Having been editor in chief of Seventeen magazine for the better part of a decade, Ann Shoket knows a thing or two about millennial women, and as the founder of Badass Babes, an empowering and confidence-building sisterhood of women, she is uniquely poised to be giving out career advice to young ladies in her new book The Big Life. Judging by the praise from badasses like Issa Rae, Lauren Conrad, and Tiffany Dufu, this book serves up some inspiring, no-nonsense guidance in the form of Shoket's own insights on work and life in the modern age, interspersed with real-life stories of young women who have maneuvered their way through the turbulent years of their early careers.
One particularly sharp section of The Big Life tackles the topic of being "entitled" at work — that descriptor that somehow became associated with the entire millennial generation (and which millennials themselves agree is accurate!). The thing is, in some ways "entitled" is simply another term for "ambitious" or maybe "impatient," and the way to combat the negative connotation of the term is to work hard at your job until you actually do earn your place at the table. Keep scrolling for more insights on the E-word, excerpted straight from The Big Life.
The Entitlement Swipe
Since we're discussing earning your place at the table, let's talk about the elephant in the room. You've seen the headlines, and you know what older generations say about you: entitled.
Inevitably, when I tell senior executives that I'm writing a book about the power of millennial women, someone will pull me aside and say, "Ugh, what do you hate most about millennials?" And before I can set them straight (millennials are incredibly hardworking; demanding flexible schedules will change the working landscape for everyone!), they launch into a harangue about what they hate: how they find millennials lazy, entitled, and self-obsessed (as well as selfie-obsessed). You know the digs. Sure, it's easy to focus on the fact that you would probably rather call an Uber than take public transportation or hit up Task Rabbit instead of running a delivery across town. And even though you know you work really hard, when every lunch starts with an elaborately staged Instagram photo shoot, you can see how millennials have earned this rep.
Allie complains over a Badass Babes dinner that she feels "stalled." She works in retail operations at a big website that she's been dreaming of working for since she was in eighth grade. Allie has reached a point where she feels she knows more and is better qualified than her boss. "I've been getting frustrated a lot lately. I'm very confident in what I do. I know I'm good at my job, and I've worked really hard to get there. But I sort of feel like I'm taking a step back, and there's that frustration of feeling better, and I don't want to have that feeling. I don't want to be nasty about it, but it's that daily struggle." Allie is hungry for a promotion but feels stalled by all the rules. "I just had a really great review, but nothing has happened yet. Where do I even go from here? They say we have to wait, and I feel like that's kind of b.s. in a way. So many dates and deadlines and rules!" Allie's bosses don't see her frustration; they see that she's pushing hard against rules and systems that they're heavily invested in maintaining.
So listen: I have been that boss who wanted you to sit still and wait to get promoted. No matter how hard you were working, your project/taskforce/title change/raise wasn't in my strategic plan and probably wasn't in the budget. I've also been that young woman at the beginning of her career who had to dutifully file snoozy stories that were not my passion and go to every long, mind-numbing meeting in which nothing got done. I know that feeling in your soul that you have so much more to offer the world, if you could just get your shot. I saw my career as a straight line. Do a good job, get promoted; do a good job there, get promoted again. And that's how a lot of bosses think you should view your career too.
You see yourself as a carefully crafted brand, while your boss sees you as a tool to help get her job done.
You're still new to the game, and like everyone else, you have to recognize that the world doesn't always do what you need when you need it to. While I am always 100 percent on your side, I can also see things from your bosses' side of the table. They see you walking into the room with nine months' experience — which is everything to you — but from their perspective, it's just a blip on the screen. You see yourself as a carefully crafted brand, while your boss sees you as a tool to help get her job done. You've reached a part of your journey where you have a broad vision for yourself, and your boss is looking at you through only a small window. She's asking, "What can this person do for me, and how much is it worth to me?" She doesn't see where you're going or all the incredible strides you've made to get to this moment. Nor should she. You are slotted to fill a role inside your organization, and right now, the truth is that you're replaceable. The slot exists for a reason. It represents a job that needs to get done. It existed as a role for someone to fill before you, and it will be there after you move on to something bigger and better.
It feels crappy, though, to think of yourself as a cog in the wheel, stripped of all your personality. That sense of yourself, and that incredibly big vision you had, may be similar to what your boss had for herself at your age. And then life happens — layoffs, cutbacks, breakups, difficult bosses. All this has shaped her life, and maybe she's feeling a little small about her own horizon. This isn't your concern or your problem to fix, but it's worth paying attention to.
You shouldn't have to manage your career based on someone else's ideas of how things should go, but ultimately, before you've earned your place at the table, you aren't in a position to make all the rules yet. Until it's time for you to take your seat, keep looking for chances to take twists and turns. Continue to push for more projects and let your boss know you think you're ready for greater responsibility (even if you're not going to get it right away). It's so much more interesting to be daring, to try new things, to be the young hotshot, and to risk being called "entitled" because you have been bold enough to go for something big.
Excerpted from the new book The Big Life by former Seventeen Editor in Chief Ann Shoket. Published with permission from Rodale. Visit Ann Shoket at annshoket.com.