Being a 20-Something “Professional”


I think being a 20-Something “Professional” is just about the hardest thing in the world. I mean, I have never endured child birth, nor have I ever participated in the Tough Mudder, but I am pretty sure, based on my experiences and my short 24 years of time on this earth, being a 20-Something “Professional” is probably up there with the hardest things to do in the world.

My friends and I are now about two to three years out of college, we survived the post-college identity crisis, and now we are stuck in another identity crisis, the What-Am-I-Going-To-Do-For-The-Rest-Of-My-Life identity crisis. We were SO excited to get our first jobs, and finally have money to buy a new car, live in a sweet new place of our own, and maybe afford to do some cool things, travel to some awesome places. Our entire weekends are suddenly free, we don’t have to waste them away studying anymore. And now, we have mastered our new jobs. We know everything about our co-workers. And, we start getting bored and we are realizing that very meager starting salary is probably not going to sustain our lifestyle for much longer.

Now, if you are the kind of person who is content with their job, happy with their salary, don’t plan on moving up the corporate ladder, then you can just stop reading now, because what I am going to say doesn’t apply to you.

However, for the rest of us who do see a much brighter future, and have larger aspirations for ourselves, who don’t want to be stuck making market entry rate for the rest of our lives, it’s probably time we start building for those dreams.

We have this ideology in our society that being a 20-something is “time to be selfish”. It’s “our time to run around, date up everyone, go to the bars all the time, and enjoy what we want, because this is the time to explore and be SELFISH”. While I do agree that it is time to discover ourselves, I think we have to be really careful how we interpret this word “selfish”. Some people tend to take this “selfish” term to the extreme. Like, “It’s my time to be selfish. I am hungry so I am going to push my way to the front of the buffet line”. Or, “It’s my time to be selfish, and I don’t want to walk far, so I am going to take this handicap spot”. Or, “It’s my time to be selfish, and I don’t want to take on a new client, because that means more work for me, and I would rather spend my time at work on Pinterest and Perez Hilton”.

Unfortunately, the choices we make as 20-Something “Professionals” will impact our 30-Something and 40-Something “Professional” lifestyles as well. Of course, as 20-Something “Professionals”, we will make some mistakes. We will burn bridges. We will learn political alliances. We will make an ignorant comment that makes a 40-Something “Professional” who has been around the block mad. This is part of growing up, and upon hiring us, people expect us to make some mistakes.

However, it is the big, unethical, detrimental “selfish” mistakes that might influence our 30-Something and 40-Something careers. We might have an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker, because we are “being selfish” and “doing what I want to do” that might cause us a promotion in the company. We might continually show up to work late, because we stayed out late at the bar with our friends, because “I want to be selfish and enjoy my youth with fun people that I won’t be able to do for that much longer” that might end in a not-very-fun conversation with our boss. We may choose to opt out of that extra duty, or refuse to work on a certain project, because “this just isn’t my expertise” and “it cuts into my personal time” and “I don’t want to work that much”. It may appease our inner-divas to post that picture on InstaGram because “I want everyone to see how outrageous my Spring break trip was”, until a future employer catches wind of it and knixes our interview on the spot. It might seem like a really good idea to take a job being a waitress, because we make really good money, and can afford nails every week, until, of course, we get appendicitis and realize our instant gratification job comes with no benefits.

We are in the real world, folks, and we need to start recognizing that the decisions we make today could influence our professional careers later.

The good news is, if we do make some of these potentially damaging decisions, our lives are not over. We might have to switch companies, move out of state, take extra classes to get to where we want to be, but opportunities are always available; our path might just include a few time sensitive and monetary related detours, but we can still climb the corporate ladder.

My motivation in making “professional” decisions is always my future children (whatever unfortunate souls they end up to be). I want to ensure I am building a reputation for myself so that, when I do have children, they are welcomed into a warm and loving community, and if I have to suck up to some people I don’t like, then I suck up. I want to make sure I am building a strong financial basis, so that I am secure enough to actually afford children and dress them in cute little tutus (even if I have boys, they are still wearing tutus), and if I have to attend an extra training, then I attend the extra training. And, I want to assure that I am enriching myself, taking care of all the places I want to go and things I want to accomplish for myself, so that when that time does come, I can devote my energy to being the best parent ever.

While we certainly may be asked to take tasks we don’t necessarily enjoy, and while we may be put in situations that test our characters, and we may not work with people we really want to hang out with, what we have to remember is that right now, it is our task to endure, and that how we react today will influence our “professional” reputations and careers later on. While it may really appease our immediate personal desires to gossip about co-workers by the water fountain (or the virtual water fountain, as our technology-driven society might incur), we have to remember that gossip taints our reputation, causes us to appear untrustworthy and petty, and when it comes time for someone to defend us in a legal situation, they may remember that conversation. While it may sound way more entertaining to be at home, watching Desperate Housewives and sipping on a red, turning in half-finished projects and always asking for extended deadlines labels us as a ‘lazy worker’, and when it comes time for that promotion, the person who did stay late is probably the front runner, and we are left in the dust. And, while we may be oppositional defiant and hate authority, not understand why we have to abide by rules, getting into confrontations with those who “run the place” might prevent us from getting extra staples and preferential spots on the evaluation calendar (and a heads up when the office donuts come in).

Sadly, because people are so quick to judge, we sometimes only get one chance to prove our worth. We don’t meet that first deadline because we were out the night before “being selfish”? People expect we won’t meet any deadlines and we get dropped from assignments. We don’t pull our weight on one project because we were “up late dealing with some drama”? People expect we won’t ever pull our weight and they refrain from asking us to take leadership roles. We don’t handle a confrontation appropriately because we “were offended by the customer’s approach”? People expect we are poor communicators and a bad image for our business and stop sharing information with us.

Being a 20-Something “Professional” is really exhausting, because there is so much pressure to perform, and to perform well, while still trying to figure our own personal lives out as well. However, I am also inclined to think that, if we can endure, and if we can make those ethical, “professional” decisions, the future outcome will be so worth the stress and emotional turmoil.

The decisions we make today will inevitably pave the way for our 40-Something and 50-Something and 60-Something year old selves. These short 20-something years are crucial, not just for professional development, but also for personal growth, in relationships, building our faith bases. Don’t let it waste away…

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