I was recently back in my hometown of Joplin, MO, having dinner with my parents. We were towards the end of our meal and a family friend stopped by our table to say hi and introduce another couple that they were hosting. My dad said to the group, “Nice to meet you, I’d like to introduce you to my son Brent. He just visiting us for a few days.” The gentleman looked at me and said, “Nice to meet you Brent. Where do you go to college?” I laughed a little and said, “I’m actually not in college,” thinking that he would clearly understand I’m way too old (28) to still be in college. He then quickly asked, “When do you start?”
My blood was boiling. Did he really think I was still in high school? My mom, doing what moms do, jumped in and said, “he runs a number of very successful businesses.” This actually didn’t help the situation much because now the gentleman was more confused than ever. He kind of looked at me and said, “well…good for you son.”
I look young. I don’t think I look 17 years old young, but there’s no doubt that I don’t look anywhere close to 28. In the past I have seen it as an impediment, but now I consider it an advantage. Here’s how you can too.
My main job these days is negotiation. I negotiate with clients, with buy-out candidates, with high-level potential hires and with potential partners.
Being underestimated is an amazing advantage. It disarms people and naturally lowers their expectations. “How much could this kid know?” “I clearly must be getting a good deal because he must be younger than my son.” Whatever they’d like to think, I’m happy to let them.
Youth is energy and passion. I can’t imagine being tired, disinterested, or indifferent. I can work 12 hours a day and not feel it. I’m passionate about businesses. I’m passionate about networking, consistently speaking with everyone from tech entrepreneurs to real estate franchises. My energy and passion fuels my success. It allows me to work hard and enjoy it. It creates opportunities where others see none. If you’re young, use it. You can do more faster.
I don’t have kids and my life isn’t complicated, so I can risk more professionally. I love my wife. We enjoy life together. When I make an investment, I’m not wagering little Billy’s college fund. When I work late, I’m not risking that my child is going to end up with daddy issues. That allows me to focus on business and not be distracted. This won’t last forever, or perhaps even for the next year (re: child), but while it lasts I’m taking full advantage.
People make the damnedest assumptions. You’re young, so therefore people don’t take you seriously. Oppositely, when you’re young and accomplished, people assume you’re a savant and over-credit your abilities. Therefore, if you achieved even a modicum of success, tout it. People will give you far more credit than you deserve.
Sometimes having an “adult” present gives people comfort. It sucks, but it’s just a fact of life. So when the situation calls for it, rent yourself a grey-hair. Find someone with little hair and enough wrinkles to make a Shar-Pei dog jealous and print ‘em off a business card. Have them sit there and look wise. Problem solved.
Brent Beshore is a serial entrepreneur who owns AdVentures (#28 on 2011 Inc. 500), blogs on entrepreneurship, and is involved in a number of startups including a digital talent agency.