Career advice from Gen Y

Gen Y are energetic and intelligent

I feel lucky to work with so many smart young people. These twentysomethings, often referred to as Generation Y, belong to the generation behind mine. We hear a lot of generalizations about this group. My take is that they are energetic, intelligent and not too different from my own generational peers.

What I see is a group of young people who are doing what I did in my 20s: exploring life and developing skills in business. When I was in my 20s, I felt a great deal of pressure to become an adult -- someone with a career, a house, a family -- in short, someone just like my dad. I wondered whether things are all that different for the next generation, so I asked my twentysomething colleagues what advice they would give their peers just entering the professional workforce. What I heard applies to all of us, I think.

1. Keep an open mind, and don't jump to conclusions. When faced with isolated facts, remember that you may not have the whole story. This is advice I could have used when I was the age of the person who just gave it to me. When I was in my 20s, I used to think that senior managers could be pretty darn stupid at times. A lot of the time, they did things that didn't make a lot of sense to me. Now that I am a senior manager myself, I understand that we all will make mistakes on occasion, but in general, managers have good reasons for their decisions.

2. Don't worry so much. I was surprised to hear this from a highly competent middle manager. Of all the young people I work with, she seems to have the least to worry about. Having graduated from a prestigious college, she managed to break into middle management before the age of 30. She's competence personified. But perhaps being worried -- and doing something about it -- is what has gotten her where she is. Here I am, a generation older, and I still worry about the details, the big picture and everything in between, and it's difficult to imagine a time when I won't. But I have learned to focus my worry on things I can do something about rather than on things that belong to others.

So, this young middle manager may have been saying, "Don't worry so much about things you can't do anything about." Or perhaps not. Like me, she may not learn that until she's in her 30s.

3. Don't grow up too fast. This was my favorite bit of advice. It came from a very smart analyst, who said that there's plenty of time to settle into middle age and that in the meantime, one should travel as much as possible. When this analyst is working, she does a great job, and when she's not, she has a great time. She has already found what most of us older folks yearn for -- a work/life balance that gives her a satisfying career and a lot of great experiences. Her philosophy may sound similar to the "work hard and play hard" ethic of the '90s, but it's really more relaxed and more focused on being present and enjoying being present -- both when at work and when at play.

After listening to the "kids" in the office, I spoke with our "seniors," the oldest baby boomers. These are professionals who, having retired from one career, have returned to the workforce (some of them part time) because they want to. For the most part, they echoed what the Gen Y'ers had to say. But they added something to the advice about growing up too fast:

4. Don't grow old too fast. Too many people accept restrictions placed upon them by others -- even well-meaning people like doctors and family members. So what if Jerry Rice had to play football for the Raiders? The point is that he was still playing -- doing what he enjoyed.

So to all of us in the sandwich generation, taking care of our kids and our parents, older than these Gen Y'ers and not yet retired, I say stop and make sure you're enjoying where you are right now. Don't grow up too fast, and certainly don't grow old too fast.

Virginia Robbins is a former CIO who is currently the chief administrative officer responsible for bank operations at the California Bank of Commerce. You can contact her at vrobbins@sbcglobal.net.

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