As executive coaches, we meet plenty of high performers who strive to accomplish even more in their (often) fast-track careers. While their ambition is refreshing, it often comes with a common concern: “Am I in over my head?”
It’s an almost inescapable paradox. Confident people who achieve a lot early in their careers quickly lose confidence as they progress. As more than one high-achieving real estate executive has told us – and we have seen hundreds: “It is strange to be 29 years old and sit in a meeting of ‘peers’ and know that every one of them is 15 to 25 years older, with corresponding experience.” It is challenging, humbling and intimidating, often leaving people worried about looking and sounding – well, dumb, unprepared, and inexperienced.
If you are one of those many ambitious employees, we’d like to help you regain some of your self-confidence.
Here are some interesting thoughts:
The maturity difference between 22 and 29 is a lot greater than 29 and 36: There is a seven-year difference in both cases, but learning curves are rarely flat lines. Year by year, the gap between you and more experienced people lessens. At 22, it might have been a good idea to keep your mouth shut and just listen to executive-level meetings, but at 29 you probably have a lot to offer.
Its OK to sound stupid. Join the club: Everyone in the room, regardless of age, has made at least one “dumb” statement during a meeting. The older the person, the longer the list gets, but these statements will not define your reputation and should not deter you from speaking your mind. The number of employers who have told us they wished younger employees would speak up is much larger than those who had said they wished they would keep quiet, and more than one CEO has told us that one of the reason they like employing younger executives is to ensure some fresh thinking.
You will almost never reach the point of being 90% sure: You can wait for that magical level of experience that makes you certain of your decisions, but that day will never come. The business world just doesn’t lend itself to “sure things.” There are just too many variables.
You can ask your boss for advice: We always recommend this to people we coach. Your boss may tell you to sit still and keep quiet – OK, at least now you know. In most cases, people are surprised at the extent to which their boss says, “Please speak up more.” As one owner told the person asking, “If I have to give you all of your ideas or vet all of your decisions, then why am I paying you?”
If you feel and act confident, your age won’t show: Your goal is not to look old, but have others forget your age and focus on what you say and contribute.
So, our advice? If you have something to add, speak up. A decade or so ago it might have been good to be a fly on the wall, but you can add a great deal to the conversation right now.