Monday, December 14, 2009

Looking the part - My issues with Age

People tell me I look younger than I am. Normally I'd be thrilled to hear that, but not when it comes from a client in a professional context. This has happened to me at least 4 times in the past month.

I was in KL a couple of days last month on a few meetings. At one of these meetings, when I was introducing myself and talking about my near 10 year experience, one of the ladies quipped “You look like you have just passed out of college. You don’t look like you have been working for all these years”. And the guy along with her added, “Are you counting your part-time on-campus experience as well?”. If you have interacted with Chinese people, you’ll know that they betray zero emotion when they speak. More so with Chinese from Singapore/ Malaysia who are so “kiasu” that they are very measured and economic even in showing emotions. Which is why I am unsure if all the comments on my age were intended to make me feel good or bad. I was, therefore, left wondering and had to excuse myself with a sheepish grin that gave away as much emotions as I received from both of them. I can be kiasu too, you know, when I want to.

Next, I had a meeting with a Malay gentleman who, while talking about his family, enquired about my personal life. When I told him I have a 2 year old son, he said “It’s good to have young-age kids”. I almost retorted “I know, and always wonder why some people have old-age kids”, before coming to terms with our “me vendor, you customer. Customer is God, and vendor is crap” equation. He continued “In our community, we start having kids very early” . I am sure he also wanted to add “And we never stop”, but left it at that for brevity. Anyways, the point is that he also felt I don’t look my age.

I am sure many of you would think that’s not a bad problem to have, and that I am just blowing my own trumpet here. Something like the clich├ęd B-school interview situation:
Prospective Employer: What, according to you, is your weakness?
Well-rehearsed B-school Student: Well, I think my biggest weakness is my obsession with perfection. I like everything to be perfect, and cannot understand compromises. Unfortunately, the world is full of mediocre people who are limited by their own capabilities, and as a perfectionist, I find it difficult to accept mediocrity. As a result, I know I will never be the most popular boss around. Sigh, this is my gift, this is my curse. Who am I? I am Spiderman….oops, sorry, I got carried away, but you get the drift.

Now, I am not being that conceited student on B-school campus. I used to be one, but I have out-grown that stage. I honestly feel, in my profession, one needs to look older. In my case, at least, I need to look my age. I always believed that "Age is about putting mind over matter. As long as you don't mind, it doesn't matter". But the Asian mindset demands that you have to look old enough to be able to talk to senior stakeholders. In fact, recently during a proposal presentation, we were shot down, as we later found out, for fielding “not so senior” people. They meant we didn’t have any gray-haired, pot-bellied person on our team. And we didn’t lech. Damn.

I need a make-over.
I am losing hair, and doing nothing about it. But that doesn’t seem to be helping much. I have started to wear ugly, oldish looking spectacles as well. To no avail. I have even tried sporting a beard. I was, instead, made fun of for trying to look like a punk.

Maybe I’ll stop my tennis sessions, and drink myself silly till I get that much-desired pot-belly. Or I’ll go for a hair-transplant procedure and then apply gray hair-dye to look “distinguished”.
Or maybe there's some cream that helps people look older- a "Wrinkle Free" cream that helps people with some free wrinkles for special occasions. I can imagine the ad:
Aamir Khan's 12 year old kid coming out of an adult movie theatre, talking over phone to his friends: Dude, this movie is called Reshma ki Jawani. There's this aunty called Reshma, and she develops an allergy to clothes because of which the poor aunty cannot wear anything. Then one day, when it is raining heavily and Reshma aunty is shivering in the cold (you'll remember she's allergic to clothes),one saintly man helps her stay warm
Friend on the phone: I also wanted to watch the movie, but the man at the counter said I look too young to watch such movies.
Aamir Khan's kid: I have the perfect solution for you. S'Oreal Wrinkle Free cream. Makes me look older than my dad. And we are the same height anyway.

Any other suggestions, anyone?