer a child. As Alison mentions, there may be an element of “fake it till you feel it” that you’ll also have to employ.

    It’s hard for me to relate, because at your age I had been married for many years and had two children. (Oh, how I wish I could have a re-do! But that’s a different post). So that might have contributed to my feeling like an adult. But really, you are one. So my first suggestion stands…..realize that these people you revere are really just like you, only just a little further along the career path. So respect them and learn from them, but no more reverence! :)

  51. T*

    I’m 21, and in my job, I’m easily the youngest person by about 10 years and one of the only females. Here’s some tips I’ve found help:

    -Getting a more adult haircut. When I graduated college, I had super long hair with grown out layers. I got a more professional, polished haircut and that makes me feel older.

    -Get a set makeup look for work – I basically do the same “look” every morning of natural looking makeup, neat hair, and basic jewelry. Having a routine in the morning and a standard “look” (makeup or no, but neat!) helped me feel older/more mature.

    -Stop apologizing for everything. No one needs to know you’re young, or just out of college, or that you feel unaccomplished. I had to learn to stop brining up my lack of experience whenever anyone asked me for my opinion or contribution.

    -Develop a “professional” telephone voice. My boss had to tell me not to answer the phone with “Hey!” like I would to a friend.

    -Learn as much as you can about your company or industry. Even though you’ll probably never be quizzed on the specifics, knowing that you know about your job helps reinforce that you can do your job!

    Hope this helps!

  52. the_scientist*

    oh wow, this is such a great thread and I’ll be bookmarking it for reference as I start my career! I’m 25 and just finishing grad school. In previous jobs I was definitely on the receiving end of unsolicited mothering- it didn’t irritate me because the women were nice about it, but at the same time, I felt it did prevent me from being seen as a fully adult member of the workplace.

    As a grad student in the sciences, conferences and presentations have been a great way for me to “practice” putting on an adult, professional persona. I get dressed up for them- professional clothing that makes me feel confident, and heels, because I’m just five feet tall.

    I know other people have mentioned this- but voice and manner of speaking are hugely important. Uptalking’s gotta go, as does dropping “likes” every few words. I still have to make a conscious effort about these things. I happen to have a naturally ‘mature’ voice, apparently, so this is helpful- artificially high-pitched voices and baby talking are the worst.

    1. Sascha*

      Baby talking in the work place is probably the worst thing anyone could do! One of the managers in my department baby talks – it’s just gross! He says things like “my pooter broken” and pouts about stuff. This is a guy in his 40s, btw. NO BABY TALK!

      Okay I’ve calmed down now.

      1. anonintheUK*

        And don’t giggle nervously. I suppose it goes along with being overly apologetic.

  53. NJB*

    Try hanging around for an entire weekend a gaggle of 16 year old girls.

    You will not feel like a girl anymore; in fact, you may start to feel old.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Ha! Yes, I was thinking about how being an elementary school teacher helped me feel like an adult more quickly. When 80-90% of the people in your workplace are under a decade old, you definitely feel like you have more in common with your coworkers. It’s especially good with the littlest kids, because they treat all teachers as basically the same age: Grown-Up.

      1. chikorita*

        +1 I felt really strange when I first started teaching and I worried that my students would dismiss me/ think that I’m not a ‘real adult’ or not as much of a professional as my co-workers (most of whom are at least 10 years older than me). What I came to realise was that with most kids, I’m just a Grown-Up to them- they don’t differentiate between the super experienced 50 year old teacher and the 22 year old newbie, especially if I act like a Teacher and not the rookie.

  54. Manda*

    I try not to use terms like “big girl job” or “real job” because I think it’s insulting to people who work low level and/or minimum wage jobs their whole lives. Some people are content with being, say, cashiers their whole lives, while others may really want something better and just can’t break away. But I can empathize with the OP. I am also in my late 20s and do not feel grown up at all. For me, a lot of things have happened later in life (or have yet to happen) than they would for most other people. Also, I don’t think it helps that people routinely point out that I look much younger than I really am.

  55. EA*

    Not a young female in a professional environment, but I started working as an ice hockey referee when I was 16. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was ‘be confident in yourself, even if you may be wrong. If you’re going to call a penalty, raise your arm with confidence, blow the whistle with confidence, and then send the player to the box with confidence. If you timidly raise your arm, and then do a weak whistle blow, and say “I think you tripped that other guy”, the players will walk all over you.’

    1. Chinook*

      I agree – some people can smell a lack of confidence and will use it to their advantage. When I worked as a substitute teacher of teenagers, I learned that, as long as you look like you know what you are doing, no one will realize you have no clue.

      The second part of that is realize that that is not the same as knowing everything and that it is okay to say “I am not sure, let me get back to you” as long as you do it with confidence.

      And, when in doubt, I remind myself that I have worked with people who knew how to hurt me bad (military guys and junior high students), so the worst that can happen to me here is I get fired. That puts everything in perspective.

  56. Michelle*

    “I think I am just intimidated by people I revere, like my mentor and my boss.”

    I agree with other posters that are basically saying, stop revering people. No matter what their age or position is, people are people. Stop thinking of them in an idealistic manner and see them for who they really are – recognizing both strengths and opportunities. Also, take a good look at yourself and identify the value you bring – obviously you have knowledge and experience that others don’t or you wouldn’t be in your position! Your own unique perspective is valuable and should be shared.

    I realized I was a “grown up” when I started to feel confident in my subject knowledge expertise AND when I was comfortable knowing when I didn’t know something (and could acknowledge that).

  57. Leslie Yep*

    I’m 26. What’s helped me is a bit of a riff on the fake it til you make it advice:

    You need to remember that no one is going to knight you into adulthood. There is no rite of passage, no real social or legal process you go through and then come out the other end with you and everyone else agreeing that you are an adult. You have to decide this for yourself–and I mean decide: seriously, you can just up and choose one day that that is the day when you will be a real Big Kid. Like so many of the tough things in life, you just have to do it. You can’t wait for external forces to create the conditions for you.

    Another thought: This year I’ve had the great opportunity to participate in a couple of leadership development trainings and one of the things we focused on when your actions feel out of alignment with your values is competing commitments.

    Ask yourself:
    – How do I want to act?
    – How do I actually act?
    – Why the difference? Really why–push yourself to get really deep into what you think will happen if you change your behavior. For a lot of people, this comes down to really basic but existential questions about who you are and what you value about yourself.

    For me, I realized that a lot of the behaviors I didn’t like came down to the fact that I had trouble believing anyone ACTUALLY liked me so I had to be perfect at work to get them to at least respect me. So I didn’t take professional risks (could fail and lose respect), didn’t manage up or challenge my peers (they’d extra dislike me), and didn’t invest in personal relationships in work (why bother they wouldn’t like me anyway). Once I identified this competing commitment or block, I had to really aggressively force myself to recognize how I was limiting my opportunities with a somewhat dysfunctional pattern of thinking.

    I would encourage you to try this. What will happen if you are an adult? There are a lot of scary things about it: you will be responsible and held responsible for your own decisions, you can make really serious mistakes, you need to take ownership of a lot of things that you might not be ready for, others will take you seriously and expect things from you, etc. But it’s also kind of non-negotiable and probably critical to launching your professional career!

  58. Anonicorn*

    Part of what helped me feel more “adult” was deciding that I really am accountable for things and acting on that feeling.

    I previously had this mindset that if things weren’t my fault then I shouldn’t worry about them and they were probably someone else’s business anyway. I’m having trouble explaining this accurately, but it was a switch from a sort of innocent ignorance to active problem solving.

  59. Sandrine*

    Wait, what ?

    30 years old woman here. I am professional and adult to an extent that it keeps me employed and my likeability is good enough at work.

    Other than that ? I’m not even a girl. Kid might even be too grown up for me! No shame in it, even. I embrace that status like I’d embrace a Pikachu plushie if you gave me one!

  60. Kou*

    In terms of adulthood transitioning, more shocking than my first “real” job was when I bought my first house. At my job people were always joking about me being a kid, but then I bought a house and a week later some teenagers tagged my fence. Suddenly I was an adult, with real problems that other adults cared about that were important to the community.

    The police came out and filed a report. The neighbors came to see if everything was ok and reassure me that the “kids” they rented to (who I’m relatively sure are older than me) aren’t any trouble. People my parents’ age passing as we were cleaning it up would stop to get angry on our behalf about how “parents like us” are just trying to do right. People at work were sympathizing about how some no-goodnik 20-somethings who don’t mow their lawn live in their neighborhood and they don’t even have jobs yet since they graduated *and that was me less than a year ago.* I have never had anyone care so much about anything bad that’s ever happened to me in the way that people cared about my fence.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I love your story. The people around us do help us with our own self-image. And they do not even realize. We see them looking at us – they become a mirror for us.
      You have awesome neighbors/coworkers.

  61. Anonymous*

    I am not the OP but I could be (same age, too). I really appreciate the thoughtful answers here, and I am bookmarking this page for days where I need a good helping of self-confidence. It is nice to know that a lot of other women my age have the exact same feelings! In the past year I’ve embarked on two separate job searches and while it can be demoralizing at times, it also helped me immensely. Why? Because I was FORCED to talk about myself and think about my achievements. That project wouldn’t have been completed without me. Our department is improving its reputation because of work I did. I managed this project from start to finish and I received accolades because of it. While I’m not recommending you start interviewing for jobs (you know, unless you want to), positive self-talk can be such a HUGE boost. I tend to focus on all of the miniscule mistakes I’ve made (even ones I made years ago) and they can so quickly consume me. But being forced to think positively about myself has been a great step in feeling more womanly at work.

    1. Anonymous*

      I want to add that life circumstances have helped eliminate the ‘girl’ feeling too. After receiving copies of my parents’ wills and coming so very close to losing my mom a few months ago, it was hard to feel childish.

  62. Brton3*

    This has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I came out of the gate pretty fast when I started my career at 24 and I steadily moved up to a director level job by the time I was 28. However, I am quite young looking and now at 30 most people still peg me for 24 (having lived mostly in college towns, I’m always asked what I’m studying, or if this job with “director in the title is some kind of internship).

    The way I deal with this mentally is just to think about all the other people my age who also have professional careers – even at levels much higher than mine. I have college classmates who are now “managing director of foreign credit desk” and all that. I have college classmates who came out of that gate 10x faster than me. They were wearing suits and “managing portfolios” at 22. They are on the mastheads of newspapers. So, I mentally put myself in this big amorphous community of people who are young(ish) and have professional jobs; it’s just something that happens, it’s a lifestyle a lot of people live, and there’s no reason for me to mentally put myself in the category of “still interning and mom pays my phone bill” which other people my age do belong to. Thinking this way kind of normalizes what I’m doing, and I don’t think about my age at all.

    The other piece of this is just that I’m a confident person and I am proud of my accomplishments, and I carry myself that way, and having that kind of non-arrogant confidence can often overcome those concerns about things like “not feeling like an adult.”

    I hope that makes sense, but it’s worked for me.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Comparing one’s own accomplishments to others’ accomplishments very seldom plays out well.

      This is not anything that would cheer me up, so OP, none of this, okay?
      Britn3, you are making a very important point here- there will always be people doing “better” than us and people doing “worse” than us. I think that a good part of that “adult feeling” is just cultivating/growing our own selves- without regard to how others are progressing along.
      I have no need to be the president. Realizing this takes me out of the competition- I don’t have to remind myself that our prez is younger than I am. This does not make me a big Fail. I am growing myself in other ways that are important to me.

      1. Brton3*

        Now see, I don’t compare myself to people who are doing better than me. I see that my comment makes it sound like that’s what I’m doing. What I meant was, I just put myself in the same category as them – young person doing professional job. If they are being professional without having added any crazy new mannerisms or behaviors, or having changed their philosophy of life – in other words, if they’re still the same people I knew when we were 19 – that must mean that I am being professional too.

        I know this sounds muddled but I am definitely not “comparing my accomplishments” to others’, but merely understanding that other people do what I do without going to some mythical professional finishing school.

  63. Rebecca*

    In addition to all the other great advice, learn how to take a compliment well and appreciate when others like your work. “Thanks, I worked really hard on that project” and “Thanks, I’m glad to know I’m appreciated” or a simple “Thank you” sound much more adult and professional than the apologetic “oh it wasn’t any problem” I got from a coworker last week after I complimented her on turning around a large, complicated project quickly.

    1. junipergreen*

      I second this recommendation! It’s something I’m working on – it definitely isn’t always an easy thing to do. I realized I needed to figure this out though, when a friend pointed out that every “aw shucks, it was nothing,” effectively hits the kill-switch on conversations about your role in a project, and doesn’t necessarily put you next in line for future opportunities.

  64. Pussyfooter*

    Hi OP,
    Some background…I was one of those kids who got scapegoated by half my school growing up, while the other half watched. My dad seems to be a pathological liar, and Mom has…issues. I’ve felt subservient to Everyone I meet much of the time, most of my life.
    At 29, I got hurt on the job and have been out of full time work for 14 years now. Talk about a kick in the confidence. I have both work and personal things that help:

    Asking lots of questions about big and little topics, so I fill out my understanding, instead of watching and wondering (Yes Alison, and Every Body on the blog, this mostly means you guys :).

    Reading “Women Don’t Ask” not only informed me about the focus topic of the book, but made it clear that I’m not expected to learn all I need to know about work from my own research on my own time, but by approaching co-workers and stating my questions to them. Everyone seems happier with my work since I learned this, and I’m sure a lot happier (feel calmer, competent, in sinc and generally more “mature”).

    I had enough strain that I sought therapy to find out why I failed to thrive in so many social situations on and off the job. This did two things.
    One, I was emotionally neglected/abused by a young therapist who was overconfident and ignored all the knowledge I brought to the situation. If she’s so smug and can completely fall on her face like that–and I knew there was something wrong the whole time–then I’m smarter than her on several issues.
    And, two, when I got good help, we finally figured out that I know when my emotional boundaries are being crossed and am willing to do it, but didn’t know that I know HOW (after having my needs walked all over by so many people in so many ways).
    That last has actually given me a huge boost of confidence…autonomy…calm…adult-like feelings.

    Coaching newer employees has taught me a lot about myself and added a sense of being grown up.

    Figuring out a clearer sense of who I am. Listing my job skills, weaknesses (no one can be perfect but I can accept and manage that), How I tend to address certain situations, my hobbies, my opinions (e.g. on the ethics of drug testing all employees), etc. I’m clarifying to myself what kind of person I am, what I “kick *ss at” and what I can responsibly say no to with less guilt and confusion.

    I’m working on mixing this “Clarity” with a new technique I’ve picked up–focusing on being Poised or Self-possessed under stress. Imagine a Victorian woman in a world where your husband could throw you out on the street but continue to take all your pay, yet many women were quoted by the press and did things like help settle WWI (yes that’s post-Victorian, but that example woman grew up under Queen Victoria). They worried about how their speeches would be received and the stupid things the men around them expected of them, but they stayed calm, thoughtful, poised, and self-possessed under stress. People looked up to them, turned to them for advice and Respected them. That’s sort of Adult behavior.

    Oh, and I can’t remember the website, but a smart guy has posted a bunch of things to know about life. I think that’s where it was said that most people are basically the same personality as when they were a teenager–so we all tend to feel like we’re supposed to be some other person. But we are all those young adult people–we just know a lot more. This is (hopefully) a better informed version of the same person. I’m flubbing this….
    Feeling like you are the same basic person you were then doesn’t mean that you aren’t an adult now. You’ve gained new habits, experience, knowledge and address your responsibilities. Surprise! You Are Here.

  65. Seanatwork*

    I don’t know how it works for women. I’m a 26yr old male and when I look in the mirror and see my hairline that’s how I know I’m old enough to not take shit from my coworkers that are all older. Do quality work and they’ll respect you for that and if not, then what can you do ? I guess you could blame all the people in their mid 20s still at home…

    1. Zed*

      Um, no. This is really offensive. I am 27, single, and I live with my parents because it suits us. I am saving money and have paid off my student loans. I am an adult with a professional office job and a retirement account. I do quality work and I am respected and valued by my (all much older) coworkers and my boss. They know who I live with, and they ask after my family when I ask after theirs. No one gets to *blame* me for anything.

  66. Elizabeth West*

    I don’t have much advice for the OP, as other commenters have already posted some great stuff. I agree with the not apologizing for every little thing. That one kind of stuck out at me. I used to do it a lot, and it made me feel awkward and stupid, like a little kid. When I feel like a little kid, I act like one.

    Which leads me to this: there is nothing wrong with fake it til you make it, but I think the saying originally referred to smiling when you don’t feel like it–some studies suggest it actually, physically improves your mood (and makes you feel more confident). I was lucky enough to attend a figure skating workshop and have a private lesson with the great choreographer Ricky Harris. She told us that very thing and gave all of us a smile pin, to remind us. So it’s not about faking other people out, but faking YOURSELF out!

  67. Steve G*

    What’s the problem with feeling young? The feeling will disappear in your early 30s, when you’ll see a new wave of 22 year olds entering the work force and acting like little adults, living on their own, etc., and they will be a whopping 10 yrs younger than you. Then that young feeling never comes back! So don’t rush to become a full-fledged adult!

  68. Anon*

    Become a resource for newer and/or younger people at your organization, help them get acclimated to work life there. You will realize how much you know and how much more mature you will feel comparison. They will see you and treat you as an expert and someone to look up to, which will help you internalize it. On top of all that you’ll be doing a good thing for your company and the new hires. Works for me! But I’ll warn you, the day you realize that at 28, the interns think you’re an old woman is a sad day. ;)

  69. Erika*

    One of the big things I found that works is to make sure I sound confident. Maybe that falls under “fake it till you make it,” but I’ve discovered that if I sound unsure about things or like I’m waffling, other people treat me like a little kid. I’m 28 and have been doing this for a few years, and it’s made a huge difference. If I’m not sure about something, I keep it to myself until I can check and be certain, and then I speak up.

    I also make a point of thinking carefully about how what I’m saying (and how I’m saying it) may be perceived by those I work with. I manage a lot of people older than me, and I’ve found that if I’m too casual, no one takes me seriously. The way I behave seems to be even more important than how I look/dress (although that may be my industry more than anything else).

    +1 on the dressing for the job you want thing, though.

  70. Laura*

    The thing that really made me finally like an adult had nothing to do with work. It was when I was able to buy my first house, which I did all on my own. So, that doesn’t really help here.

    In a career context though, I’ve found that not being afraid to ask questions goes a long way to improving your confidence, even though that sounds counter-intuitive.

    Most obviously, you get your question answered and then understand something you previously did not. Then you can apply what you’ve learned going forward. But I do think that people respect you for asking questions instead of just nodding and smiling and pretending you get it. It shows that you’re secure enough with yourself to admit that you don’t have all the answers, and that you have enough sense to seek out the people who do.

    A couple years ago I was assigned to a project completely outside my comfort zone. I knew next to nothing about that area of the business. And I asked questions – lots of them! Basic questions, like, “What is this?” or “What does that mean?” And I was pretty forthright a few times, sometimes flat-out asking, “Why do we care about this?” Not in a facetious way, but in the context of, “Everyone seems very concerned about this and I don’t understand why. Can you explain what the significance of this is?” As I got my questions answered and learned more, I was much more effective in my role.

    I’m in my mid-40’s, but I think it applies to younger people too. When you are up front with your questions, people don’t mind taking the time to answer them. Years ago, I had to deal with an external auditor who was very young, and brand new to the job. He would ask me (and everyone else too) the same questions over and over again, but pretend like it was the first time he was talking about it. Drove everyone nuts. This was very early in my career, and that was a huge lesson for me. I would have had no problem if he’d just been honest and said, “Hey, I know we’ve talked about this before, but there are still a couple things I’m not understanding. Do you have a few minutes?”

    That being said, you should try to figure out an answer on your own first before going to someone else. Not hours and hours, but at least make an effort. Then when you reach out to someone you can show that you’re trying to learn things on your own. You can say, “I’ve looked here, and read that, but I’m still not totally understanding. Can you explain this to me again?” Because while people usually don’t mind answering questions, you don’t want to make it look like you’re just relying on everyone else to spoon-feed you all the information you need.

  71. VictoriaHR*

    I’ve noticed that women in their 20’s tend to walk around the workplace with their head down, OR they keep their nose up and ignore everyone. Those who are confident in themselves make eye contact with others and verbally greet their coworkers as they’re walking around. That’s one thing you can fake until you make, and people definitely notice it.

  72. BCW*

    So please don’t take this in the wrong way, because I don’t mean it to be, but is this a common thing among women? Based on the original girl vs. woman post, this letter, and the responses, this seems like something many women deal with. Weird thing is, I don’t know many guys who have had this same feeling. I mean yeah, your first job out of college you may feel overwhelmed. But I feel like after a few months, that goes away. Unless you are really shy, it definitely doesn’t go into your late 20s. Is it mainly in male dominated industries or just in general? I”m really just trying to understand, not start a fight

    1. Leslie Yep*

      In my experience, men who share my background (I’m in my mid-20s, from a wealthy professional family, college graduate) are actually just less concerned with APPEARING to be an adult to others than women are. Men in my life are more ambivalent about having to be an adult (having responsibility for managing your finances, household, self-care, etc.), but more confident about the idea that others will take them seriously. Women in my life are more confident with the actual management of adulthood, but worry a lot more about being taken seriously and recognized as an authority.

      Coincides I think with the pervasive and prevailing ideology about men that it’s somewhere between acceptable and desirable that they “sow their wild oats,” that “boys will be boys,” and get up to shenanigans, etc.–that it’s just much more acceptable for young men to be immature and take a long time to “launch.”

      In my world, a 25 year old man who has a professional job but still takes his laundry home to mom is a little doofy but nowhere near embarrassing. Whereas a 25 year old woman who has a professional job and still takes her laundry home to mom is an entitled brat.

      Basically, different expectations leads to different anxieties.

      1. BCW*

        Hmm, thats an interesting view. Although I think the sowing the wild oats thing is a double standard, but of a different type. But when you say women are more concerned about the perception, I’m just not understanding why there is a difference there. Again, if we were talking mainly about male dominted fields, like engineering, I could kind of understand that. But if its a fairly even field, I just don’t get it.

        1. Leslie Yep*

          I don’t understand why this social perception would not apply to fields that are not traditionally male-dominated or -associated. It’s pervasive.

          1. BCW*

            My thought is I can easily see how a 23 year old woman might feel that they won’t get respected as much if they are the youngest person there as well as a female. I started out in education, which is people know is mostly female dominated. I guess all I’m saying is I would be surprised if women felt the same way in that situation as they did in a factory type situation. I’m not trying to sound like a jerk, its just something I”m trying to understand the basis of.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Part of it is probably because most women are socialized from a young age to think a great deal about interpersonal relations and what others think about them, in a way that men generally are not (as borne out by much research).

  73. Separate Query*

    I have a related question. I work in a male-dominated industry, in fact, generally when I attend meetings, trainings, etc. I am usually the only woman in a room of 50+ male colleagues. I find that my colleagues (particularly if they are closer to me in age) tend to not shake my hand, and instead either give me a nod or go for a hug (!). This normally wouldn’t bother me (I stick out my hand first) but it does bother me when someone is greeting an entire group, shaking each person’s hand, and they get to me and just….don’t.

    Similarly, in my male-dominated industry, I sometimes attend conferences where the best networking opportunities are at the bar. Sometimes fellow conference attendees (people I’m trying to network, or drum up business, with) will make me feel uncomfortable. Again, by trying to hug me the first time they meet me, touching me on the small of my back, touching/holding my hand/arm/shoulder, etc. All I have done thus far is jerk away, give them the look, and promptly leave. I don’t want to create confrontation as these are typically potential business partners for my company! On the other hand, I don’t want to give them the impression that this behavior is acceptable, particularly for the sake of other young women in my industry.

    I feel like this all may relate to how I act in general. I do think I have confidence, but I wonder if there’s something in my professional demeanor causing men to act like this.

  74. A Ruoff*

    It depends on how you want to approach it. I know with myself it was a lack of confidence and a misconception that I was still very young. If you act mature with your family and your friends, draw from that and make it your business to act that way at work. If you still act somewhat immature there, then you may need to make a whole attitude adjustment. Try concentrating on the thing that you do well at work to boost your confidence, make an effort to act professional in all aspects of your life. When you translate the confidence and the professionalism into the different aspects, you will eventually become the woman you want to be. Also, while your mentor and your boss are there to help you, remember that in reality you have to help yourself. The other thing is, do not rely on your naivete make an effort to learn, the more you know, the more confidence you will have.

  75. Dex R.*

    I advise that you take up challenging tasks. Don’t be afraid to fail. Only through challenges, huge responsibilities, hardships and even failure do people mature up. Even boys return as men after they went to war.

  76. Shannon!*

    I’m not sure if anyone is still checking this thread, but does anyone have advice on how to get respect from your co-workers? I’m polite, I’m professional, I go above and beyond what is required of someone in my position, etc., yet whenever I talk, people either ignore me, cut me off, or talk over me. I know I’m not babbling- I take the time to tweak whatever I say so it’s direct and to the point. If anyone has any recommendations on what to read/do, I’d so appreciate it.

  77. TheChrisPride*

    I’m 34 and still think I’m a kid compared to the older grownups.
    Until I meet some of the 20-somethings and wonder who let all these kids in.

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