When my oldest daughter was about 4 years old, I showed her a picture. It was an actual photograph, not electronic. She wanted a closer look, so she intuitively placed her thumb and index finger on the photo close together, and then spread them apart while in contact with it. She then tried a few more times and was frustrated that it didn’t change.
She was zooming in. She’d literally never seen a photograph that wasn’t on a screen before, and so she was confused that it didn’t respond to the input. At first I laughed in the way old people laugh about kids that can’t use a rotary phone, but then I realized how impressive it was. She was four years old, and her level of interaction with these devices was nearly innate. Things that adults struggle to learn will be second-nature to her.
A few days ago when she sat down with me to add a few words to this very blog, I didn’t even have to give her any instruction. She knew how to operate the keyboard – how to hold shift to capitalize letters or generate an exclamation point. When I was 7, I certainly didn’t – but I didn’t grow up around keyboards in the same way that she will.
If you’re young, never ever underestimate just how much value you can bring to the table simply because of stuff you grew up doing that older folks are clueless about. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t compete with more experienced people solely on that basis. I might have decades more experience than you in certain things, but there are other things that are literally second-nature to you that I have to struggle to learn. Find areas where those skills are in demand and use that to your advantage.
When Microsoft Office Suite was first being introduced, it was all the rage to be able to use it. It was a hugely in-demand skill that impressed employers and moved you along in the application process swiftly. So people caught up and pretty much every white-collar professional learned how to not only use it, but learned to indicate that they knew how on their resumes. For many people of that generation, the learning was formalized – classes or certifications, etc.
Now, I hear younger people laughing about the question. Not knowing it would be the strange departure, so it seems silly to even ask. Imagine there was a 6-week certification course in smartphone use. It covered things like downloading and using apps, text message communication skills, WiFi versus 4G, etc. There’s a segment of the older population that might think that was useful, but for a young person that would be laughable.
Older people and younger people bring different strengths to the table when it comes to value-add for employers. I see both populations struggle with naming that value sometimes. There’s plenty of ageism in both directions among hiring managers, but in general I think the older folks are better at knowing the positives they carry. They know the value of their experiences, their wisdom, and their maturity.
Young people, on the other hand, often struggle to realize just how many things are second-nature to them that would represent massive investments to learn for older people. Heck, I’m 36 and the whole reason I’m writing this post is because I started researching how to make short instructional videos that don’t look like garbage and people who are 15 are cranking out stuff that would have gotten you on national television when I was their age.
If someone grew up on a horse farm, then they know more about horses than someone who never saw one in their life before they went to college and got their degree in “equestrian studies.” But the degree gives you a certain sense of confidence that you know what you’re talking about (whether you actually do or don’t). So many young people have essentially a decade or more experience in complex skills simply by virtue of their generation, but there’s no “official” or socially-accepted category for that kind of knowledge. It’s not a degree, it’s not work experience, etc. But it would be insane to discount knowledge you gained because you literally grew up around a particular subject.
Take honest stock of your skills. Pay attention to things that you do well. If you’re thinking, “this can’t possibly be a valuable skill, because it’s so easy for me” – you’re exactly 180 degrees wrong. The fact that it’s so easy for you is exactly why you can use it to add value.