By Isabelle Laureta
I just turned 20 this year and I just can’t feel any prouder of myself for getting a job I only dreamed of having in college. It’s such a dream come true for me, or so I thought. Because here’s where the problem comes in: I feel like my colleagues don’t think I’m right for this job, not because I lack the skills or anything, but because of my age. I was 19 when I got hired and our office is dominated by people in their late 20s who already have a lot of experience up their sleeves. It’s honestly so intimidating, and the worst part is they treat me like I don’t know what I’m doing. Whenever I speak up at meetings, they dismiss what I have to say, so now I’ve decided not to say anything at all even though I feel like I can contribute a lot of ideas to our projects.
I used to be so optimistic about my work, but now, every waking moment is filled with dread because I know I will be spending just another day being looked down on. I still love doing the work, though, and I respect the company just the same. I guess I just didn’t expect the working environment to be this toxic. Have you ever been in the same situation? Does it get better?
Young and Desperate
I was also 20 when I had with my first job, and although I haven’t been in the exact situation as you are, I know the feeling of being the youngest in any group of people and how intimidating it can be. I’m the youngest in my family, one of the youngest in most of my group of friends, and to be quite honest and brutal to myself, I’m probably too young to be spewing out advice to people who most probably know better than I do. I’d be lying if I say that doesn’t make me feel ridiculous at times, and on bad days, the self-doubt is so crippling that I can’t even get to work.
I think that’s where we differ, because you seem like the kind of person who truly believes in him/herself despite the factors that could lead one to think otherwise. But you probably believe in yourself too much, maybe even to the point of biting more than you can chew. The issue with your age is just the first layer of an underlying setback. I think the main problem that requires more attention right now is keeping your ego big enough for you to continue functioning as a good employee, and yet small enough to get your head out of your butt once in a while. I don’t say that as a bad thing, though. It’s not your fault. It’s only logical for people like us who thrive in spaces dominated by people who underestimate us to overcompensate for the reasons they do. It’s our way of proving ourselves to the world. But in doing so, we fall into an ego-laden pit we proudly and singlehandedly built for ourselves and sometimes forget that we also still have a lot to learn.
The fact of the matter is you simply cannot beat someone’s 10-year experience no matter how good you are at your job. Be at peace with that thought. Because to be fair, there are things only time and experience can teach you—things that you can’t cram into a whole night of being diligent and believing in yourself. So be humble and absorb all the good things you can possibly absorb from your colleagues. They don’t exist simply as savage agents of destruction for your self-esteem. They’re also goldmines of knowledge and wisdom, and if you try and lower your guard for a bit, maybe you can even turn them into friends.
But this doesn’t mean you should just sit there and watch them ignore you and disregard what you can offer on the table. It’s a no-brainer you should stand up for yourself, but this is not something you’re not already doing, is it? So here’s a new suggestion: Find the right balance between doing just that and stepping down the pedestal you’ve put yourself so high up on. Find a mid-tier kind of throne to sit on—if you will. You’re talented, creative, highly-driven, smart, and it’s no wonder how you got your dream job at such a young age, but you’re also still inexperienced, a bit insecure, and not quite there yet. So don’t act like you already are, but also never stop striving to be. I know, it’s difficult to calibrate and you may fall onto opposite sides of the spectrum during trying times, but problems like you and I both have aren’t going to solve themselves if we don’t try to find its center and stay there for longer periods of time.
Proving yourself is exhausting, but the good news is, you don’t have to do it all the time. Sometimes, you just need to calm down, collect yourself from the sweaty puddle you’ve created but no one notices, and observe. Slow down, look around you, and stop doing things just to up your game, take some credit, and be noticed. Do things because you genuinely care about a certain project. Because the people around you can tell and differentiate the two, no matter how much you try and mask it with simply being great at your job. And the more you do things that aren’t self-serving, the more people will see the potential you already have.
Ask me your deepest, weirdest, darkest questions! I’m no expert at anything and I don’t have it all figured out either (because, honestly, who does?), but let me at least try. Send them over to firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s make sense of this crazy millennial life together! <3