3 Best Lessons I Learned From Being the Youngest Person at Work
Two years ago I moved to a new city and started a job that I’d worked hard to get. While I was excited to settle into my role, impress my boss, and make friends, I hadn’t accounted for the change in office demographics.
My previous company included a large group of mid-level managers, who, like me, were in their mid-twenties. In my new role, I quickly learned that most of my co-workers were twice my age and suddenly I was the youngest employee.
I found this dynamic intimidating at first—but before long, I found ways to embrace it. And it almost goes without saying that I learned a lot.
1. Experienced Co-workers Will Challenge You (in a Good Way)
I hate to admit this, but when I was busy at past jobs, I used to gloss over the background details when I presented an operations plan to my supervisors—figuring that if I had to, I could rattle off a list of facts and figures without being pressed for further details. My former method of presenting first, researching in-depth later, failed when I attempted it in front of my more experienced colleagues. They asked insightful, probing questions, and I didn’t have the answers.
This experience forced me to stop my bad habit of skating over the preparation phase for my projects. My co-workers had years of experience in our field and would know, instantly, if I hadn’t dedicated some serious effort to research beforehand. After one time in the hot seat, I vowed to step up my game.
2. It’s OK if You’re Not Best Friends With Your Colleagues
At my previous job my co-workers became my friends, and they eventually ended up comprising my after-work and weekend social circle. When I moved for my new job, I had hoped for a similar situation, but I hadn’t accounted for how the age difference might prove problematic in this regard. My new co-workers had children the same age as me, so, not surprisingly, their weekend priorities differed from mine.
Don’t get me wrong, I worked in a friendly environment that included lunch outings and team bonding activities, but my colleagues and I didn’t become BFFs, which left me with free time on my hands.
As a result, I became creative in my search to find friends; I branched out and joined activities (like aerial silks and watercolor classes!) that I had wanted to try for years. Meeting new people who had nothing to do with my career proved to be rewarding and refreshing since our conversations didn’t revolve around the latest office politics. And, it gave me a confidence boost to boot: I learned new skills and embraced out-of-office friendships for the first time in a while.
3. There’s a Lot to Learn From People With More Experience
During my first year on the job, two of the senior leaders retired within months of each other. Fortunately for me, before their final days, they’d taken an interest in my career and spent hours discussing their life experiences and answering my questions about our field; they became mentors to me during the brief year I spent with them.
When it was time to help plan their retirement parties, I met their families and heard their children discuss their parents’ work and accomplishments. It left me with a holistic understanding of what kind of dedication and skill set I needed to hone to succeed.
Ultimately, both of them helped me clarify what I wanted for my future, which turned out to be pursuing another industry and starting a whole new career. Who knows how long I’d have waited to switch careers if I hadn’t had senior leadership to talk to and learn from. I’m beyond grateful I had that opportunity to get to know these people in the last stage of their career.
While I may have sometimes felt like a fish out of water as the youngest employee, the amount of growth I experienced and wisdom I gained is priceless. So, if you’re feeling like the odd man out at your new company, have a little patience and don’t be afraid to reach out to your fellow co-workers. You never know who may become your next mentor, and how much impact that person may have. If you’re open to it, there’s almost always something to be gained when you’re willing to expose yourself to something new.
Photo of women at desk courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Nina understands the struggle of a major career change. After snagging her first job at fourteen, she continued down the path of employment by pursuing a motley assortment of vocations. Ask her about her time in the Army, or her stint as a Harvard research guinea pig. Say hi @ninadawdles or ninasemczuk.com.More from this Author