At Work

The Tension of Being Young in the Workplace

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If you’re a young person in the workplace, you may be feeling a mix of emotions about your work. As exciting and rewarding as your job may be, you likely feel the inherent tensions that come with being the age you are.

In one sense, you’re stoked. Life has just begun…the world is your oyster…you’re finally living on your own and providing for yourself.

Yet, in another sense, you feel like you’re in over your head. Perhaps the level of responsibility you’ve been given scares you a bit. (While this may also cause you to feel proud of what you’ve accomplished, the reality of it all can be overwhelming at times.)

Be encouraged: both of these extremes (and others) are completely normal to feel. Additionally, such responses to your work can be positively channeled for both your personal growth and the growth of your company.

Stepping into large shoes and rubbing shoulders with three older generations in the workplace can prove challenging waters to navigate well, but you are not without resources. Remembering these key truths can help keep you afloat.

1. You DO have something to offer. (Be confident and work well.)

First things first—begin by validating your abilities. As young as you may feel, you are in your job for a reason. Somebody (or a group of somebodies) thought you would serve the company well there.

The enemy often likes to plant lies in our hearts and minds, attempting to distract us from the good work God has for us to do. Such lies may come in the form of discouragement or feelings of inadequacy. Confronting these lies with truth—that you are indeed capable—will hold the enemy at bay.

Another factor at play in any workplace is what I like to call “the comparison game.” As confident as you might have felt walking into the office, caving to comparing yourself with a coworker allows an artificial sense of inability to spread like gangrene.

Don’t buy the lies. By nature of having been hired in the first place, you are capable of much. Despite how young or inexperienced you may feel at times, you do have something valuable to offer.

2. You have a LOT to learn. (Be humble and teachable, willing to learn.)

Although you do have something to offer—perhaps a lot to offer—don’t get a big head. As much as you have to give, it’s likely that you have exponentially more to learn. (If you haven’t recognized it yet, you will.) In light of this, be humble and willing to learn.

Moreover, cultivate a attitude of teachability. For example, instead of reacting defensively to a critique or suggestion, aim to respond in a way that displays eagerness to improve. Ask questions rather than giving explanations or making excuses. “I didn’t realize I could do it that way. How might I go about that next time?” flies much better than, “Well, this is just the way I’ve done it.”

If you’re anything like me, college was a very formative time for you. I learned just as much (or more) outside of the classroom as in. Hundreds of new, exciting experiences taught me new concepts, challenged my previously held beliefs, and even helped me establish new norms through developing fresh perspective.

Sometimes I really miss those days. It seemed like every experience and each new day was ripe with opportunity for personal growth and development. The college years may be behind us, but ripe opportunities for growth are certainly not. They are ever before us, poised for the seizing.

In addition to eagerness to learn, it is important to develop a stance of humility. As I work on earning my master’s degree, I realize more and more how much I don’t know. It’s that ironic truth about the increase of personal knowledge: the more you know, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

When we think we know everything, we are in danger of arrogance and having a closed mind. (And this applies to everyone—not just younger generations.)

Thus, see your job as yet another opportunity to grow in wisdom and knowledge. There are folks around you from the Boomer generation and Generation X (maybe even a couple of Builders, if you’re so favored). Regardless of their position relative to yours (hierarchically), I guarantee there is something you can learn from each of them. Be courageous and humble enough to receive what they have to offer.

3. It’s complex, no doubt. (Taking steps forward.)

There is no silver bullet or gilded map to address all the complexities of being new and young in the workplace. However, taking the above advice to heart and putting it into action should provide a solid foundation for weathering a large variety of tensions.

Finding a healthy balance of confidence and humility in your work doesn’t mean that every day will be smooth sailing, but these points are an important place to start.

You do have something valuable to contribute to your workplace otherwise you wouldn’t be there. At the same time, recognizing your stance relative to those with more experience (in life and work) is a vital counterbalance.

You will still have difficult situations to face, and they may not all turn out as well as you hope, but you will be better set for doing your part well.

So walk into the office with your head held high (but not your nose), and be willing to speak up (but also to listen).

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