Let’s talk about jobs.
As a high schooler, I have an unusual relationship with my job(s). I don’t work to make a living or sustain a family — I have the support from my family. I don’t need to establish a solid career path yet, since I’ll be going to college. If you’ve worked / are working in high school, you know what it’s like. It’s not something we have to do, but we do it, because it’s nice. It gives us some spare income and a chance to do new things and meet some cool people, it looks nice on resumes, and so forth.
But my job isn’t the typical high schooler’s job. I’ve been pretty lucky to be interested and pretty good in a field where a teenager without a degree can do some O.K. work (software development and design), so my work isn’t babysitting or waiting or working at a carwash, it’s staring at a screen and crunching out lines of code and coloring in pixels (and some other stuff too, obviously).
And that’s an interesting situation, because in a lot of ways, the work that I’m doing is professional, something I’d probably do after college (though hopefully much better). But in other ways, it’s pretty clear that I’m not as experienced or knowledgeable in my line of work as the people I work with every day. You could say, in some of my projects, I’m competing with people who are, on paper, much more qualified than I am. I’m not really sure how I feel about that.
I mean, on the one hand, I feel great. It’s a pretty awesome thing to be able to intern and work in an area I’ll be working in for most of the rest of my life, and I’d rather be doing it than not. But sometimes, I find myself in situations where I think, would things be different if I were out of college?
(I don’t mean to imply that the thoughts I have is unique to my work, or even unique to my place in life, but I think it’s something that’s more relevant to me because of what I do and where I am.)
A lot of this is me questioning my skill level. I’m never sure if I’m doing a good job. I can’t really be certain if the compliments I get are because I did a great job, or because I did a great job-asterisk-for-a-seventeen-year-old. I don’t even know if the people who say it do it intentionally. I do think it’s something that could happen subconsciously. And when I want some validation that I’m doing work that’s good, I don’t want to know if it’s good for a seventeen year old. I want to know if my work is actually helping people, if it’s effective, if it’s worth paying for. I want people to be honest, and I think being a high schooler can obscure a lot of people’s opinion of the quality of work I put out, even subconsciously. I don’t know if these things are happening, but I can’t say for sure.
I guess I feel a little out of place being young in places where age usually implies experience and credibility. I don’t like to mention my age or grade when I introduce myself professionally, because I want people to give me feedback as if I’m a college student or as if I’m a legitiate designer / developer. I want people to validate my work because it’s great, not because it’s cool than a kid can do it.
And I don’t really know if that’s the best approach to things. Am I asking too much of people?
When it slips out in the middle of a conversation that I’m still in high school, the usual reaction from almost everyone is first to congratulate me on what a great experience I’m getting by doing good work at this age, and then to offer me some confirmation that I’m doing things right by taking advantage of the opportunities around me.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate every one of those compilments, I really do. But…
being young isn’t really an accomplishment, it’s a side effect of being born on my birthday, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really planning ahead way back then. Instead of telling me how great it is that I’m doing stuff when I’m still young, tell me what I’m doing is great.
I do the things that I do because I like building cool stuff for people and for myself, so when I do work, I want to know if what I’m doing is working. I want to know if you think my work is good or bad. I want to know if my work really matters. I don’t want to use my age as an excuse not to do great work, and I don’t really want anyone else to do that for me.
So the next time I complete a project or design something or get hired, please don’t tell me how wonderful it is that I’m getting these experiences as a high schooler, or how cool it is that I can do these things at my age. Instead, just tell me my work is interesting, or that it matters, or that it’s effective. That’s all I need — no asterisks, no age, no college applications talk.
I want my work to matter outside of the context of my education. I want what I make to impact other people’s lives in meaningful ways. To me, my work is more than an internship project or an extraculrricular resume item. I hope it is to you, too.