Guards.

“It’s rare to find someone this young who’s exposed to knowledge like this!”

I smiled. I have heard this many times growing up.

There was that time I was 9, I was a regular in this English Language tuition center, whom my peers were three years my senior. Whenever we had a spelling competition, I was ahead of the class, getting my tens, and at the very last second, there will be a few seniors scrambling to my table hoping for some pointers, which I always give in. It was my way around the crowd.

There was that time when I was 16, I attended a wealth management motivational conference. I was that kid among the 30s. They admired my age. They admired the exposure I was getting.

I wish they didn’t know my age, but it was hard to lie with a face that kept its baby cheeks. If anything, they should have known that there was a guy volunteering to be on stage, a year older than I was, who was speaking on behalf of a group of senior-level working professionals. But his charisma outshone any age suspicion and exposing that knowledge would have probably made him more outstanding than he already was.

At some point, no one would ever pass you as the “young one” in the crowd.

The man began to praise this newfound knowledge of me to his partner-in-crime, as though looking for signs of acknowledgement.

I didn’t trust him compliments. Maybe it’s because his main job is to attract clients to grow his business. Maybe it’s that plaster smile of fabricated warmth that he shows to hundreds of people. Maybe he was trying hard to win my attention, as I wondered whether my uncomfortableness was showing on my face.

I never liked salespeople. Or sales in general. But just like math, it will come back to haunt you. Your interest in a product is through sales. Your pitch to get grants is through sales. Your Tinder profile that’s getting you matches is through sales.

I rarely have stage frights. But the ring of the office phone gives me a scare. I fear the enthusiastic sales pitches, the aggressive tones, the plead to secure your business. Unfortunately, I am also the perfect target for sales. If you try to sell me charity, I would probably give you cash in a heart beat. I somehow can’t see myself vice versa trying to do the same.

This seems like a decent reality to believe in, if not for the fact that both my parents are sales virtuosos. My mom after being a stay-home parent, dived into many different fields, before becoming a top-ranking real estate negotiator. My dad started out as a salesperson and went on to become the managing head of the sales and marketing department. There was no way for me to deny those sales skills DNAs.

But it was not his compliments that I didn’t trust, I just didn’t believe in compliments without a reason in general. If someone said I was beautiful (other than my parents), I would think they are trying to find a way to let my guard down so they can ask something in their favor. If someone I have not spoken for two years wants to meet up with me for coffee because they missed me, I would think they are trying to sell a business they are currently working on (90% true).

For that reason, I have my guards up, holding my subtle scowl while I tried to heave a lighthearted laugh. I didn’t have to do this, I told myself. My friend told me I didn’t have to come if it bothered me.

But I was that girl who saw her peer as a friend, who didn’t want to ruin a friendship just because someone is trying to make a living. I was that girl if you tried to sell charity to, she would be convinced all the same.

It was past work hours and the snow began to gather its army on land, preparing to welcome home the heavy footsteps of a wondering soul.

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