When I used to work at Current, our department of about 30 people was led by a VP of programming, who was all of 28 years old. I was 23 or 24 when I started, and super green in the corporate world, so it didn’t seem that weird to me to have someone so young be given the reigns of a multi-million dollar departmental budget by the higher ups at the network. But considering there were producers who were 30 or older, under the authority of this apparent corporate prodigy, it does seem kind of odd, in retrospect. I remember talking to one colleague, who was a bit older than our VP, what it was like taking orders from someone younger than him, and he said it wasn’t that big of a deal. Which is, of course, what you say in that situation.
But as we all the round the corner from our mid-twenties to our late-twenties/early-thirties, more and more of us will find ourselves in the position where we’re taking orders from someone our junior in age but senior in rank. And if I think about it, as a freelancer, I’ve definitely had some clients who were younger than me. So there are a few things to tell yourself, to help ward of the self-loathing and the stress-induced binge-eating.
- Once you hit your mid-twenties, older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser. And experience counts only if you learn something from it. So don’t assume you’re better than ANYONE just because you have a couple years on them. In fact, don’t assume you’re better than anyone. You’re you. They’re them. You should work on yourself and not hold yourself up against your peers in a sort who-am-I-better-at-life-than competition in your mind. (Caveat: I judge people constantly).
- If your boss is a good manager, that’s why they’re there. They worked there way into that position and you can probably learn something from them.
- If your boss is a shitty manager, well, it’s not because of they’re age. You can still rise to the challenge of working with them, and there’s still something you can learn from them. If you’re job isn’t making you better or smarter, do something else.
- If they’re an entrepreneur, who started the thing you’re working on and are, like, too young to grow a beard or rent a car without paying extra (which is highly likely here in SF), there’s nothing to be intimidated by. In fact, treat them more like a colleague. They hired you for your experience and guidance. So offer it. Without being condescending.
- Don’t be condescending, even though they’re younger than you. In fact, if you find your have a tendency to be condescending to younger people, older people, co-workers, friends, or loved ones, here’s what you should do: STOP BEING CONDESCENDING ALL THE TIME. Ass. You’ve got bigger problems than having a boss who was born in 1985.
- If all you care about is climbing the corporate ladder (god, I hope no one reads this who only cares about climbing the corporate ladder), then focus on that and let the relative youth of your direct superior be a motivation to work harder, read more corporate politics book and hustle harder. But also, take a look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself “Am I really trying to climb the corporate ladder at this management consulting firm because it’s what I want to do?” If the answer’s “yes”, yourself in the throat. That one’s for me, too.
And it’s that simple. I would have just said, don’t worry about it and do your thing, but how would that be any fun?
Henry Goldman is his own boss, who he hates.