This past May, I spoke at the Ascend Leadership Conference at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, WA about ‘the next generation of leadership.’

The title of this panel was fitting because I work for a startup called Next Gen, and I identify as one of the ‘next generation.’ I navigated thoughtful questions from the moderator about how I felt my age had impacted my career and how others perceived me. Truthfully, my experiences as an ambitious young person have been diverse. On one hand, I’ve been applauded for my wisdom and motivation at such a young age after publishing two books by age 21. Buton the other, I’ve also felt that I should be ashamed of my youth. At my first day at a magazine internship when I was 19, I shared my age with the team in the opening meeting; he Editor in Chief pulled me aside to tell me I should never say my age in a professional setting. He treated me as young and underqualified for the extent of my time at his company.

In total, I do see my youth as a strength. I asked the Next Gen community about their own perceptions – if they see their youth as a strength or a weakness – and I was emboldened by their responses. I think you will be, too.

So, Next Gen, tell us – what do you think, strength or weakness?

I asked, “Do you perceive your youth as a strength or a weakness, and why?”

“I think the most important distinction here is “how people perceive you.” I can’t control how other people perceive me, so it could go either way. I’ve met people who I actually refrained from disclosing my age to because I felt like they would interact with me differently. If the question was on how I perceive my own age, it’s definitely a strength. I’m just getting started and won’t stop anytime soon.” – Leann Abad

“…Definitely a strength. Most people seem to be much more willing to help when you are young. Might be a vicariousness thing or just the energy that young people bring to projects.” – Sean John

“Strength, because…having done so much already, I find it actually inspires and draws the older generations to backing me up on a lot of things.” –Audrey Fonseca

“A strength, because it’s an easy tell that I don’t want to deal with a person if they care too much about the age.” -Finn Thormeir

“I don’t necessarily see it as “age,” but definitely “lack of experience,” is seen as a weakness more often than not. I think that even if one has a lack of experience, if they remain humble about what they don’t know, sometimes it can actually lead to innovation. Without being hampered by what “has and hasn’t worked,” one is more likely to try something new.” Zach Silverman

“ Strength – I love the inherent impulsiveness that comes with being young. It allows me to shove myself outside of my comfort zone and grow in amazing ways. Whether it’s through starting a new initiative or learning a new technical skill, my youth energy helps me do it in a way that I love.” –Shuba Prasadh

So, the next time that you feel there’s something you can’t do because of your age (or even lack of experience, as Zach mentioned) – remember these perceptions. We have strength at all ages and all times of our lives. We are no weaker for our youth; in fact, if anything, we are more full of that “inherent impulsiveness” that can “lead to innovation.” And the best part about all of it is – we’re just getting started.

Interested in joining the Next Gen community? Request to join here. We’d love to have you…because we view youth as one of the greatest strengths of them all.


  • Haley Hoffman Smith

    Speaker & Author of Her Big Idea

    Haley Hoffman Smith is the author of Her Big Idea, a book on ideation and women's empowerment which debuted as a Top 3 Bestseller. She has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, and the Washington Examiner, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Brown in May 2018. She is the founder of the Her Big Idea Fund in partnership with Brown's Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, which awards grants to women who apply with BIG ideas, and Her Big Lash, a cosmetics company.

    At Brown, she was the President of Women’s Entrepreneurship and started the first-ever women’s entrepreneurship incubator. She speaks on topics such as women's empowerment, innovation, social impact, and personal branding regularly across companies and college campuses, most recently at Harvard, TEDx, SoGal Ventures, University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and more.