I was linked to this article by my father earlier today, and while I agree with much of it, I think it requires a counter-point to be offered – by someone in said age range.
Without repeating what the article says verbatim, Jason Nazar of Forbes Magazine has come up with a list of “20 Things 20-Year-Olds Don’t Get”, and then has rattled off several things that they feel that the adult world understands that my age demographics doesn’t. Most of it makes perfect sense – and is good advice for those entering the work force. Some of it I wonder about…and the rest, I’ve been told the exact opposite as well. So I’m going to go through each point and make my own comments on them. Original headers are in bold.
Time is Not A Limitless Commodity… but Don’t Be Afraid to Think
The article says that young professions typically lack a “sense of urgency” and they think they have all the time in the world to get what and where they want. I can’t say this is false, but I’d argue a balance. Yes – I’m fully aware that at age 25, I am, as they say, “not getting any younger.” I have hopes and plans and goals, and the only way I am going to get there is with dedicated work. But I’m also aware that in order to start my own business, I should have a financial buffer of some kind built up, and shouldn’t just toss my job away on a whim. Perhaps in other fields of work, this is more useful for them – but it still stands to reason that while I’m not getting any younger…I’m also never going to be 25 again. Part of making connections and being available in your area is to actually be known and familiar with your area. Go to restaurants. See theatre. Get to know the local schools; see if anyone around there might have a useful program you can tap into. Get to know local radio DJs (if your area still has local talent). Be social, and enjoy your life. While you may never have this time again to make those connections, you’ll also be working for the rest of your life. You can say “I shouldn’t have partied my twenties away” just as easily as “I shouldn’t have worked my twenties away.”
You’re Talented, but Talent is Overrated…and This is More True Than You’d Think
They focus more on the “talent without honing is useless” element, but I’m going to be more cynical. It may not ever matter how well-trained or talented you are. It may never matter that you have three graduate degrees and have become a finely tuned machine in your field through decades of experience. There may always be some young snot that comes by, at the right time with the right connections that can fly by the seat of their pants, that convinces your bosses that the “new way” is the best way, and that the “old way” is passé and useless. Make sure not only to hone your specialty skills – but your basic skills, like public speaking and debate. Be able to defend your point with both words and actions – it may be your only way to win the war.
We’re More Productive In the Morning…but Not Always, and Not All People, and It Depends on What You Mean By Morning
This kind of statement frustrates the hell out of me, because that’s not really what they’re trying to say. My father and I, for example, are not morning people. We are not, we were not, and we will never be. We are both capable of getting up at four in the morning and doing quality work – but that does not mean that we are better in the morning. I’m writing this article at 6:18 PM, and I would not have been this articulate at 6:18 AM (and also, I would have been pushing my “leaving for work” time a bit).
What they really want to say, is that we have a tendency to be more productive at the beginning of our day. If this means that you’re a live-at-home writer, and you sleep until ten AM, then you are more likely to be creative in the first three or four hours after you wake up, than after a day’s worth of errands and life. It can be incredibly difficult to sit down and write after I’ve been at work on my feet for eight hours, and I spent an inordinate amount of time at work wishing I had my laptop (and an ability to use it). I have always found myself to be happier and more productive on my days off when I can wake up, make breakfast and coffee, and then sit down to write.
Now – does this mean that if I have to leave for work at 6:30, that I should train myself to wake up at 3:30 so that I can write for two to three hours before leaving? No. (At least, I hope not.) But it does mean that it’s something I should keep in mind perhaps for my next job, or for my days off. Just because I can stay up later, may not mean I should.
Social Media is Not A Career…but Don’t Dismiss New Fields Out of Hand
I’ll agree that a college graduate should not base their entire future on Twitter. Despite the medium lasting far longer than I expected it would – and being far more useful than expected as well – it’s not going to last forever. But as the article said, “social media” is just a new branch of marketing, and that’s a very useful skill to have. Getting yourself into a social media coordinator position now, and then focusing on how to grow as a marketer, is a perfectly reasonable choice. It may be true that the term of “social media coordinator” will not exist in five years – but if you get yourself in there, and build your skill set from there, you will be on to a new and improved title by the time that one disappears.
Pick Up the Phone…Yeah, Just Do That
This is important, and it’s something I struggle with. It is very true that more and more important conversation is happening online, despite what the article says. I’ve had bosses tell me outright that they will not remember something if I tell it to them in person, and that I need to email it to them. However, there is a line to be walked. If we live our lives entirely on the computer, we will lose necessary social skills that even as the world becomes more technology-based, are still part of our basic construct. However, I will not be surprised when I call numerous times and am told that the best way to contact said person is by text or email. Sometimes making the initial contact by electronic means is best, and then set up a time to talk by phone or in person later.
Be the First In, and the Last to Leave…but Don’t Be Shocked When No One Notices
I’ve run into this a bit myself, and had several people comment similarly to me. It’s the old saying that no one will tell you how you’re doing until you do something wrong. America in general tends to run on schadenfreude; we gloat in the misfortune of others, and get discouraged when someone is shown doing better than us. I am the sole full-time worker at my place of employ (it’s an off-shoot from a larger company, and while I have a parent-company helper, they are not the major employee for my area), and as such, I open and close the establishment. I open up, count the till, work the six hours the place is open…and then I shut down, lock the doors, clean the dishes, and go home. In essence, I am the first one there and the last one to go. In the four months I’ve worked there, I have never been commended for my timeliness, for my interactions with customers, for my time management skills – nothing. I have, however, been chastised for not knowing information, or for performing tasks incorrectly.
This isn’t new – it’s not specific to my work place – and I don’t expect it to change. In this case, more often than not, no news is good news…and I need to take it as such.
Don’t Wait to Be Told What to Do…but For Pete’s Sake, Ask First
This is what stalled me up in more than one job. I would be too terrified of doing a job wrong, and would do nothing as a result. Time and time again, I was told that I “needed to be more proactive.” That word meant absolutely nothing. I hadn’t known what was expected of me, and thus how could I be at fault?
The answer is that if you don’t know what you should be doing – ask someone. Find a manager, find a senior coworker, anyone. If it’s a basic task – cleaning, organizing, basic prep – just do it. Otherwise, go to someone and say “What can I be doing?” or “Does [task] need to get done?” Also useful is, “Is there something I can do to help?” This shows that you’re willing to help out, and aware that standing around doing nothing isn’t going to do that – but not blind enough to assume that because you’d do X, means that X should be done.
Take Responsibility for Your Mistakes…but Don’t Adopt Someone Else’s
The point in the original is a valid one: if you’ve done something wrong, own up to it. Admitting that you made a mistake and learning from it is good – for you and your boss. However, it’s very easy to be pressured into adopting a mistake, especially when you know who did it, and that they won’t come forward. If the boss says that “if [task] isn’t done by the end of the day, all workers will be penalized in X fashion”, and you know that [task] should be done by Julie – then let Julie do it. Julie is probably counting on someone else doing her work. If you do it, you’re not helping yourself – your boss – or Julie, really. Your co-worker will still ride on your coattails, your boss will be none the wiser, and you’re stuck doing extra work. This doesn’t mean tattling on Julie is the right option – but if it continues to happen, pulling a boss aside and mentioning that you’re concerned about Julie and her contribution to the team is an acceptable action. (Don’t let the “no one likes a tattle tale” line fool you; if no one tells the manager that Julie’s a trouble worker, it’s possible the manager doesn’t know – and may not find out.)
You Should Be Getting Your Butt Kicked…but Only As Much As Is Possible
Alternately, you should only be getting your butt kicked if you’re consenting. (I promise this isn’t going to get kinky.) Being pushed in a job is acceptable; a good boss knows when to push an employee to get the best out of them. In turn, a good employee takes that pushing, and uses it as a spring board for their work. However, taking abuse from your boss is entirely not okay. Being pushed beyond your comfort level and then being told you’re a bad employee for not bending to their requests – expecting an employee to know a fact or process because they know it – setting standards too high…these are all very bad things. I said earlier that you shouldn’t expect a pat on the head and a biscuit each time you do well – but if your performance review rolls around and they still don’t say you’ve done anything well, it may be time to ask. It’s one thing to push someone to work harder – it’s another to make them think they’ll never get high enough.
A New Job a Year Isn’t a Good Thing…but Don’t Let This Tie You Up
It’s true – in most of the work force, seeing that someone can’t hold down a job is a worrisome thing. However, in today’s economy, when many people can only get temp or seasonal jobs, it’s more common than it has been in the past. Also, many more people have to hop around the country, finding areas where their skill set can grow. Growing up, I had seasonal jobs until I got my first longer-term job, part-time, at a grocery store. Later, I picked up a job as a secretary. A year later, I left the secretary job for several reasons – the most prominent of which being my own mental well-being. The work place was not a good place for me, and if I’d stayed there longer, it wouldn’t have done anyone any good – and it was keeping me from growing at my other job. I stayed at the store for two years, in two different departments, and ended up leaving because I wasn’t able to advance to a full-time position in the time frame I needed a full-time job. I moved to where I am now less than a month later, and have been at my current (full-time) job for four months now.
I was paralyzed, taking this job – because I was afraid that if I’d left my other jobs so quickly, and then what if I hated this job? What if I was no good at it? It would look like I couldn’t hold down a job. This can’t let you stay in a toxic environment. References, being able to call other jobs, and interviews will weed out the “I can’t hold a job” applicants from the “I’m struggling to find my field” applicants. Or the “I’m struggling to get a job” applicants, as well.
People Matter More Than Perks…but See the Argument Above
The job I had before was part of a Fortune 500-classed company, ranking in the top five for something like a decade now. It was a wonderful company with wonderful people – and also happened to have a large number of very useful benefits. I enjoyed the people I worked with at my prior job more than the people I work with now (though the client base at my current job I enjoy more), and there was definitely more room for growth at the previous job.
So why did I leave? Because I needed to be somewhere else. Jobs are not written in stone. You are not required to work at the job you have right now for the rest of your life. You can take a job for the people and have no perks – and still be miserable. You can take a job for the perks and hate the people – and still be miserable. But you can be happy in either of those circumstances as well. Each job is a balance of where you are, where you need to be, and where you hope to be.
Map Effort to Your Professional Gain…but If You Haven’t Figured It Out Yet, Don’t Kill Yourself Doing It
I feel like I’m repeating myself. Yes – you’re not always going to like what you’re doing. I don’t like answering phones. It makes me profoundly uncomfortable. Every job I have ever had (save a portion of one) has required me to answer phones. I suck it up, and I deal with it when I have to. But there is a point when suffering through each and every work day isn’t going to make getting to the top feel any better. Let’s face it – is the top at that job going to mean less of what you’ve been doing? To my experience, the answer is no. (If I’m wrong in your case, by all means – keep plugging along.) Just make sure to balance it. Learning to deal with tasks/people/times you don’t like is one thing. Forcing yourself into a world you hate day after day is mental suicide.
Speak Up, Not Out…Yes, Yes, Yes!!!
This is one where I am with them whole-heartedly. Having been in situations where I was unhappy with a co-worker, or my own lack of structure, or any number of other issues – complaining behind the boss’s back will not solve the problem. Let them know. They may not know otherwise. Managers are more likely to be pleased that you’re trying to fix a problem, than if you know one is there and aren’t doing anything about it.
You HAVE to Build Your Technical Chops…Okay…?
I’m a little interested in the rationale behind the original poster’s reasoning for hiring someone more readily if they have extraneous skills – which, they’ll note, don’t actually have to have anything to do with the job listing. Meanwhile, I think it’s a valid argument; employers are more likely to hire someone that looks like they’re not a one trick pony. It’s one of the reasons I keep software like Adobe Audition and ZaraRadio, and WordPress on my resume. I don’t know that they’ll help me, but they can’t hurt. Getting to know your way around several different programs – even just to the extent that you can make them work in their most basic fashion – is better than not having any information on them.
Both the Size and Quality of Your Network Matter…Yeahhhhhh…?
This is an interesting one. I both agree and…well, not so much disagree as raise issue with it. It does rather depend on what you consider knowing a person “superficially.” For example: I’m a fiction author, looking to be published. I know several published authors, to varying degrees of intimacy. I don’t think that I need to know the authors I know more basically any more than I do for them to be useful resources. Lyn Thorne-Alder, published author (and my housemate), is not necessarily a better resource than M.C.A. Hogarth, an author living several states away from me that I’ve done some basic copy-editing work for – or MeiLin Miranda, an author that’s offered help to me but otherwise only knows me as a reader and a Twitterite. They are all people that I know that I could call on for help in terms of my writing. In the end, I don’t think I disagree with the basic point – make connections and hold onto them – but maybe I question their wording.
You Need At Least 3 Professional Mentors…Though Don’t Be Discouraged If It Takes You A While
One of the major concerns for me when I applied for graduate school were the recommendation letters. They’re meant to be from people not related to me, that know my work and can speak on it. At the time of my application – two years after my graduation from college, more or less – I had exactly two people that fit that description. My college did not have a dedicated creative writing program, and as such, very few people had worked with me on my writing. My creative writing and poetry teacher had left the school under less than stellar circumstances, and I hadn’t gotten on with him well. The only other options were the people I had defended my thesis to – one of which was the dean of my college, who I couldn’t ask. Now that I’ve been in graduate school for half a year, I have at least two more people that I could consider mentors – and that I hope to keep good relations with. But it’s not always easy – and in a solitary profession like writing, it gets even harder.
Pick An Idol and Act “As If”…Absolutely.
This is something I can barely add to. Find someone that’s doing what you do – and figure out how they did it. Repeat as necessary.
Read More Books, Less Texts/Tweets…Yes, But…
This is another one that I both agree and disagree – and maybe that’s just a sign of my generation. I think it’s a crime that we’ve lost as much reading as a culture as we have. I think books need to be read – and I think people need to be encouraged to read good books more often. That being said, one of the most powerful stories written (and while attributed to Hemingway, there’s no proof it was him) is six words long: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” There is a certain usefulness in brevity, and it’s nice being able to force yourself into keeping things concise (unlike this response) in your writing. A priest I know took on a task to summarize Gospel readings in Twitter length bursts. Several government officials have taken interesting steps to consolidate their message. It’s not a bad thing – especially for journalists. Maybe the rest of us can benefit as well.
Spend 25% Less Than You Make…but Don’t Starve Yourself of Treats
Spending money is like dieting. If you never allow yourself the big treat, you will fail. People talk about those that have lived in poverty, and how when they have money, they’ll spend it all rather than saving – because they’re used to the mentality that they’ll never have it again. Maybe you go into the store for a pillow and an avocado – and suddenly see three movies you’ve been looking for for years. Yes, you’re saving for this thing or that thing – but if you’ve done decently well with your spending that month, allow yourself the splurge. But just that one. You can’t splurge all the time – and saving is important. But don’t forget that piece of chocolate cake now and then.
Your Reputation is Priceless, Don’t Damage It…Even If You Think It’s Dumb
(I’m going to be a grammar Nazi and say that the above header is a comma splice and it pains me. *Ahem.*) This is another area I agree. Too many people my age think that because it’s on Facebook under a privacy screen, that means they can do anything. Unfortunately, when the hopeful-teacher goes on an interview and all of their profile pictures have red Solo cups in them…it’s going to raise flags, whether we like it or not. It’s a statement of fact: we’re not applying to people our own age. We’re applying to people closer to our parents’ ages…so we need to have what they think is a professional appearance – and whether we like it or not, that’s usually pretty accurate. We’re a generation of instant gratification, and the future be damned. We can enjoy ourselves all we want – but if we put that in the public’s eye, the public will judge us. And we don’t always like the public’s opinion, either.
All of this being said, this is from the perspective of a twenty-something, and probably comes equipped with my own prejudices and opinions. If the original poster at Forbes comes across this, then I’m sure they’d have a whole set of arguments to match me – and I’d welcome them. If my father taught me nothing else, it’s to appreciate a good debate – and to listen to the counterpoints with respect.
But from that, I had to comment back.