Recently, I have come to the unfortunate realization that my age has hindered my ability to be taken seriously in the realm of career counseling. Things generally are going well; I’m networking, sharing my career concerns, receiving feedback- but then, the tables turn. I casually mention my age and suddenly all prior credibility and comradery fly out the window.
“You’re sooo young, don’t even worry about it now”, they say, “You have so much time to figure it out.” “Twenty-two? Girl, relax you have your whole life ahead of you.” Clad with an eye-roll or a dismissive hand-wave. Essentially translated as, “NEXT, your concerns are not legitimate.”
But that’s the thing. I do not want to wander aimlessly for next fifteen years; hoping things will just magically work out in a fashion that lands me in my dream career. I do not want to “relax” and let time go by as I’m stuck in a position I don’t feel fulfilled in. Not that I’m denying the concept of “living in the moment”, but being proactive now sets one up for a better baseline in the future. And if I don’t feel satisfied in my role now, after eight months of testing the waters, why shouldn’t I put forth the effort to try and get myself in a better place twelve months from now? Furthermore, I should be able to be taken seriously in a collegiate environment, where I am able to express my desire to land myself in a better career, without being shrugged off due to an age difference.
So what is the deal with this sort of attitude towards people in their early 20s? Is it just a lack of understanding between generations? Steady increases in societal pressure? A generational divide due to changes in the way we approach careers? Either way, I think it is something to start talking about and something to start reforming.
What is essentially being exhibited here is ageism, just not in the way that ageism is normally perceived as. According to American gerontologist, Erdman B. Palmore, ageism can be defined as any discrimination or prejudice towards any group based upon age. Nowadays, one would never discredit a person’s concerns about a current career should they happen to mention that they are, say, 46 years old. They would not be brushed off with a “Don’t even worry about it.” So why do it with the younger crowd? It opens up a curious concept regarding double standards in the world of job seeking.
It is time to start normalizing proactive life planning. Earlier generations cannot seem to grasp that times have changed, in all senses of the phrase; politically, environmentally, and with relevance to this topic, in employment and career seeking. According to a CNN Business article, millennials are on average expected to change careers about four times within their lifetime. This is a significantly different standard than the career lifelines of the Boomers, where one would attain a job in their mid to late twenties, settle down with a family, and then slowly work their way up to a senior position within the same company over the course of thirty years.
Not only has the job market changed in this sense, but also the emphasis on employee satisfaction and personal curiosity has increased. Now more than ever, employees are seeking companies and employment opportunities that not only allow for a healthy work-life balance, but an ability to create, to continue learning on-the-job, and for professional development and networking opportunities. When the time has come where one feels the need to explore other avenues, it has become custom to say goodbye and head on to the next gig. Employees are not just focusing on furthering companies anymore; they are focusing on furthering themselves.
There is nothing wrong with starting the search for career satisfaction at a young age. Putting in the proactive work now will only benefit in the end, so why shouldn’t the younger crowd be taken seriously at age twenty-two?
At Mission Collaborative, I found the nurturing and accepting environment I had been searching for. Grant and Erica took me seriously, which is something I had not had from many other career counselors. Instead of throwing down the classic “you’re young, you’ll figure it out” response, they legitimized my career concerns, and praised me for beginning now.
I’ll never forget Erica’s words, during a group exploration exercise, “It’s really great that
you had this realization as early on in your career as you did.”
Seventeen words; seventeen words that validated how I was feeling. Seventeen words that did not brush off my concerns as coming from a silly twenty-two year old. Seventeen words that reaffirmed I had made the right step towards exploring and attaining a career I love. It is time to start adopting the inclusivity that Mission Collaborative demonstrates. It is time to start normalizing proactivity. It is time to start reinforcing that you are never too young to take charge of your life and make a change.
Autumn Thompson is a 2019 alum of Mission Collaborative’s Career Change Bootcamp. She is a recent graduate working to continue developing experience in corporate accountability, health accessibility, human rights, and the elimination of social issues through communications, law, and advocacy.