As a recent college grad, I’m not only the youngest member of my team, but also one of the youngest people at my company.
And I’m not saying that while awkwardly cringing. In fact, I love that I get to work with people who are so much more experienced than me. But even with that said, there are definitely days where I feel like an imposter, or that I don’t really “belong.” (Example: Whenever I wear a more formal work outfit, I still feel like a child dressing up in her mother’s clothes.)
Here’s a secret: It’s not that I don’t consider myself a key part of the team, but when I’m surrounded by people who are that much further ahead, it can feel like I can’t keep up. Want to know what else I’m constantly thinking?
I’ll do you one better—I won’t just share what’s going through my head, but also what the youngest person in your office is probably thinking, too. After all, I happen to know a few others.
1. We Sometimes Feel Excluded Because of Our Age
When people tell us that we don’t or won’t get something because “we’re too young to understand,” it makes us think that certain colleagues care more about our age than what we’ve accomplished.
And this is where imposter syndrome tends to kick in for us. We try to engage in casual conversations in the kitchen, only to awkwardly miss a reference everyone else is laughing about because it was “before our time.” Or, we have to embarrassingly ask someone to explain a basic concept to us because we’ve never heard of it.
In these situations we usually leave feeling like we couldn’t contribute anything valuable, when all we really want is to be a part of the group.
2. We’re Afraid to Seem Immature Around Our Older Co-workers
My first work happy hour was a blast, but I also sweat through my shirt. For most of my life I’ve been surrounded by people my own age. So the first time I went out with people several years my senior, I didn’t exactly know how to act. I was afraid to accidently say “OMG” or “dope” out loud, or bring up stories from my (very recent) college days.
Luckily, I think it went off without a hitch, but even today I’m always cautious about what I say and do. Not because someone told me I had to, but because I genuinely have less practice having conversations with people who aren’t going through similar life stages.
3. We Work Differently, But Just as Hard
If you’re worried that your younger colleague won’t have the same work ethic as you, you’re right—and wrong.
But, we may not work the same way—we tackle problems differently, find energy in different places, and even work the most productively at different times of day. However, at the end of the week, we put in the necessary hours, pay attention to details, and ultimately care about the success of our team and our company—just like everyone else.
4. Most Things Are New and Exciting to Us
You know how that younger co-worker on your team always seems to be in a bubbly mood? Or is regularly chatty? Or asks a ton of questions about every little thing?
Well, that’s because everything we’re doing is new and exciting—yes, even receiving emails or attending meetings (we’re an odd bunch). We want to soak up everything and anything we can because chances are we’ve never seen or done anything like it before. More importantly, we look up to our older co-workers—so when we bother you with questions, it’s because we want you to share your knowledge and expertise with us.
5. We Want to Be Challenged
A lot of us are still struggling to get our bearings, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to be challenged. We thrive on support, but we also want our managers and co-workers to trust us to do our best work on our own—and not worry that they have to “babysit” us.
Like I said, we work really hard, and we may even make mistakes along the way. But we crave growth opportunities and learning experiences, which is why we’d love nothing more than being handed an important assignment or a difficult task when we’ve earned it.
Your youngest team members may not bring the most experience to the table, but they have plenty to offer. Especially because more than anything, we just want to learn everything you know. So if you recognize and take advantage of that, we just might become your most valuable player.