What It's Like To Be The Only Millennial In The Office

I’ve always looked younger than I actually am. Being only three years over the legal drinking age, I can’t object to being carded in bars; however, I also still get questioned when trying to get into R-rated movies. This confusion about my age makes it all the more unnerving when my coworkers seem to forget how young I am.

“Well, you know what they say: 24 is the new 18. It takes them longer than ever to grow up these days.”

I paused with my fork halfway to my mouth to gape at the client sitting next to me who had just uttered this statement. She is 60-ish, but youthful-looking, munching a salad and entertaining my boss, and the rest of my department, with anecdotes of her time spent teaching college.

“I know what you mean,” replied my boss. “Before we hired Rachel” — she gestures to me — “we interviewed someone who said his father had helped him find the job listing. Can you believe that?”

My mind scrambled as I attempted to remember my interview and anything I might have said to malign my generation. The client had moved on to discuss millennials’ ineptitude at salary negotiation.

“Well, not everyone is like that,” I managed to finally muster, but the comment was directed more into my plate of chicken Caesar.

“Of course not,” enthused my boss, “obviously we made the right choice in hiring you.”

I’m afraid my age means I won’t be taken seriously. Yet, this fear comes not because I’m actually ashamed of being a millennial, but because of the misconceptions that have sprung up surrounding that word.

What my boss, and the rest of the party at our office luncheon, failed to realize was I hadn’t meant this comment in defense of myself — I meant it in defense of millennials everywhere, who I felt were being unjustly criticized in this conversation. As the youngest at the table by several decades, and a relative newbie to the group, I found it impossible to speak further without cementing the misconception of a self-absorbed generation that thinks they are the exception to the rule. So I said nothing.

I’m treated well at my current job. This is the first position I’ve had where I’ve been given business cards, sent to conferences, and invited along when clients are treated to lunch. In short, I shouldn’t have any trouble feeling like an adult. However, in moments like these, I’ve never felt so young.

I’m the only millennial in my department. I don't work at some cool new startup, where the average age is 25 and everyone follows each other on snapchat. Instead, I work in an office where almost everyone is over 30, and my job doesn't involve social media or knowing about Kylie Jenner's life.

For me, and others like me who find themselves surrounded by older coworkers, the generation gap is often the unspoken elephant in the room. Except, of course, when my coworkers bring it up with a generalized “kids these days” comment, aimed not at me but at my generation as a whole. It’s then that I’m left wondering if they consider me the exception to the norm, or if they simply don’t realize how young I am.

Even though my coworkers treat me like an equal, it's hard not to feel insecure when I hear them make negative comments about my generation, and I feel the need to be discrete about being born in the '90's.

Once, a coworker fished for my age by suggesting I was 20 years younger than her, and I readily agreed, even though I know the age gap is more than that. If anyone directly asks, I refer to myself as being “several” years out of college, which is an elusive adjective I started using when I was less than 1.5 years past graduation. Even though my coworkers treat me like an equal, it's hard not to feel insecure when I hear them make negative comments about my generation, and I feel the need to be discrete about being born in the '90's.

I’m afraid my age means I won’t be taken seriously. Yet, this fear comes not because I’m actually ashamed of being a millennial, but because of the misconceptions that have sprung up surrounding that word.

I’m not lazy or arrogant, and I don’t live in my parents’ basement. I have a steady job and pay my own bills; most of my friends do, as well. Those that don’t are working on their degrees or pushing their way toward some other goal. I don’t consider myself the exception to the norm among my age group in being able to support myself, nor do I think there is anything abnormal about how hard I work to do it.

For most of my coworkers, a typical evening consists of hitting the gym after work and then going home to eat dinner with their families and watch TV. There are nights I do some version of this. Then there are other nights when I stay up until 1 AM working on one of my many freelance projects.

I do this partly for the money, but also because I have seen the dangers of being unemployed, underemployed, or starting a promising positions only to be let go with no explanation.

At my last job, I watched dozens of my peers get fired. Budget cuts were blamed, but I feel the real reason was that as recent college grads, we were seen as expendable. The company could easily fire us all one month to meet their budget, and then hire a new round of employees as replacements when they had more money just weeks later. Millennials looking for entry level office work were seen as a dime a dozen, no matter what their previous job experience was. Although my current workplace is much more stable, I still think about my future constantly, and that includes the skills on my resume as well as my savings. I want to be prepared.

There’s not a lot I can do to dispel negative stereotypes about my generation among my coworkers, besides continuing to live life the way I already do. Unfortunately, there will always be that one bad driver or that one rude person at the grocery store who looks about 25. Because of all the negativity surrounding millennials, these select few will be viewed by many as more of an accurate representation of my generation than I am. However, moving forward, I vow to readily offer my millennial status to my coworkers and to anyone else who may ask. I can’t represent my generation if I don’t own up to my age.

For those that are also the youngest at your workplaces, I encourage you to do the same. Since when did being young and having your future ahead of you become something to be ashamed of? My hard work and the way I conduct myself at the office should be the only factors I need to be taken seriously. It’s time the millennial generation stopped apologizing for the negative stereotypes heaped upon us and started living life like we are the new normal.