As young people in the workplace, we can often find ourselves in situations where we feel we don’t belong. We scan the conference room, making eye contact with people 20 years older than us -- people with families and houses to pay off.
Meanwhile, many of us still spend our weekends in front of flags that read “Saturdays Are For The Boys.”
Plus, the older people in that room always make more money than us. As it always has, money equals status. It shouldn’t be this way, but when we’re in that room, we trick ourselves into thinking all the older folks are better than us and that we’re out of our league.
This, as on-air TV personality Alyssa Lang and I discussed on yesterday’s podcast, is called “imposter syndrome.”
I remember my first time experiencing this. In 2018, ESPN The Magazine, the now-defunct multi-award winning publication, celebrated its 20th anniversary. The company planned a million different events to commemorate the occasion.
I produced a radio show alongside my idol, Jeremy Schaap. The Mag wanted to send all of its past presidents, and current president, to our show’s studio so that the entire crew could reminisce about The Magazine’s highest and lowest moments in its 10-year run.
So here I was, a depressed 22-year-old who spent his nights on an air mattress, directing a group of very powerful and rich people where to sit and when to speak. I felt so out of place and over my head. After the taping, I felt like it went terribly.
The next day, I received an email from the guy who hosted the conversation (Jeremy was out that week). He thanked me for scrambling to put the event together and for helping coach him through it all. He commended me and said he wanted to keep in touch.
My jaw hit the floor. I thought I looked like a mess out there. But I think we, as ambitious young people, always assume things could be better, that we could have done more.
The truth is, in today’s world, young people like Alyssa and I are more capable of excelling in a room of experienced people than ever before. After the normal post-college local news stints in South Carolina and Florida, Alyssa arrived at ESPN in 2018 for an on-air role...as a 25-year-old! I’m not sure if someone her age makes it to that level so quickly 30 years ago. Heck, maybe even 10.
We’ve seen a shift.
Let’s use a sports analogy.
When I was growing up, quarterbacks selected in the first few rounds of the NFL Draft hardly played in their first season as a rookie. After three or four years of college, many still weren’t ready to immediately handle everything that came with being a quarterback in the league: the new playbook, the increased pressure, the distractions, the large paychecks, off-field commitments, etc. They usually needed a year or two to watch from the sidelines and silently improve their craft, rather than throw themselves into the fire of an NFL game.
But today, the league’s newest quarterbacks routinely start Week 1 of their rookie season. And guess what? They’re ready.
Kyler Murray, the 2019 No. 1 overall pick, played at a Pro Bowl level last season. Justin Herbert, a first round pick in 2020, enjoyed one of the best rookie seasons ever, even after having his first season made very difficult by the coronavirus pandemic.
The point? Young people today are more capable of handling big tasks than ever before. Despite the skepticism and odd glances we receive from older colleagues, we belong. Like Alyssa told me yesterday, sometimes we just need to convince ourselves of it.
"I knew that I was going to have to earn the respect of my colleagues and the producers and anybody who I came in contact with, especially because I was young."
She continued, “At the end of the day, it's a constant battle and reminding yourself that you are there for a reason."
Amen, Alyssa. We’ve studied. We’ve put in the work. We’ve made the relationships and earned ourselves a spot in that room.
So let’s get out there and prove that we belong.