I don’t take kindly to being lumped in to the millennial generation. This largely stems from the pretty awful stereotypes that come with it. I also don’t agree with lumping two decades worth of people (roughly 81 million people) in to this generation, which is what the census bureau has done when they classified the millennial generation as anyone being born between 1982 and 2002. Call me crazy, but I largely think those born in the 80's, 90's, and 2000's are wildly different. I could go on and on about my qualms with the brand “millennial” but we will save that for another day.
Regardless of what you want to call me or what generation you want to lump me in with, what is undeniable is how generational gaps can affect workplace dynamics and how people view you, but ultimately how that affects how you view yourself. This is not to say that they always do play a roll but they certainly can.
For 21 years of my life, I have been a student in some form or another, ultimately culminating in a PhD. During the last 10 of those 21 years, I also worked. I worked in a hair salon, a convenience store, an ice cream parlor, the financial department of a research office, as a researcher (for the majority of those 10 years), in a venture capital organization, in scientific consulting firms, in sales, and in university technology transfer. I even completed some of those jobs simultaneously. However, it didn’t matter what I did or how hard I worked. No matter what job I had, I was still ultimately always branded as a “student,” which comes with its own stereotype - usually, that you're poor, busy and this job is not your main priority.
So when I finished my PhD and was offered my first job post-student life, I was expecting to shed the “student” brand and be free of all the judgement that came with it. But what it turns out is I just gained a new brand: young… which just may be another way of saying millennial.
"I had just gained a new brand: young."
And what they don't tell you is that when you finally shed this brand of student, almost everything you did as a student doesn't matter. They always come with caveats... "well, that was something you did as a student." Meaning, that was something you didn't do full time and therefore do not get the credit of the hard work that went along with it.
For the most part, I do not feel like I am judged for my age within my own office, predominately because I’ve done things to get out ahead of it and combat it. I speak up in meetings. I voice my opinions. I work really effing hard. I socialize at happy hours and work events and I avoid technology at times and pop in to people’s offices rather than send an email to somebody who is four offices away (which surprisingly is very effective).
But also because I work with some great people and this hasn't been an issue for me yet.
Yes, there are generational gaps in the way we use technology. For example, I truly do not believe in printing things out. I don't want to waste the paper and lets be honest, I'm never going to look at that piece of paper again so I don't believe in filing it away. That's why I have three very large and VERY empty filing cabinets in my office and my colleagues have desks piled with paper. I just convert my files to computer documents that are searchable and work better for me.
Another way it comes out at work is in lifestyle differences. This mainly stems from the fact that almost all of my colleagues are roughly two decades older then me. Some have children older than me. Some have grandchildren that are no longer babies. So when everyone is sitting around talking about how for Easter they had family filled events with egg hunting and large dinners and then ask me what I did, which was not get out of my pajamas, drink mimosas until I was so tipsy I made a tray full of brownies with my husband and we proceeded to eat them straight out of the pan, the entire office erupts in to laughter.
In general though, my age hasn't been an issue within my office and I thought I actually did lose all of these old brands and stereotypes I was used to.
But I realized those brands are still there in the way people interact with me through my job when they're outside of my own office. There's been comments such as:
"When, exactly did you graduate? Wow, not that long ago."
"Well, yeah, that was great experience, but you were a student at the time."
"It must be a millennial thing."
There have also been the dismissive glances, the talking over me, the assumptions that I just wouldn't know something and in general just ignoring what I have to say. But these don’t really bother me because I've only interacted with these individuals in small amounts and they aren't really pertinent to my job at hand.
But what I cannot and will not ever get behind is this general thought that your age is directly equivalent to the quality of experience you have and the ability to do a job. Basically, because you were a student before this, you have no experience.
Yes, the older you are, often, the more experience you’ve gathered. BUT this doesn’t mean it is quality experience, that you are a good worker just because you’re older, or that the experience is even relevant to the job at hand.
Come at me bro, if you think otherwise.
I honestly hadn’t realized that these ideas of age and age differences in the working world (that I generally don't think occur in my own office) had affected me so strongly.
Until my birthday came up. I was asked, in a room full of people, how old I was going to be. I mean, they know. They hired me. They could look up my file and birth-date and find out. And I still couldn’t bring myself to say:
It seemed like a dirty number after we just celebrated several people turning 60+ years old in our office. And I’m sitting over here, in a manger’s seat and I’m not even thirty. I’m still two years away from even getting to thirty. What would they think of me? As if my age determined my right to be where I had gotten through hard work. As if my age made me less valuable then those around me. As if my age was my rank on the workplace ladder. As if my age determined my worth.
"I was truly afraid that if I admitted out loud my age, that this bubble where age didn't matter in the way people treat me in the office would burst."
I let let the stereotypes affect me internally. I let myself believe that if I admitted my age, I was admitting I was an impostor (which is largely connected to my ever present impostor syndrome but we will leave that for another post). I was truly afraid that if I admitted out loud my age, that this bubble where age didn't matter in the way people treat me in the office would burst.
So I did what all mature almost 28 year old's do and responded with… “old enough.”
Because that is truly how I feel. I am old enough.
For this, and anything else you want to throw at me.