Steve Cody is the founder & CEO of Peppercomm, a strategic communications firm and one of Crain’s Best Places to Work in NYC.
The year was 1979. Jimmy Carter was in the White House, the Pittsburgh Pirates were on their way to the World Series and I was a 25-year-old newcomer to the world of public relations. I was also a member of arguably the least understood, most reviled generation of the 20th century: Baby Boomers.
Now, let’s fast forward to today and look at another misunderstood and—according to a just-released study—challenging generation: Gen-Zers. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of business leaders surveyed by Resume Builder said they find Gen-Z to be more difficult to work with than other generations and almost half (49%) reported it was difficult most or all of the time. Ouch!
Rather than respond to the criticism, I thought I’d put myself in my vintage 1979 shoes to provide advice to my 25-year-old self in hopes that members of the younger generation might find it helpful. If I could go back, here’s what I would tell myself.
1. Do not expect constant reassurance and feedback. Do your work, do it well and trust the powers that be will recognize and reward you. If they don’t, move on. It’s a big world out there filled with opportunity. Instead of griping if your boss isn’t always praising you, ask them if you are meeting/exceeding expectations so you know where you stand. You can also ask how you could be contributing differently or in a bigger way. If you don’t get the answers you want, find a different work environment and leave before you develop a reputation as a complainer.
2. Write. Write. Write. Strong, active and coherent writing seems to be a lost art. Write all the time. Study the way reporters at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal craft their articles. Use the inverted pyramid and 5Ws when writing any sort of business content. In other words, you should not start every memo with: “Hi Sharon. Hope you’re doing well! Just wanted to touch base on a few things….”
3. Be insatiably curious. Read everything you possibly can. Consume news and current events across multiple channels as if they are the last morsels of bread, and you’re stranded on a desert island. The more you know about the past and present, the more effective you’ll be as a communicator and leader. I recommend beginning each day with Forbes Daily.
4. Be slow to promise, but quick to deliver. Learning when to say when is critical at your age. The more work you take on, the more likely your work’s quality will diminish. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, learn to raise your hand and ask for your manager’s help organizing your time and prioritizing your workload.
5. Overcome your fear of the unknown. Just because you haven’t done it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Experiment. Follow your personal passions. Don’t wait until you hit your midlife crisis before discovering your love of stand-up comedy or mountain climbing.
6. Go to your boss with solutions, not problems. You’ll always be faced with new business challenges: an unhappy customer or a process that’s horribly inefficient. Don’t dump them in your manager’s lap. Apply critical thinking to the problem. What are possible solutions? Develop three, share them with your boss and empower them to help decide on the best move. It’s much better to be seen as an explainer than a complainer. And while problem solvers move up the food chain, hand-holders hit a wall early in their careers.
7. Suck it up. There will be nights when you get little sleep, but you’ll still shower, put on business casual and commute to the office. That strong work ethic is a timeless trait and one that will contribute to your eventual rise to CEO. There will also be summer days when you’ll want to call in sick to hit the beach. Don’t give into the temptation and leave your team in the lurch. Be the first example here, not the second.
8. Think global. Act local. Become fluent in a second language and, if the opportunity affords itself, work in other countries. To succeed in the future, you need to understand the rest of the world today.
9. You don’t know it all. You think you do, and trust me that you’re a smart 25-year-old. But don’t ignore your opportunities each day to interact with coworkers, customers, etc. who in some cases have double your work experience. Assume good intent. Ask how they achieved success and how they overcame failure. Listen when they share a thought and accept constructive feedback. You’ll grow by working with people more experienced than you. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll make wonderful, lifelong connections.
There are no second chances at being 25 years old. But there are many opportunities to counter the negative perception of 25-year-olds and set yourself up for a very bright and lucrative future.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?
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