It used to be that authority only came after years of experience. Even then, someone older had to annoint you before you could begin spouting your opinions and advice from a place of authority.
For instance, I climbed the corporate ladder very fast when I was in my 20s, and had a hard time maintaining my authority among people older than me. So my boss became convinced that I needed a coach in order to acquire the trappings of established authority.
The coaching was only moderately successful. But I did learn that authority has a lot to do with having self-confidence in your strengths, and little to do with other peoples’ preconceptions about you.
Today the Internet democratizes authority, and people are judged not by their age or experience but by the quality of what they have to say.
This is great for 20-somethings, especially those who give advice about or discuss their own careers online. As Marci Alboher pointed out in the New York Times, “it’s all about figuring out what you can bring to the table that others cannot.” In the case of young bloggers, their tips and opinions are quirky, fresh, and interesting, even if you don’t always agree with them.
Online, much more so than in print, authority is about voice. Can you tell that a real person is behind the ideas? Do you feel like you know him or her? A strong voice is more engaging, and once you’re engaged with someone you’re more willing to listen to her whether or not you agree. In this way, voice begets authority.
With that in mind, here’s a selection of 20-something bloggers I find irresistible, both in the intelligence of their ideas and the temerity it takes to post them. Most of them write about careers either directly or tangentially, and all of them give people a new way to look at issues we face every day.
Legal Andrew is by Andrew Flusche, the consummate 20-something who focuses on following his passions rather than climbing ladders. He’s got a degree from University of Virginia law school, but is also proficient in the PHP and SQL programming languages. Andrew recognizes that today’s law career isn’t a single slide into long hours for lame partnerships. It’s something bigger, and he’s going to find it.
Kate, who’s between jobs, and her blog, From Boston with Love, have become symbols of the new unemployment as a time for growth. Kate blogs with intelligence and wit about diverse topics, all to show that unemployment actually offers some breathing room to collect ideas, form opinions, and share them in a way that only today’s young people would think of doing.
Nathan Snell takes on tough topics surrounding social media, ranging from which online business models work well to which things you can buy on Second Life if you don’t have any money. He has a distinctive voice, and peppers his blog with I’m-still-in-college reminders, like the post celebrating no homework over Thanksgiving break.
Elysa Rice writes about work and life in her blog GenPink, and even invites boys into the pages “as long as they promise to play nice.” Elysa’s most popular post gives advice to her fellow millennials that they shouldn’t plan their lives based on other peoples’ expectations. Wouldn’t you know, 10 people jumped into the conversation.
This shows, perhaps, the main leadership quality of these young people: They’re great at creating a network of people who want to talk about similar issues, and they’re great at asking the questions that matter right now.
And what is authority but the intelligence and knowledge to ask the best questions? Because no one really has all the answers on subjects like work-life balance and careers. So maybe the people who deserve the most authority are simply those who force us to ask sharper questions.
You can keep talking about old measures of authority, or you can take a cue from these Gen Yers and measure authority by how much someone teaches you about seeing the world in a new and useful way.