Students are taught to never include their age on a resume. People in the workforce are taught to never ask for the age of their coworkers. And if a recruiter or interviewer were to ask how old you are or comment on your youth, you would question the ethics and legality of their company or who they represent. While I have heard of the grievances of age discrimination through hearsay, I never fully realized the true extent until I was talking with a manager at a networking event some time ago. Our conversation went a little something like this:
"So how did you end up in your role [within your organization]?"
"I was able to work my way up from my previous role into the managerial position. I've been in this position less than a year, so I'm still looking for opportunities to develop myself. Between you and me, I'm one of the youngest managers in my organization. It's hard, because age (being older) is valued more here than how much impact one actually makes at [the organization]. I've seen underperforming staff end up promoted for no reason other than that they have been here longer than the hard working and over-achieving younger individual."
People are scared they will be seen as less than other because of age (and ultimately experience), and that's not right. To be clear, I'm not harping on the value of experience. However, the point is that experience should not be the sole factor driving decisions for jobs and for promotions. I've played tennis for 17 years, and I've been defeated by people years younger than me not because of experience, but because of talent. And that talented 25 year old who outperforms the older experienced employees and works his hardest day in and day out to make his company a better place? Why not let him compete for the managerial position? While experience has its place in consideration, there is also value in youth, passion, and drive. Youth should be celebrated, not neglected.
Why do I ask the age of those featured on The Leadership Projects? Because I see this drive, this passion, this fire that fuels these young leaders, these trailblazing individuals that have already accomplished or been through more than some will do in their entire lives. It needs to be known that they didn't wait until later in life to make an impact on the world, they chose to act now. In the words of the 23 year old former Baton Rouge Mayoral candidate Braylon Hyde, "my age did not determine my ability to bring my dreams into reality." There's nothing more rewarding than seeing other young leaders, people my age, who view this age barrier as something meant to be shattered. The next time someone says "You're too young to make a difference" or "You don't quite have the experience necessary to handle that project," challenge them, challenge yourself to rise to the occasion. This mindset has already given me the ability to achieve more than I ever could have dreamed just five years ago. If you have the direction, the alignment, and the commitment to the cause, go out and make a difference. Who knows, maybe you'll even surprise yourself with all that you can accomplish.
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