Why I Am Asked My Age At Work

It is an unusually cool morning for late August, but, in my dress shirt, suit and makeup, I am grateful for the lack of typical Pennsylvania humidity. I stroll into the conference room, place my briefcase on one of the chairs surrounding the large dark wood table and extend a hand and smile to the older couple waiting nervously. The woman, dressed beautifully in a light sweater, her white hair pinned neatly behind her ears, is my client. She returns my smile, and says “I thought when we spoke on the phone that you were a young girl, just from the sound of your voice.”

Close your eyes and imagine people in various professions. First picture a librarian. Then think of how a nurse would look. Now envision a lawyer.

Let me guess, that last one is a man, wearing a clean, sharp suit and bright tie. Perhaps graying around his temples, perhaps already balding. His voice has deepened with age, and his eyes, while bright and playful are creased at the corners. Maybe he wears glasses, which he then pulls off in court and uses to point with for emphasis. His briefcase is worn from attending many, many, many meetings.

I am none of these things.

I graduated from college just as this county was tottering into the recession, and thus decided to postpone the ‘real world’ a few more years and pursue an additional degree. That was several years ago, yet despite years in school, and a few years working, I am usually the youngest person in the room. Different areas of law probably have varying cultures, some I am sure, are dominated by women, some by younger attorneys. My chosen area, however, does seem to have a high percentage of men matching the description above.

For the most part, being a so-called ‘young professional’ has not been a problem, although one attorney noted on the record that I am his child’s age – cue uncomfortable laugh. And of course youth, and the lesser level of experience that comes with it, can have advantages. Others in the field, even opponents, can be very encouraging, occasionally giving practice tips, or asking about my experience thus far. Being young makes you stick out as being new, and that engenders a certain amount of gentleness.

Where I am the most awkward, and aware of my age, is when interacting with clients. I feel that my youthful appearance somehow let’s them down. Often I interact with a client over the phone prior to meeting them in person. We have a great chat, we make a plan, we set a meeting, and then I show up. That is when they ask my age. I am quick to tell them that I am being supervised by a more senior practitioner. I waive comments off, saying that I look younger than I am. I have even told clients that I hope my appearance does not change their level of confidence in me. I am usually told that it does not, yet every new client has the same initial reaction.

In a world that is youth-obsessed in so many respects (see, any show on tv), it is a strange experience to find pockets where youth works against you. I spend my evenings at the gym or slathering on night cream to stave off wrinkles, but in the morning I choose conservative suits and solemn shades of makeup in an attempt to look more mature.

It is difficult to find fault with people for wanting a representative who looks experienced. Surely some day, when clients no longer bluntly ask my age, I will sigh and remember the days of being a young (new) lawyer. Until then, my girlish appearance is incentive to be very professional, so as to win their trust.

 

 

 

Coffee Shop Office

What is the best environment for doing work? Do you prefer the staid silence of the library, the beeping-ringing-rushing of an office, the coziness of your own home?  Everyone has an atmosphere that promotes the intersection of their own concentration and creativity.
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For me it’s a coffee shop.  When I focus on a project, I enjoy action around me, but not involving me.  There is music, there are people.  Being at a coffee shop makes me feel like I’m connected to the world, not locked away all day in a room with my computer.  Yet, I can still convert all the music and chatter into background noise while I write or plan or organize.

Obviously I’m not the first person to discover the creative power of the coffee shop.  Visit a cafe on any given day, and it is usually full of readers, writers or students with laptops and books scattered over the table tops. Coffee shops and cafes also have a historical presence as homes of great thinkers and literary scholars.

My love of coffee shops began while living in Edinburgh.  I began to study at a coffee shop, the Elephant House, on the George IV bridge.  The same cafe known for where J.K. Rowling wrote the first books of a certain popular series about british wizards.  Sitting at a table in the back room, overlooking the Edinburgh castle and graveyard below, I can certainly see how she was inspired!

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Here are some of my favorite coffee shops in Philly:

  • Chapterhouse – 9th & Bainbridge
  • L’Aube – 17th & Wallace
  • Ray’s Cafe – 9th & Cherry
  • Cafe Ole – 3rd & Quarry

A Quiet Day In – Spouses Living on Different Schedules

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This week, my husband worked the night shifts on his floor at the hospital.  This means that he is at home all day and I am home all night.  It makes for a strange altered reality where you live with someone and know they have been there, sleeping in the home you share all day long, but when evening falls they are nowhere to be found.  That is, until the weekend comes around and I’m home during the day too.  It is now Saturday afternoon (a rainy one, at that) and our curtains are drawn, lights off, and I’m sneaking around the apartment in sock-feet cursing the loudness of the refrigerator door.

Having a nocturnal spouse is certainly an aspect of being married to a resident I had not anticipated.  The late nights – check.  The long hours – check.  The missed social events, stress, and exhaustion – check, check, check!  However, when we both have a Saturday afternoon off it feels like a waste to spend it with him sleeping all day and me then sleeping all night.  The obvious answer is to go out and do something.*  The other day I met a physician, recently done with residency, who counseled me that ‘having my own life’ is key.  She told me that not waiting around for the spouse who is extra busy to be home is important for creating space for both people.  She is right.  The first few months of residency, which were also the first few months of marriage, I tried to spend every free moment that he was not at the hospital with him.  It was hard.

Coordinating schedules between two people is difficult anyway, even without the ever-changing shifts of a hospital.  And the issue of how much time you have together v. how much you spend alone or with your friends is certainly not unique to marriages with odd schedules.  You have to do activities that are you just for you, so that you do not feel like you are just waiting.  Waiting for them to come home, waiting to get his schedule to book a vacation, waiting to make dinner.  I understand that this situation is especially applicable during residency, however I think many people in relationships struggle to find common time.  This means using time apart to do things for you, and time together be a couple.

Before we got married, someone asked us if the time we spend together is valuable.  I had never thought about that before.   Do we just vegetate in front of the tv, or do we talk and be present for each other?  It’s sort of a quality time over quantity time idea.  Since the start of residency, my longer commute and all of the preoccupations that go with both of our jobs, I will admit that there have been more evenings of dinner with the tv on.  However, we still make an effort to go out, to talk and to connect, which has become even more important now that out schedule so rarely align.

*I did go to the gym the today! See Resolution #3

Saying ‘No’ to Saying ‘Yes’

In the words of Rodgers and Hammerstein, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no.”

For as long as I can remember, I have always had an issue turning things down – be they work obligations, extra-credit assignments in school, party invitations, missing an event or class I’d planned to attend, even casual get-togethers.

People love stating that saying ‘yes’ to everything opens your world to opportunities and new experiences, which it undoubtably does.  However, agreeing to do everything begins to add up – so where is the limit?  I took a course a few years ago, while still a student, on persuasive writing.  The professor informed all the eager students in my section that in a professional setting, or really any setting at all, people want to say ‘yes.’  Saying yes is easier, it’s fun, it makes you feel better about your decision.  The class taught us, among other techniques, how to craft questions that could always be answered in the affirmative, even if that answer was really a ‘no’ in disguise.  So I am certainly not alone in my aversion to saying ‘no.’

Perhaps saying no – picking and choosing each event, obligation or lunch date – is a skill.  In high school I never had to learn how to be judicious with my time.  The school schedule allowed students to pursue music on one afternoon and sports on another – so I could do both!  In college, there was mention of study-life balance as a concept, but there were also semester credit limits to keep us in check, and leave room for dorm parties and movie nights.  Life in your 20ies is a little less organized.  No one is going to tell you that you cannot practice volleyball on Mondays because you have a history test, or that you cannot take 22 credits and write your thesis (not that I ever attempted that many credits!) like the good ol’ days.  The world is full of possibilities, assignments and commitments, and I could say ‘YES’ to ALL of them!

It is not simply that I say ‘yes’ to events or work that I do not want to do.  I say ‘yes’ to things that are interesting or important to me or those around me.  I do want to finish that draft of the assignment for work, AND attend the volunteer event AND meet my friend from out-of-town for dinner, but I cannot do them all the same night.  So then I have to make a choice, and it’s this choice that leads to the stress.  First comes the anxiety about which event to choose, then comes the guilt about turning down the other obligations.  I know it sounds like I stress  a lot about trivial decisions (I’m not saying this is not true) but I also think it is a wide-spread affliction.  People generally hate disappointing other people, and saying ‘no’, we believe, inevitably means we are disappointing someone.

Since discovering my proclivity toward saying ‘yes’, I have tried to say it in more discerning contexts.  It is getting easier to say ‘no’ to an evening at a bar when all I want is bad tv, pretzels and my sofa.  There are two areas, however, that still trip me up.  One is saying ‘no’ to an ongoing obligation, for example, if I am working on a longterm project and have to miss a meeting related to it, I feel like I have failed to show my dedication.  The second is learning to prioritize social and family events, which is especially difficult if they are in conflict with work.  Simply because I could not make a housewarming party does not mean I do not care for my friend or her new 1 bedroom.  Skipping a meeting here or there to catch up on other projects or attend a family dinner does not mean I am not committed to work.  However, I imagine that practice will make perfect, and I will continue to ask myself what I really want instead of just blurting out ‘yes’ to every request.