I had a summer job with the government in the summer between my first and second year of college, and it was my first real desk job with admin duties and set hours. I was probably the youngest person in my office by 10+ years and I was painfully aware of it, and there was one person I felt like I could talk to at work.
But hey, I got my own office and I got to go to work downtown everyday, so that was pretty sweet.
I remember taking my mom’s beige cardigan that summer to go to work so I would look more “appropriate” to match my surroundings. I even tried on light pink khakis at one point (thank GOD I didn’t buy them) because I felt like the clothes I wore to work made me stand out too much.
I’ll add some context by saying I was 21 years old and just got out of a relationship with someone older than me so I was probably at my most idiotic, immature and irresponsible. When people asked me what I did on the weekend I straight up lied or just laughed and dodged the question because let’s be real — they probably didn’t want to know.
Being that I’m still the most Jr. person at my place of work, these are some things I try to keep in mind as I navigate my career as a young person.
There’s nothing wrong with being young
I think lots of people under the age of 35 find themselves in positions where they don’t feel like an “adult” in an office surrounded by other adults.
News flash: nobody notices/cares!!!! (but like, in a good way?)
As long as what you do on the weekends doesn’t impede your work life or personal growth, you could literally go skiing naked and nobody would bat an eye (unless they are judgemental and RUUUUUDE). Just because your boss went to Disney on Ice on Saturday afternoon and you went to barre class then hit up brunch and drank bottomless mimosas doesn’t mean one activity is superior than the other.
As a PSA: the needs of young working single people, parents, or caregivers in general are just as important as those with families and husbands. Just because they don’t have a partner and babies doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the same treatment.
With all of that being said, let’s all try really hard to avoid going to work hungover in 2018. Even if it’s Wine Wednesday. Pinky promise me.
Teams needs different personalities (which has nothing to do with age)
I learned about the beauty of cohesive teams when I did the Insights personality test as part of a leadership course I’m in. Ideally, effective teams are made up of people with different strengths and sets of key characteristics. While one person might be highly analytical, detail driven and introverted, another might be persuasive, scatter brained and good with people.
I, for one, am a crass, dramatic person who often goes off the meeting agenda, says what everyone is thinking and always remembers to ask how your weekend was. I used to think that these things made me unprofessional, and always tried to tone it down or zip my mouth shut.
I’ve now realized these qualities are what make me work well with coworkers and clients. And guess what? It has nothing to do with my age.
Differences are key, and learning to effectively communicate with people who are different than you is HUGE; for example, I would never swear in front of someone who is conservative and quiet, or tell stories when someone is a straight-to-the-damn-point type.
Whatever colour or category you land in as far as your personality goes, own it!
Don’t wear beige just because everyone else is wearing beige
In my case, I tried to look more mature so people would think I was more mature. In many cases, people act more mature or different around their colleagues because they want to be taken more seriously despite their age.
It’s kinda like when you’re trying to make friends with the older kids in high school. If you’re 16, stop trying to fight that shit and JUST BE 16. Note to younger Raegan: stop drinking Grower’s out of a 2L and falling on things. Your legs look like a bruised apple.
If people don’t take you seriously as you are, why did they hire you? If they dismiss you, or the validity of your ideas, simply because of your age (or anything else that’s just as dumb), be like a basketball and BOUNCE. Just because you don’t have the same amount of lived experience doesn’t mean you don’t bring things to the table that are valuable.
In fact, having a tuned-in millennial perspective on things is valuable in it’s own way, but I know not everyone agrees on that 🙂
Long rant short: if you feel like you need to be a completely different person at work that’s going to be hella draining. Try to relax and be yourself and stop stressing if you will click with people. If it happens, it will happen naturally, and giving yourself time to get comfortable helps too.
It took me 10 months to become close with my coworker Lisa, but now we tag each other memes and it’s awesome.
If you lack experience, use it to show how much you can grow
It’s totally ok to own something if you don’t have a particular skill or knowledge set (in fact, try not to lie about it) but this is where you’ve gotta volunteer to step up and learn.
Be straight forward but unafraid to try. Taking an educated stab at something and sucking at it (but learning in the process) looks way better than refusing to try, or not trying at all.
On the flip side of that, if your boss expects you to be an expert and know everything at an entry level job — that’s straight up unrealistic. The best place you can be is where you feel comfortable and confident asking questions.
I BELIEVE IN YOU!
Challenge “we’ve always done it this way” thinking
Here’s a scenario: if the office always orders pizza for lunch on Thursday’s and everyone feels dead and unproductive after. Why not find a healthier alternative and present it as an option to try? Ideas, a bit of legwork, and solid reasoning or a good arguement, will get you far.
There is definitely a chance people will shut you down, but often suggestions and alternative view points are appreciated. Unless you are in a toxic workplace. Then, either bounce or be part of the change.
This clip from Charlie’s Angels is a funny, but overly sexualized, example.
P.s. I wrote a column about being a young professional in my college newspaper so obviously I’M HIGHLY QUALIFIED TO TALK ABOUT THIS.