For the Twenty-Somethings

Last month I wrote the post 10 Ideas For Your Professional Development and stipulated that every adult on the field is a professional.

1. Every adult on the field is a professional. A profession is what you invest the lion’s share of your “work” time and effort into. Let’s not confuse location (inside versus outside of the home) with professional/non-professional in this post and where I want this discussion to go.

2. Many organizations will invest in the professional development of those in public leadership.

3. Every adult on the field needs professional development.

A twenty-something emailed me and the gist of the email was that she came to the field in her early twenties and started off mainly in a supporting role of the missionaries for a couple of years. Wonderfully she loves what she was doing and transitioned into long-term service; but many of the people she first came to serve still see her as a semi-adult (my term!) becasue she started off not “doing the work.”

“I just read your life overseas post about professional development and LOVED it! I hear the purpose is to encourage us on the field to take responsibility for our professional development and give us some great resources and ideas to help in that; but actually the point you made that hit me hard (in a good way) was near the beginning where you wrote how every adult on the field is a professional. Later you said we are all adults. And we are all professionals! Truth! Thank you so much for saying this. I am responsible for my learning and development and I want to grow in that, but also in the confidence of being a professional in the field. I’ve done my degree, I’m doing my masters, I’m having important experiences and my opinions are valid. I have much to learn and grow in but that doesn’t discount who I am now. How do I grow in confidence of being a professional?”

I’ve been thinking about this question all month!

1. Part of this is life stage

One of the tricky aspects of moving to the field in your early twenties is sorting out what is normal adjusting to adulthood and what is unique to the field. I got very itchy around year five on the field because it was “time for change.” In my own case, I realized that for most of my life I experienced a fairly large change every four years or so starting with high school. My high school was four years, my college was four years, my masters was two years, in the midst of that I worked for four years. My internal clock was set to “four years.”

Part of growing in confidence is beginning to see life differently and move beyond a student mentality. Spend a few minutes thinking through what has formed you — what are your “time chunks” (four was mine, you may or may not have the same)? How does student life differ from “later twenties” life?

2. Part is internal

Often young twenties join teams of older singles or married families with kids. In these cases, it is natural to fall into patterns that make sense the first year or two you are on the field. Maybe you help out watching the kids, or sitting at the “kids table” during meals, or offering to watch the kids on Sunday, or letting your older teammates make decisions.

All understandable. All reasonable. Let’s be honest, it would be weird if you are 23 and you overstep decision making with your 47 year old teammate.

But now, as time has passed and you’ve put time into learning language, further education, and the work in general, you see how some patterns are hard to break.

You need to decide that you are a professional. Not in a beat your chest, obnoxious way; more in a “I’m going to own the power God’s given me” way. Growing in confidence starts with you. To a certain extent, people treat us the way we have trained them to treat us.

And then you need to step into that power. During team meetings when a question is put out to the team along the lines of “who will ….?” Volunteer. You can lead a Bible study, prepare for the activity, organize a party, get up early to check on the electricy. You can.

Notice if you fall into patterns with your volunteering. Does the majority involves helping with children? Of course you want to help your teammates! But if you only volunteer to help with kids, you are perpetuating them seeing you as a glorified teenager.

Remember that only one part of a system needs to change for the entire system to change. If you start interacting differently—more on a colleague level with your “older” teammates—they will start interacting differently with you. Maybe not this week, but over the months, the dynamics can change.

2. Part is external

Sometimes it is enough to change yourself and you do not need to say anything to teammates. But if you have a healthy team, talk with them. Ask about their transitions from early twenties to late twenties. Tell them you want to grow in thinking of yourself as a “professional” and what suggestions they might have.

In some circumstances, your teammates will not consciously want you to change because it means they will have to change. They may like for you to ______ fill in the blank (watch the kids, plan the music, buy the bananas) because it means they don’t have to. Talk about what you would like to change. Come prepared with a proposal, maybe something as simple as a sign-up sheet, so everyone can take their turn.

Finally, continue to grow. Last month I shared these 10 ways to keep growing as a professional. I would add one more to the list, be open to learning from non-obvious sources. Global Trellis has a new workshop every month, instead of thinking “that topic has nothing to do with me,” think “I wonder what I could learn from that topic.” Professionals keep growing.

You are a professional. We need you on the field. We need your perspective and energy and fresh eyes. Don’t let us “old folks” keep you from becoming who God has called you to become. We’re glad you’re here.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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