This week, I want to address an issue that I believe is fairly prevalent among young workers: a general feeling of inadequacy when comparing oneself to your older, seasoned colleagues.
It’s a feeling I’ve experienced more than a few times, most recently during a group brainstorming session with my fellow editors. While discussing the particularly heady concept of the Internet of Things, I began to feel a growing sense of dread as I realized I was having difficulty keeping up with both the jargon and the concepts being tossed around easily by my coworkers.
A nagging voice at the back of my head began to whisper that perhaps I shouldn’t be there, and I was too young and too experienced to be able to contribute to what was being debated. Doubt quickly turned to panic, and as I continued to worry, the conversation became more difficult to follow as I struggled to reassure myself that I was qualified to participate.
I wish I could say this type of situation was unusual for me, but unfortunately that is not the case. I’ve discussed the matter with many other people my age, and for the most part they all feel the same way. It can be very intimidating to feel relevant in a conversation with peers with more experience than you, especially if you work in a field where very smart people are a common occurrence.
This may come as a surprise to some of you who think millennials are smug or cocky in their knowledge, but it’s true; we have moments of self-doubt that can be annoying at the least, and crippling at their worst. Just as Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may envy us for our knowledge of social media and new forms of communication, we too are envious of your life experience and the wisdom that comes with working in an industry for many years.
This feeling, it seems, is actually a recognized and fairly common occurrence aptly called “Impostor Syndrome” for the way it makes one feel as though they are impersonating someone with a higher set of qualifications. Until very recently, I didn’t know this phenomena had a name, but the more digging I did, the more I found that while it can be dangerous, this feeling can also help you become a better worker. Just ask Carl Richards, a financial planner, author and director of investor education at the BAM Alliance, who recently wrote about his own fears of inadequacy in The NY Times. While some of us would naturally seek to strike the fear of being inadequate out of our mental routine, Richards advocates that we embrace this fear and use it to fuel our desire to become the people we feel we are impersonating.
So by now you may be wondering – how did I fare in that discussion about the Internet of Things? I was still a little confused by the end of the conversation, but the very next day I was able to take the lead on a new topic and serve as the resident expert in helping my teammates learn something new about their jobs. It was a good feeling, and it made me realize being weak in one subject didn’t necessarily make me a liability for the overarching success of the organization.
So rather than feel sorry for yourself or spend time worrying about being a burden, learn to embrace your strengths and envision ways in which to become the skilled worker you wish to be. Learn how to contribute in the ways you are best suited and then ask for help in the areas where you need it the most. Not only will your colleagues appreciate your candor, but I’m willing to bet they’ll be more than happy to lend a helping hand.
The Millennial Report is a weekly column by associate editor Michael Cusanelli, who graduated from Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism in 2013. He is an avid gamer and movie buff who spends nearly as much time concocting the perfect mix tape as he does writing. You can find him on Twitter @MCusanelliSB.