The Thin Grey Line

Lately I’ve been noticing them as I’m getting ready for work in the morning — the first few grey hairs. They’ve started creeping in around my temples, visible only at certain angles or in certain light.  (Or maybe more visible than I think — my wife has already started clipping coupons for Just For Men and asking me if I think I’m more “Medium Brown” or “Medium Dark Brown.”)  And I know what you’re thinking… that those grey hairs make me self-conscious, feeling old. Quite the opposite, actually — I’ve found myself welcoming them. A few more of those, and the people that i deal with on a daily basis — owners, contractors, even fellow architects — are going to start taking me more seriously.

Today I celebrate my birthday, which finds me officially entrenched in my >>cough<< late-thirties >>cough<<, on the downward spiral toward the big 4-0. However, having been blessed/ cursed with a youthful appearance, I constantly have to remind people how old I am — my stock response is usually something along the lines of “older than you think.” And while everyone seems to tell me that this is a good thing, it hasn’t been much of a benefit to me in my professional career.

True story — about ten years ago, about the same time that I authored an essay on youth in architecture, I attended a series of user group meetings during design for one of my largest projects.  This level of exposure to the client, at this stage in the process, was a huge opportunity for me at that point in my career, and I took it very seriously.  One of those meetings just happened to have been scheduled on “Take Your Child to Work Day,” and one of the users looked at me, in my mid-twenties, sitting next to the 60-something project manager, and said — wait for it — “So *that’s* how you got to be here!”  Hardy har har.  Leave the jokes to the professionals, buddy.

Experience is an extremely valuable form of currency in our profession, so much so that the opposite is sometimes also true, and youth can almost be seen as a liability. I worked hard in my twenties, trying my best to learn my craft and perform well in my job. I found, though, that it often didnt matter how much research I had done, or how many hours I had spent developing that particular detail, or from how many different angles I had looked at the problem. I would make my recommendation to the owner/ contractor, and they would turn to the grey-haired gentleman sitting next to me and ask “is that right?”

Every grey hair that I find these days is another step closer to credibility… My technical ability and skill set have grown by leaps and bounds in the 14 years that I’ve been at this, and my appearance is starting to catch up to my words and thoughts.  I’ve begun to cross the Thin Grey Line, and I wear it as a badge of honor.  For now, anyway, the Just For Men can stay on the shelf .