Letter to My Younger Self: Lisa Young

As a promising young professional, it’s going to shock you how easily you’ll be dismissed by hiring managers solely based on your age. You won’t see it coming until it smacks you square between the shoulder pads of your peach JCPenney blazer. But if you do what famous comedian Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” you can overcome ageism in most circumstances.

Just so you’re prepared, please know that your boss won’t let you take credit for reports you’ve painstakingly developed for fear her client won’t take it seriously. When you’re about to land a client, you’ll be told to bring someone with “more grey around the temple” to finalize the deal. When you enter a black-tie fundraising affair no one will go out of their way to talk to you, no matter how high of a credit score you’ve attained. Even after you’ve met that executive at your client’s office five times, he still won’t remember your name. In these and other ways you will be discriminated against.

Let’s face it–you’re twenty-something, approximately 12-years-old in professional years. You’ve got a lot of dues to pay and wisdom to rack up. And as much as you want more respect, you can’t change the fact that most people will judge you based on your lack of experience and not on your potential for greatness. What you’ll be tempted to do is get mad, complain, and become disgruntled. That will lead to anxiety, self-pity, doubt, and a red wine habit you can’t afford. You’re better than that. You should make a plan to take control of your future, stand up, and not be ignored.

Here are some tips on how to make it happen:

  • Come prepared and add something of value to every meeting. You may have to wait your turn to speak, but when you do, make a good point.
  • Take on tasks no one else wants to do. You will get noticed for raising your hand.
  • Don’t meet, but exceed deadlines.
  • Anticipate needs. Regularly do something before being asked.
  • Be a social media advocate for your company on your personal accounts.
  • Say thank you.
  • Speak up and ask for opportunity.
  • Give back. Volunteering can differentiate you.
  • Join a professional association.
  • Get published.
  • Find ways to save the company money.
  • Don’t wait until your annual review to tally up the projects you worked on all year; keep a list going at all times.
  • Measure the ROI of everything you work on—analytics are king.
  • Ask for feedback, especially when you know it will be negative, to demonstrate your desire to improve.

I’d love to tell you that ageism against youth ends at a certain age, like 30, but truthfully, the older you get the older everyone else gets too, right? So, even in your late 30’s you will encounter older people that are threatened by your “new fangled ways of doing things” or altogether unimpressed with the totality of your accomplishments. (For some people enough is never enough.) Luckily for you, at that point in your career you’ll have just enough wisdom to know when you’re working for someone like that and plenty of fans who think you are just too good to ignore.

Right now though, is a great time in your career to inwardly practice humility and outwardly exude confidence. Dismiss the dismissive and win-over the others. Confidence is contagious.

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