How to Survive Being the Youngest Person in the Office
Does anyone else do the math in their head and think how far ahead your coworkers must be than you, since when they started in the professional world you were still blowing dust out of Nintendo cartridges and totally losing your ish when Mufasa dies in Lion King? I’m always thinking to myself “I had to be in kindergarten when you had your first kid…I could totally be your kid.”
Bewilderment aside, working in an establishment where you’re the youngest can be tricky, yet rewarding if you know how to act (because it totally is acting, nobody really knows what they’re doing, not even the elders). So here are six tips to avoid looking like toddler of the month at your workplace.
1. Don’t be big-headed. Realize that even with your 57 wpm typing and immaculate social media stalking skills, you can still learn a thing or two from the “old-heads.” So be open to them and be patient when they (painfully and slowly) try to “teach” you things you think you already know, like fixing a paper jam or changing the page margins in Word (gun to head…pow). You don’t want to get so used to tuning them out that you miss an invaluable gem of knowledge only someone who knows every nook and cranny of your company can give. And be just as patient when they ask you to teach them things, even if it’s something simple to you, like how to attach a document to an email (this is real, like, it really happens).
2. Don’t make assumptions. Although you will be sized up like a Burger King soda, be careful not to reciprocate or project that. Part of remaining professional is keeping your preconceived notions (which we all have to some degree) to yourself. Older professionals may seem like they have it all together, but they are just as flawed and sensitive as any other age group. Be wise not to put them in boxes, and definitely DO NOT make careless jokes. This could cost you your job, or a really good business relationship. Keep it cool and polite.
3. Don’t downplay yourself to make others feel comfortable. You were hired for reasons. Be confident in that and do your job. It’s okay to ask questions when you absolutely need to, but don’t make yourself out to be anyone’s understudy (unless that’s specifically the position you were hired into). In most cases, you were brought on because you have a knowledge-base or skillset that the company feels they can benefit from. Even in the most entry-level positions, it’s important to maintain professional dignity and self-assurance so that your colleagues and superiors don’t lose confidence in what you bring to the table. Be humble, yet sure.
4. Be innovative. Everything has a thin line, and this is no exception. Take advice, and learn the culture of your company, but always look for inventive ways to get the job done. This can help your company save time, save money, or just look good to its customer base or competition. You not only show your value to the company, but you help them to feel as though they made the right decision in choosing you for the job.
5. Keep your problems to yourself. (!!!) It’s easy to get comfortable and feel like, amongst all these older, wiser people, you have a safe place to share your personal concerns. You may even acquire mentors and counselors at your job, and this is okay. But ALWAYS remember to keep those relationships professional. You don’t wanna find yourself slumped into a coworker’s guest seat in their office working out your daddy-issues while the boss walks by confused and slightly perturbed. Understand that most times “How are you?” is a semi-rhetorical question, not an invitation to have a campfire moment. And even if you are genuinely invited to share your issues, you should politely decline and assure them you’ll be okay, because you will. ONLY share your problems with people who have no affiliation with your professional life. This protects your work image and eliminates opportunities for gossip and office banter. By keeping it professional, you silently create boundaries, and you’ll be happy you did.
6. Have fun. By simply being your [younger than everyone else] self, you add an air of vigor and inspiration that the office probably didn’t even know it was missing before you stepped on the scene. Let that be what it is. Don’t try to be anything you’re not. Be open to learning, and be confident in what you contribute.