As a Millennial in the workforce, I am expected to dress and play the part of a young professional. However, few people expect me to really know what I’m talking about, leaving me with two options: to play the clueless-yet-entitled part OR simply rise to the occasion. Even if it’s new, even if it’s uncomfortable, I have to fake it ‘til I make it (happen).
Mark-Anthony Smith recently wrote an article arguing Millennials shouldn’t have to fake it ‘til we make it. He argued our generation has been raised to be authentic and “faking it” flew in the face of that lifelong advice.
I agree with Mark on principal. At times, faking it ‘til you make it does feel ingenious. But whether it be products or abilities, confidence sells. If you are not willing to feign a little confidence and learn quickly, there is a strong chance someone else more willing will usurp your opportunities.
“Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
With Teddy’s blessing, I believe there’s a little room for all of us.
When asked to do something new, find a delicate balance of owning your ability to figure it out WHILE seeking guidance. You don’t need all of the answers right now. You just need to know you can find them. Sell your confident abilities but seek out an expert for execution. One of the most effective ways to learn is from other people’s mistakes.
A few suggestions for learning on your own two feet:
1.) Question your expertise, not your abilities. Deer in the headlights is a dead giveaway you might not be the right person after all. Of course you are!
2.) Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Be sure your boss or client know what they’re asking you to do. A lot of the times they truly have no idea. Clarifying questions can help shape the project and avoid wasted work and missed targets.
3.) Don’t entertain the fear of embarrassment. There is no shame in learning something new. Seek out an expert whenever possible.
4.) If trying to build credibility with a potential mentor, ask a few questions you already know the answer to. After the person has answered, you can explain it in a different way, making them feel they’ve taught you something AND signaling you’re intelligent enough to view things in different ways. (This strategy also works well with professors you may be having a hard time with.)
5.) If the conversation is stalling, ask an open-ended “state” or “direction” of the industry question. People often love to share their opinions on what’s wrong and how THEY’D fix it.
6.) Follow-up with something useful or at least relevant. Collect a business card (or email address) and follow-up with next steps, relevant articles, something. Prove you were paying attention and worth staying in touch with.
7.) Do your job. Whatever it is, you were hired for a reason. Someone had faith in your abilities. Prove the both of you right.
Being a young professional should suggest you’re good but the sky’s your limit. I’ve got 35 years or so until retirement (if I’m lucky). I can only hope I still have a lot to learn.
“Always behave like a duck – keep calm and unruffled on the surface but paddle like the devil underneath.” – Jacob Braude
Quack quack, Millennials. Quack quack.