are you showing up to work with “I” syndrome?

Ah, the millennial generation — so many opinions out there about who we are and how we work. One thing I know for sure is that the workplace is shifting in culture dramatically because of us. We desire things that the traditional organization hadn’t before provided to its people. We expect levels of engagement in the workplace that require organizations and senior leaders to change mindset on their expectations of the role of an employee.

Generally, I think this is good news. I support a workplace that puts its people first, and I’m thrilled to see more organizations and leaders stepping outside of their comfort zones and making changes to how they operate in order to support the work-lifestyle needs of their growing millennial employee base.

And I think as partners to this change, the most important thing that we can do as young professionals in the workplace is meet our leaders half way.

Here’s what I mean. It’s no doubt that we are a breed of ambitious people. We want to get ahead quick, make positive impact in the world, and be recognized for our contributions. In my observations so far, we tend to think of career progression in ways that sound like this:

I want to choose my schedule.

I want to feel like I’m part of a team.

I want to be told I’m doing a great job.

I want more vacation days.

I want to work on these projects, not those ones.

I want more responsibility.

I want to earn this much.

I want… I want… I want…

It is all fine and good to want these things. I am an ambitious person myself and continuously strive to be the best version of me everyday. However, the reality when you’re first starting out is this: It’s not about you. If you’re a young professional in your first few months or years in the workplace, the truth is you’ve got some impressions to leave on your colleagues and leaders before you can begin asserting where you want to be or what you want to do.

Here’s the best way I know how to do that: Make your goal for every career experience not about what you can get from it, but rather about what you can give to it.

This means that you need to forget about “I” for a moment, and focus on the needs of “we,” “us,” and “you.”

If we need you to work on this project because this is how your role best contributes to the team, then give work to the project…

If it’s best for us to work through lunch this week to meet our deadline, and we’ll celebrate with catered lunch together next week, then be willing to give the hours…

If you need some help that is outside of my job responsibilities but I know supporting you right now would mean a lot, then give the help…

I’ve definitely had to work through my own moments of “But what about me?” and it’s not easy to shift perceiving the workplace as where we go to gain value and growth and success, to a place we go to give support and recognition to others.

Remember: when you’re building up your arsenal of career experiences, giving is always the goal. Meet your people half way and you’ll advance. Your growth, recognition, support, and next opportunities really will come as the reward.

Let me know: Have you caught yourself in the “I” syndrome before? What are some other approaches you know of to get out of it?

Originally published at on March 16, 2016.