Today I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion about the Affordable Care Act put on by a local law firm. I found it fascinating, and thanks to my health economics class last semester, almost entirely intelligible.
But despite the talk of tax credits, full time equivalent calculation and grandfathered benefit plans, the one question that kept rising to the top of my mind was this:
“When will I stop feeling like a kid playing dress up?”
I know there’s a simple answer to this: Duh. When I actually get older. But I’m still struck by how out of place I secretly feel at times, even though I’m qualified to do what I’m doing. I’m not relishing aging, per se, but it would be nice to have slightly surer footing around other professionals and people my senior.
I was dressed appropriately for the event: black slightly-above-the-knee-length skirt, top with a modest neckline, cardigan, burgundy pumps, and hair pulled off my face. Minimal make-up and jewelry. I also acted appropriately for the job I had to do. I made light small-talk, silenced my phone, took lots of notes and did nothing to embarrass my paper or myself.
I should also put out there that while I am only 5’3”, I don’t look like a child. I haven’t been carded at an R-rated movie since mid-high school, and sometimes I don’t get carded at bars either.
For all intents and purposes, I fit in. I didn’t get weird looks or glances. But I still felt like a kid in my mom’s grown-up clothing (for the record, I was wearing my mom’s skirt. But I’m talking in similes here). I felt like everyone around me could immediately tell how young I was and that I was still a student.
Maybe it’s a college-kid thing. Lately I’ve been paranoid about making sure I come off as professional to dispel any stereotypes about college-aged journalists being incompetent or under-qualified. Logically, I know shouldn’t have to worry. My work speaks for itself. Illogically, I still do. Why?
I think I do my job well. This isn’t my first, second, or even third time working in a professional newsroom. I have good, solid clips to show for myself and I’ve taken on leadership roles in newsrooms as well. I’m 6/7 of the way toward completing two degrees, a master’s after that, and I’m decently versed on current events. Despite what this post might convey, I am confident in my ability to report, edit, write and handle the stresses of a newsroom.
It’s confusing because I’ve felt particularly “adult” at other points in my life — getting my first set of car keys, balancing my checkbook, moving by myself, feeling the desire to buy new bath towels. But with journalism, something I arguably devote the most time to out of anything else, sometimes I feel like a source or colleague will jump out of the woodwork and announce the rest of the room, “What’s this kid doing here? How is she qualified to do this, and for money no less?”
So my big question to you, dear readers, is this: Is it normal to feel this way, and when does it stop?
Fellow college students, does this ring a bell? How do you deal with it? Those of you farther from your college days, any advice or confidence boosters to share about how to shake off feeling like the youngest, most inexperienced person in the room?
It is wonderful to read this and find out that you feel the same way as I do; I’ve always looked up to you, Shaina, and finding out that even you feel like a kid playing dress-up makes me a bit more comfortable with my concurrent Mom’s-closet status (for the record, I’m wearing her earrings today).
I wonder if part of it has to do with the way we were brought up. I’m almost 21, but even so I feel like I might still be a teenager, mostly because I’m still in school. Yes, college is a far cry away from high school, but I think mentally it is fairly similar. We still have papers, tests and projects; we are still under the authority of “the learned” (teachers, profs, etc.).
Part of the way I’ve dealt with it is reminding myself of exactly what you said; I’m confident, I’ve got experience and I’m a 20-year-old (21 for you) human being. But the latter comes double-sided; yes, we’re in our 20s now and merging into professionalism, but we’re also in our 20s and JUST merging into professionalism.
It’s okay to feel the way we do because, well, we’ve been told all our lives to think “When I grow up I want to be…” Now we’re grown up. it’s time to be.
I completely know how you feel. Almost every day I feel very out of place at my internship. I think part of it is my lack of self-confidence, and part of it is the lack of permenance. Hopefully once I’m in a more permanent position, those I answer to will become more familiar, and I will feel that I fit in.
Ironically, I was actually feeling this way right when I saw the link to your post. For one thing, having the title “intern” never really helps. Because even though you’re doing the same job as everyone else, people know that you’re not as experienced.
Having graduated, I can tell you it certainly doesn’t go away once you stop being a student. You summed it up perfectly right here:
“…with journalism, something I arguably devote the most time to out of anything else, sometimes I feel like a source or colleague will jump out of the woodwork and announce the rest of the room, ‘What’s this kid doing here? How is she qualified to do this, and for money no less?'”
It’s even weirder when you’re applying for “real” jobs like I am. Because even though I have a lot of experience relative to other kids my age — er, adults — I start to wonder, am I actually qualified to do anything?
In short: what you feel is absolutely normal.
I think it gets better when you’ve lived in a city for a while, and you’re familiar with the sources and the subject matter. But from what I can tell from talking to other journalists, I think those seeds of doubt never completely go away. Someone once told me, “Fake it until you make it.” And I think that applies. You should pretend like you feel like you belong, and eventually you will.
But it will be nice when I’m old enough to no longer get that *pause* “…How old are you?”