One minute you're at the top of the food chain, a college senior with the world in the palm of your hands. You've almost made it through four years of group projects, late night cram sessions, midterms, finals and everything in between.
You walk around your campus with your head held high, shoulders back, laughing alongside your hoards of friends. Freshmen are the subjects of your moments of nostalgia, and the butt of every joke. The experiences you've had, the knowledge you've gained both in and out of the classroom have transformed you into the confident young adult you are. You worked hard for this title of seniority, and you better relish the moment.
Because soon, you'll go from the top of the food chain back down to the bottom. And from one college graduate to another, let me tell you, it's a tough transition.
I wouldn't consider myself "popular" in college, but I'd like to think I had a significant amount of friends (sororities are good for that). By the time I was a senior, it was impossible to walk to any class without seeing someone I knew, or without sharing classes with friends. Despite my naturally reserved nature, I am a confident, strong individual, and my senior year was the culmination of that.
I had the perfect boyfriend, a job on campus I loved where I was well-respected, a weekend gig that added to my resume and bank account and an internship with a stellar fashion house in Los Angeles. Like I said, the world truly seemed to be in the palm of my hands. That all changed the day I walked across the stage, arms outstretched for my diploma and the responsibilities of adulthood that came along with it.
On graduation day, I accepted the celebrations of my accomplishments, as well as the demotion from big dog college senior to not only the "new guy" at work but the "baby." I went from confident, outspoken 22-year-old with 17 years of school under my belt, to "that new blonde girl" sitting in her cubicle.
My four years of business school prepared me to succeed as a professional, but never did it prepare me for the uphill battle that is making a name for yourself at the ripe age of 22 in your newly established career.
As the butt of all jokes referencing anything involving age (i.e. "Are you even allowed to drink?," and "Should you be driving?"), I've become accustomed to being the baby on the team. While I know it's all in good fun, and I don't take any of those jokes as more than a playful display of affection, it has been a struggle to feel like I'm taken seriously.
There are two contributing factors to this overall feeling of doubt: My timidity in new environments, and my age.
Let me first address my timidity in new environments. While my friends laugh and immediately disagree when I call myself "shy," the two-sided nature of my Gemini self is very real. No, I'm not bat sh*t crazy like most Geminis are assumed to be, but I have a quiet side, as well as a more playful side. At work, it's taken me a little bit longer to allow the playful, joking side of me to shine.
It would be a boldfaced lie if I said I came into work my first day a confident new employee, ready to take on the job and quickly establish myself on the team. With my boss being absent on the first day to walk me around the office and introduce me to people, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed by all the new faces and names. Instead, I stuck to the confines of my desk and the few people I knew.
Individuals from my new team came up and introduced themselves and welcomed me, however, more often than not, people passed right by me without saying a single word. I became the focus of office chatter. Everyone was asking about the "new blonde girl" sitting at the front desk.
As I sat at my computer, awaiting further instruction from my boss/craving for more people to actually stop at my desk to say hi, the confident, take-charge Casey on my shoulder said, "Go out there and introduce yourself to people." But eventually, the "stick with your comfort zone" Casey won the battle, and I stayed put.
I looked on in admiration at all my co-workers walking to and from meetings cracking jokes, having laughs and hoped I could one day share that same happiness with my teammates.
Being thrown into the working world less than two months after graduating is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But it's worth it. In nine short months, I've received a crash course in a lot of things, but most importantly, in the importance of extending myself outside of my comfort zone.
While I know I most likely would have been quiet and shy on my first day of work no matter what, having this experience in my first real job has built the strength within me to lead with the confident, strong Casey vs. the quiet, reserved Casey.
Now, onto my age. With every candle we add to the birthday cake, we add another year of experience and real-world knowledge. At 22, it seems that everyone has advice for every decision in my life. From where I should live to how I should conduct my dating life, there are older, wiser people there to offer advice.
By no means do I think I have everything all figured out. Heck, I'm guilty of playing the "older, wiser card" with people younger than myself, but this can also act as a reminder of my youth. It can feel as if I'm back in the classroom listening to that day's lecture from my professor, and not as a contributing member of an office.
Ultimately age is just a number, but that number can mess with your head and define you if you let it. I'm not saying it's easy to look beyond your lack of experience compared to your coworkers, or that it's not a struggle feeling like you don't relate to them on a personal level, but it can be done.
I want you to think back to that 22-year-old college senior getting ready to graduate. Remember the immense feelings of strength, power and excitement you had? The fire in your belly to go out into the world and kick some serious ass? Are you going to allow the fact that you're five to 10 years younger than most of your coworkers diminish that?
If you answered yes, you need to do some serious soul searching, my friend. But, if you realized the ridiculousness of that statement (seriously how is it even an actual question?), then let this be the renewal of that fire within your soul.
The recurring theme in my sorority in college (I know, I know I'm perpetrating the whole age thing), was, "You'll get out of it what you put in." For us, this meant if you chose not to be an active member of the chapter, then how could you expect to have the sorority experience you'd always dreamed of? After being out of college and in the working world for almost a year, I realize that phrase applies just as much to sorority life as it does to post-grad life.
If you chose to be the girl who sits at her desk all day waiting for something to happen, you'll remain "that blonde girl," and continue to be a forgotten team member. If you allow your age to define your abilities (reminder: IT DOESN'T), you'll always be the 22 year-old butt of jokes instead of the contributing team member who's going places, and fast!
Every day is another step in my journey in this whole "adulting" thing. Going from big man on campus, to little man in the boardroom has been quite a shock to my system.
It's challenged me, forced me to think outside the box and push outside my comfort zone, but more importantly, it's made me stronger.
Sure, there are still good days and bad. There are days where I feel like everyone is depending on me, that I am the glue that holds everything together. And then there are days where I feel like I could be easily replaced, or my voice is quickly silenced and met by stares in a meeting.
While my decision to start working right out of college is not one shared by all of my classmates, I wouldn't trade this decision for the world. Without these feelings of insecurity, moments of apprehension and difficulty, I would not be the woman I am today. I wouldn't be almost a year into my career, feeling that renewed energy to go out and show the world who's boss (which WILL be me someday). I wouldn't be anywhere had I stuck in my cubicle wondering if I had made the right decision.
So, here's my challenge to you young Millennials: Don't allow feelings of self-doubt or insecurity silence your voice.
Despite these thoughts, you DO have a lot to offer to the world, and it's time you start reminding everyone through your actions AND your words.