Ever since I started working, I've been one of the youngest (most often, the youngest) of whatever I am doing. I started bagging at a grocery store at 16 (which is young but normal for a bagger.) At 17 I was the youngest cashier we had, and then the youngest supervisor. In my senior year of high school, I dual enrolled at Kennesaw State, hence making me the youngest in most of my classes there.
Now, in a much larger way, I am the youngest in a group of retail management interns. Absolutely all of my peers, and the rest of the office we are in, are all older than me. Most are significantly older than me. Here are 7 things that I have learned.
1. You are not instantly granted respect.
And if you're confident in your abilities, this is okay. Most likely if you are the youngest in the room in terms of school, work, or something else that requires hard work or talent, then you are there because you have the capabilities of the others that are also present.
When you are sure of yourself, people may look to abandon their first impression of, "Why is there a kid here? They don't know what they're doing." It turns into, "Hm, well they seem to act like they know what they're doing. I'll just wait and see." Then once you prove yourself, you have earned that respect.
2. The respect you earn is more valuable.
Now, since you had to earn your respect, it is unlike the kind that your older counterparts possess. Everyone must prove themselves over time, you just had to do it first. Your reputation has immediate substance.
I look at it in this way... Let's say that we give respect monetary value, which you can cash in as trust. Someone trusting that they can give you a difficult task and you will complete it, trust that you're legitimate. Those that have their abilities questioned and then confirmed have their respect in a debit card account. Those that are given the assumption of being capable and have immediate respect (that remains unconfirmed) have their respect in a credit card account.
You can charge both and be given trust, but the debit account has the amount immediately withdrawn. It is done. It's paid. The credit account is now sitting in the negative. You still have to pay that and prove yourself. You can't continue to charge it and ask for more and more trust without putting down a payment. There's a limit.
3. You're a little bit more special.
I don't mean this in a bragging way, but it's true. If you are significantly younger than your equivalents it's rare. It's clear you are something else. You got there first in terms of age. It doesn't mean you're better than anyone else, because you aren't, but you do stand out. There's a nice bit of extra attention for ya.
Unless you don't like attention, then, sorry.
4. It is much more beneficial if you embrace your age rather than hide it.
Now, in some situations I do understand putting off exposing numerically how old you are to everyone. You want them to get to know you first. However, once you get past preliminary stuff, I find that accepting your youth is by far the best way to do things. Capitalize on the strengths that come with it and work on the weaknesses. Laugh at the jokes about how you're the baby, because you are. It's much more helpful and fun to do it this way instead of getting defensive.
Also, definitely DO NOT hide BEHIND your age. I sometimes do it as a joke, but if you start saying, "well I'm still only 18," then the person you are talking to will think huh... yeah they are only 18. I should give them less responsibility and respect!
5. People will try to protect you.
Like I said, you're the baby. So people will try to shield you from certain things and look out for you, which is good. You'll have people giving you advice left and right. This is generally positive unless they take it too far and think you can't take care of yourself when you can.
6. But that doesn't mean you are any less of a target.
Good people look after and protect the young, but evil does the opposite. They might view you as the perfect target for their next scam, rumor, trick, you name it. You have to be smart and watch your back. You can't be careless.
7. You have a lot to bring to the table, so act like it.
If you know you are walking into something as the youngest person, keep your head up. Stay confident. If you aren't confident in yourself, then the people you encounter there will definitely not be confident in you.
You have a new set of eyes, a different perspective, That is always useful. Also try your hardest to pay attention and, simply put, not mess up. You know that there are people just itching to see you trip and then use your age against you. Do your best work.
Being the youngest in room, especially at work, can be an obstacle but it can also be a strength! It is what you make it.