When my father was looking for a new job about a year ago, we had a phone call about how he was learning how to be a student again—a student of new practices, a student of studying new terms and parts of the industry, and a student around actual students (young men and women in their twenties/fresh out of college). One of the biggest (and frankly strangest) things I realized was that my dad, although so knowledgeable and with years of relevant experience, was facing ageism as an older man.
Talking to him about his triumphs and failures, frustrations and struggles, made me realize that sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you know or how long or little you’ve been doing something—you’ll experience ageism, imposter syndrome, and fear.
And that’s human.
His experience, ironically, shed light on my own because faced the opposite form of ageism in my professional career. As a twenty-something business owner, I’ve had people tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing, that I’m too young, that I’m too inexperienced, and frankly that I’m ‘not old enough to be successful.’
Although my story is different than my father’s valid and painful experience, I think it’s important to also talk about how ageism can affect younger people, too. Sometimes young people don’t get the credit they deserve, simply because of age. And while that sucks (as ageism sucks for any age), there are ways to push back against it.
Here’s how to assert yourself (even if you’re young):
Stop viewing everyone as a role model.
When we’re younger, it’s natural to look up to the people around us. They have it figured out, they know what they’re doing, and naturally, they carry themselves differently. Although I’m by no means advocating against role models (because it’s good for each and every one of us to have them!) it shouldn’t be your central focus or guiding force.
Look up to people, but don’t be led by them. You can be inspired by people who are doing ‘better’ or who are further along than you, but don’t focus so much attention on them that you lose sight of yourself.
Understand that your voice has a place.
One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves (regardless of age) is that we’re ‘not enough’ to really contribute. Whether it’s not old enough, not smart enough, not at the company long enough, etc. we keep these negative thoughts in our heads rather than honoring what we can do, or are capable of becoming.
Recognize that your voice and perspectives have a place, regardless of how long or little you’ve been at your current position.
Be gentle with your process and don’t expect perfection.
An important part of learning how to assert yourself is recognizing that you’re imperfect. And that’s okay. You can assert yourself and still make mistakes. You can voice your opinion, even if it’s wrong sometimes.
Don’t expect yourself to always do, say, or know the right thing. Sometimes it’s being wrong that actually helps you grow even more.
Listen, but don’t always be guided by others’ opinions.
It’s important, especially as a young person, to listen to others. People who have more experience naturally may know more than you, and you can’t pretend that’s not the truth. But even when you’re listening to and honoring others and their perspectives, don’t let that always be the advice you follow.
You can (and should) carve your own path at times. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, that doesn’t mean you can’t figure it out along the way.
Find your middle ground between humble and aggressive.
Learning how to assert yourself means learning how to find your happy medium between humility and aggression. You have to know your place, especially when you’re just starting out. (You’re not an expert!) But you also have to know that you are valuable and can create an impact, too.
Find your voice and don’t be afraid to use it! But do so within reason and within that ‘happy medium’ that both honors you, and those around you.
Learn and honor your boundaries unapologetically.
To truly assert yourself, you have to know your boundaries. If there’s something you absolutely won’t compromise on, don’t be afraid to admit and be truthful to that. It’s okay to say ‘no.’ It’s okay to step away from something that really isn’t working. And it’s okay to advocate for yourself and your needs (even if it goes against the grain sometimes).
Asserting yourself means honoring yourself.
Featured Image Credit: Andrea Vehige