Being a "Young Professional"

Being a "Young Professional"

“Young Professional." “It’ll be a great networking opportunity." “Because it’s time to start thinking about your future." “You really should spend some time beefing up your LinkedIn profile”

 

Like nails on a chalkboard, like the screech of a heavy chair dragged across a tile floor, like people who grind their teeth, like when people overuse similes (guilty as charged), I cringe whenever I hear these phrases. These phrases dig under my skin for a number of reasons.

 

When I hear “young professional," it feels like I’m being given what my friend likes to call a “pity pat” - a condescending pat that is meant to provide assurance but is more pitying than comforting. To me, the connotation of young professional feels like this because as much as I want to be a bonafide, organic/homegrown “professional," I’m still a kid who only recently learned how to use an office printer.

 

When I hear “networking opportunity,” my mind translates that as “1-2 hours of convincing a group of strangers that you’re worth talking to.” When it's time to “think about my future," that's code for “you should’ve been thinking about your future a long time ago.” And, honestly, I don’t think I need to explain my frustrations with  LinkedIn, because I think y’all feel the same.


However, despite my distaste, it is impossible to avoid hearing these phrases chanted like a really boring prayer throughout Washington, D.C. The reason these phrases bother me is because they remind me of all that I haven’t done, or experienced, or thought of yet. That is one of the reason I came to D.C. in the first place, so I can add “worked and lived in an impressive-sounding place” to my checklist of reasons why I’m experienced or interesting, or why you should believe me when I fake my way through a conversation about something I know very little about (i.e. most things).

 

No matter how much you think about your future or are called “impressive for someone your age” (add that phrase to the list) you always feel behind. So as not to sink into the unending downward spiral of comparing myself to others, I’ve had to constantly remind myself of a few things. Hopefully these reminders will help y'all, too.

 

Confidence in the Face of Ignorance

While most of the United States has a negative view of Congress, I believe there are some lessons to take from our representatives. A lobbyist coworker of mine recently reminded me of something important as we were walking around on Capitol Hill: all the big shot senators, officials, and executives are just normal people outside of these buildings. All of these people fake competence every day, because even the good ones cannot be experts on every issue and debate that comes their way. Every one of these representatives has a whole team behind them to boil down enormous issues into short, digestible paragraphs for their boss to briefly glance at and then vigorously defend in front of the entire country.

 

This was a terrifying realization that, while increasing my cynicism of politics tenfold, also encouraged me in a confusing way. These people are in some of the highest offices of our country and all of them, even the smart ones, have mastered the art of feigning confidence in the face of incredible ignorance. This is, of course, highly concerning, but also heartening for all the “young professionals” out there who, like our Congress members, only really know a little about a lot. So next time you have to go to a networking event, just act like a Congress member and feign confidence despite not knowing what to say.

 

 

The Freedom Found on the Bottom of the Totem Pole

I had a music teacher who would always tell me that being on the bottom of the totem pole was the best place to be. No one expects too much from you, making it easy to impress. You’re surrounded by people who know more than you, giving you great opportunities to learn. And finally, on the bottom, there is nowhere to go but up. I’ve found an odd sense of freedom being a lowly, unpaid intern. I don’t have any real responsibilities, no one can dock my pay, and I have the freedom to ask almost any question, no matter how basic. I may not be a “real professional," but real professionals don’t have the same privileges and freedoms that I do. Responsibility can wait, now is time for me to ask questions and to explore. Or at least this is what I tell myself to make me feel better about copy and pasting news articles all day.

 

Courtesy of Giphy

 

Maybe Being a Millennial Isn’t That Bad

If you’re like me, then you often have to prevent yourself from bursting out laughing during inappropriate times. My most recent incident was during a Bloomberg Politics event where expert panelists discussed “Driving the Digital Economy.” One of my favorite parts of my internship has been going to these events. One, there is often a complimentary meal (and these people do not mess around, I’m talking cinnamon-Nutella donuts), but more importantly, I get to learn directly from all these experts about the political and economic realities of our time.

 

The common thread among all of these forums though is the topic of millennials, and what the hell to do about them. At this specific forum, the panelists were discussing all the ways in which they had to change their business to accommodate millennials. These executives discussed how they had to change their office structure, their employment expectations, their payment options, etc. What made me laugh (and almost choke on my donut) though was the manner in which they described these changes. These big time executives kept lavishing praise on all the “innovative and…new” ways they were having to change their business model for this new herd of young professionals. Despite these seemingly positive comments, all of the panelists had forced smiles and nervously laughed as if their millennial overlords were listening in on their discussion.

 

Millennials, I have great news. The professional world is terrified of us. They may criticize our avocado toast and tight pants, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we have the power. It was a fabulous realization that made me feel so much better about being an idiot 20-something intern: they are changing for us, because they have to. So remember kids, when adults roll their eyes and shake their fists in the air about us rotten kids, they’re actually afraid. Is it sadistic for me to laugh at this fear? Maybe, but my fear of the future is laughed at and blown off all the time, so it only feels fair.

 

 

These are the things I think about whenever I must listen to any of the phrases mentioned above. It is a strange conglomeration of techniques and mentalities, that mostly revolve around convincing myself to be content with where I currently am in my life. Ultimately, it comes down to the affirmation that I am enough. Maybe I don’t feel comfortable at networking events. Maybe I resent my own inexperience and ignorance. Maybe, just maybe, LinkedIn is overrated. But certainly I can push forward despite my annoyance and insecurity, because in the end the only way out is through and maybe everyone else is just pretending, too.


Stay positive my friends,
Noah

 

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