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The Stitch

Martina Castro

Success at a Young Age: A Double-Edged SwordBy Martina Castro

I don't have many statistics memorized, but here at NPR we're all well-aware that our average radio listener is around 54. All this talk of forging forward into the younger, internet-savvy world of multi-media, has also made age a palpable issue in my workplace. Even though Day to Day has one of the younger staffs in the company, at 26 I am still the youngest staff-member of my show (not counting our intern). The other day a co-worker of mine revealed that it was her birthday, but she wouldn't disclose how old she was turning. She later confessed to me that she was afraid her colleagues would take her less seriously if they knew how young she was. She's around my age, and there are a couple more of us out there that I know about. I soon realized that I wasn't the only overachieving twenty-something with a hang-up about where I am in my career.

How did we land here? I don't know, and it's not really where I am going with this column. I am way more intrigued by what do we do now that we are here, enjoying a great job AND right out of college. I think those of us experiencing this are facing a certain dilemma. I personally feel compelled by my youth to appreciate this great gift. After all, this is a job that most people twice my age would give an arm and a leg to have, and would probably try to keep until they retired.

But at the same time, I am compelled by my youth to do the opposite, to take the risks that one can only take at my age. After working my butt off to get here, doesn't it make sense to enjoy the freedom that I have because I'm still young? We end up being both too young to commit ourselves to one company or one career, and too young to give up on a good opportunity that was given to us seemingly before we had to fight for it.

This overarching dilemma plays out in smaller ways too. For example, I can go from feeling totally on top of my game to feeling like I know nothing in the span of one work day. Of course, this is the reality of where I am. I must be smart because I did get this job, but I also am a total novice when I consider my colleagues who have been in radio and journalism for at least twice as long as I have. And yes, this does drive me crazy at times.

But it's not all bad. In general, even though we 20-somethings don't have the depth of experience as most, we do have some skills, otherwise we wouldn't be where we are. Those skills matched with the ability to learn quickly, adapt faster than our older counterparts, and feel more inclined to take risks, means that we can navigate the work world at a faster pace and with less sense of sacrifice than people twice our age.

Sometimes this inclination toward risk means we sacrifice things we don't even know we are giving up, but in the end, it all seems to work out for those of us who continue to follow that thing we call passion.

And I want to be clear that I don't mean to be age-ist here. I am clearly drawing generalizations on both sides. But I think it's worth putting out there to my fellow young professionals: think big, and embrace your age; it can be both humbling and empowering.

Thoughts? Write Us.

Martina Castro interned for NPR's "Talk of the Nation" during the summer of 2004. Now she is a production assistant for NPR's "Day to Day" in Culver City, California. Oops, sorry, Los Angeles, California.

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