The Challenges of Navigating Life as a Young Professional

By Takina Pollock, Age 22

The transition from being a student to being a full-time employee has been a precarious one. A common joke among most of my peers is that we don’t know “how to adult.” We’ve spent most of our time in school, so in addition to adjusting to a new kind of schedule, which includes losing the ability to skip a class and watch Netflix, it also means learning how to deal with things on our own. So far on my journey as a grown up I’ve conquered unemployment, moved in to my own apartment, survived a long distance relationship, figured out car insurance— the whole nine yards. I’d say I’m doing pretty well as a young professional. But one thing in the millennial struggle to adulthood that isn’t really talked about is what happens between the milestones for so many women, and that’s conquering sexism and all of the other issues that come with it.

Strangers always assume I’m in high school. I look considerably younger than I actually am, and while most people tell me to appreciate this while it lasts, it can make life a lot different through my eyes. It’s the everyday nuisance of being hit on by high school kids, coupled with the skepticism in people’s eyes when they ask for ID, compounded by the unfortunate fact that young women aren’t as valued in the workforce.

I lost track of how many interviews I went on enthusiastically only to be met with a “regretful” email that says I don’t have enough experience. My issue with with this feedback is that the employer knew how much experience I had when they looked at my resume, so why did that change when we met in person? It’s frustrating, and I see it happen to so many young professional women (of color, especially). It’s an unfortunate theme that so many women entering the workforce from college aren’t sure how to navigate. On top of nervous interview jitters, we do our best to be taken seriously, which can mean layering on makeup, wearing high heels, making our voice a little deeper, keeping our hair pulled back, or any other trick we can think of. Like a lot of people, we sit there hoping there isn’t some unchangeable factor about ourselves that will cost us a job, except we have a bigger pool of unfavored traits.

As a young woman my biggest struggle has been navigating all of these different societal norms every day. Living in a culture I don’t agree with and not always being able or willing to articulate about systems of oppression is exhausting. My life is a purgatory where I’m torn between being the “Angry Black Girl” but wanting to give a speech on the intersectionality of oppression. Figuring how to exist as a Black woman and work within and against these systems in my professional life has been one of the hardest things to cope with.

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Some days will be better than others for young professional women. There will be times where we can let an ignorant comment go, and other times when we deal with it head on. We just have to learn to give ourselves the space we need to figure it out.  Life is about experiences, and unfortunately sexism is one of them. As women we have to be willing to confront these issues, and also be able to forgive ourselves when we don’t. Learning to navigate sexism without the safety net of school or our parents is brave, and while I think all young women are capable of it, it’s an unfortunate skill to have to learn.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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