At some point as a little girl, probably around the age of seven or eight, I decided it was perfectly normal to tell people I was going through my “awkward phase.” It is that inevitable phase in our youth perhaps many of you experienced, where you’re in between sizes, your teeth haven’t decided which way they want to go, and there is no guarantee that your foot will actually make contact with the ball during a routine game of soccer. I’m sure I picked up the funny saying from my dear mother and father, thinking it was simply a matter of fact to be shared with others. While I laugh about this now, it does remind me of another life stage that we go through, worthy of a similar name: our 20’s.
What an awkward phase this can be! After nearly two decades of school, all structure is lost. We graduate from college and our world suddenly opens up. The paradigms we have accepted and mastered are no longer relevant. We begin to question what’s next, and realize both the power and the trepidation behind this overwhelming notion. It is yet another “in between” stage where we must make the leap from being handed a path to carving our own. We must face the often harsh reality that is the real world without ever having been taught how to do so, and become the “leaders of tomorrow” with zero direction for perhaps the first time in our lives.
Yet we must not lose hope! Professionally, our 20’s can be a roller coaster of soul-searching, excitement, growth, insecurity, setbacks, confusion – you name it. But whether we are ready or not, we are the next generation of leaders. While I am by no means an expert in this area (and, truthfully, am still living it!) this unique journey has taught me to remember three things in particular:
1. Seek work with meaning and purpose: Find something you believe in, something you can be proud of. Tap into the intrinsic motivators in your life. Go beyond the extrinsic; paychecks and perks will only provide so much satisfaction. We will spend at least a third of our lives in the workplace, so search for something that brings meaning to you – a place where you feel you are making a positive difference in the world.
2. Never stop learning: Be inquisitive. Meet new people – people different from yourself. Seek mentors. Ask questions, even dumb ones! Don’t feign competence where it doesn’t exist – be coachable and soak up as much as you can from those who have gone before you. A lack of knowledge is not a weakness – it is an opportunity to grow.
3. Be patient and give yourself grace: None of us will rise to the top and “have it all figured out” by 30. In fact, we will never reach that point. Our careers are not a destination, but a journey – an adventure. Like the rest of life, our 20’s help to create our story. Patience and grace through our high highs and low lows generate an authenticity that will make us more effective down the road.
These are just a few of the lessons I have learned along the way… What are yours?
Thanks for sharing!
5 thoughts on “The Awkward Phase”
Wow, love this Michelle! What’s interesting is how relevant this is to me NOW, at 53. It seems that life is a series of awkward phases and there are many of my generation who will experience this same dilemma after the children have left and we find ourselves faced with yet another awkward phase, seeking purpose. Your suggestions are very good and I can apply them all to my life now. I continue to learn from you, Love Mom
O.K. so I’m biased, but I think this is a wonderful piece of thinking and writing. You are wise beyond your years, and you write very well. These are gifts! Thank you for sharing them with us. As to your thoughts and suggestions, they are relevant to the many “in-between” stages that we pass through as we continue on this wonderful adventure we call life. Personally, I’m delighted to be in your family! Love, Sue
Those are three excellent points Michelle. I would also add “embrace the awkwardness,” as in don’t try to fake it and pretend that you’ve “got it all together.” As others have commented, life is a series of awkward moments and just when you think you’re past all that, another chapter unfolds and you’re going through it again.
Thanks for sharing…you are wise beyond your years.
Absolutely – I couldn’t agree with your addition more and will be the first to admit I’ve struggled with this!! As the years have passed, and just as role models in my life have told me it would be, I have progressively become more comfortable in my own skin…but it has been a process. Authenticity requires vulnerability; it’s scary! Yet those who have modeled it best are often those I admire and learn from the most. They are the ones who are most unafraid to “embrace their awkwardness,” and who have led me to believe deeply in the importance of being real. It is such a critical quality to have, and one I may be working on for the rest of my life. Living authentically builds trust, and gives other people permission to be themselves; it replaces judgment with compassion.
Thanks so much for your kind and insightful words!!
These are wonderful lessons-all mangers should keep these in mind while they lead their organizations.