A Small Fish in a Big Pond
In all the jobs I’ve held throughout my years there seems to be a recurring theme – I’m always either the youngest employee, the least experienced, or both. In fact, in the 11 years I’ve been in the workforce and the 15 oddball jobs I’ve had, that statement holds true for all but one job where I was a call center employee at my university. Any kind of on-campus job is going to pan out that way, but the vast majority of my employment experiences have had me at the bottom of the food chain. Now, I realize that I’m nearly 26 years old and my statement warrants a response like, “Duh Kale, what did you expect?” There’s also the fact that back in those days the number of Baby Boomers in the workforce far exceeded the number of Millennials, so we’re looking at hard probabilities that some if not most of my colleagues would be older than me. But, being the small fish in a big pond can be challenging and a little disheartening at times…
Anyone younger than the age of 30 can probably attest to the notion that customers and consumers of your company’s product tend to discount your knowledge because, well, didn’t you just learn to crawl a few days ago? Whether it be in retail, food service, or a more professional business setting – there seems to be a recurring idea that younger employees don’t have all of the information, aren’t experienced enough to know the right answer, or just can’t possibly comprehend the depth of the situation. I’ve experienced this first hand on multiple occasions, and it’s completely frustrating! Yes Patty, I know for a fact that you can’t double up on these coupons. Yes, I’m sure that we don’t have that in our inventory at the moment and my manager will tell you the same exact thing. No matter how much I knew I was always being second guessed, leading me to feel undervalued and undermined. However… I can’t stress enough how much my view has changed over the years. Now? I absolutely LOVE being the small fish.
Which would you prefer at a young age? Being the top dog in the office and nailing some sort of task as expected, or being the underdog – the little guy – and completely knocking it out of the park? One result gets you a pat on the back, the other drops jaws. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather blow someone’s expectations out of the water than simply perform as a cog in the machine. Besides, movies like Rocky, Remember the Titans, and The Karate Kid weren’t blockbusters because they featured protagonists killing it as usual. No, it’s because these folks went through the struggle of falling flat, learning from their mistakes, training for success, and ultimately completing the feat that they once thought impossible – shining amidst the competition that they once thought unbeatable. Now that I’m a small fish, I get to learn from the experts who have been playing this game for years – learn from their mistakes, observe and dissect their winning strategies, try it myself, and fail lightly.
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” so maybe it’s not so bad to start out small. Failures are bound to happen, if not more so during the beginning stages of any venture. If anything, you’re “failing forward” because you’re learning along the way. Being the small fish in a big pond grants you a sense of forgiveness that long-term players don’t get. It also forces you into a sort of survival mode because you have to fight over crumbs while the big pieces are already scooped up. You just might have to dodge, duck, dip, dive, and doge (Dodgeball – another underdog story) to land a good catch and work it into something tangible. Once you’ve done that, your colleagues will notice that you can hold your own in their league.
At the end of the day, I’m glad that others have a healthy level of skepticism when it comes to what I produce and discuss (I’m a 25 year old economist telling a room full of adults how the world is working around them). When I don’t know the answer, boom, I’m still figuring it out and I’ll get back to you. When I do know the answer, they may be hesitant to believe me, but I do love seeing the look on their faces once they figure out that I actually do know what I’m talking about. It’s a bit of a thrill, honestly. A little self-serving and maniacal, perhaps, but who said life couldn’t be a bit of fun?
Every great white shark started out as a li’l pup. Keep your head down, learn every possible thing you can, challenge yourself, fail forward, take advantage of your learning stage, refine your game, and don’t get comfortable. In fact, get comfortable being uncomfortable. Once you do you’re halfway on your journey to fulfilling the potential successes that lie ahead of you. And if this whole entire post wasn’t already cheesy enough, “just keep swimming,” and that whole movie is filled with underdogs!