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The court of public opinion hasn’t often ruled in millennials’ favor.

Millennials are gossipy and entitled — or so the story goes. They lack ambition in their careers — despite being more educated than their older counterparts — and they are irresponsible with their money. These rumors have bruised young professionals’ confidence and heightened disillusionment among employers regarding millennials’ workplace skills and financial standings.

But when we subscribe to this line of thinking, the conversation remains incomplete.

Millennials had front-row seats to the Great Recession. They saw their parents’ careers run off the rails and their financial savings decimated. They witnessed their parents trying to hold on and rebuild. They were brought up on the idea that an education leads to success, only to be crushed under the weight of massive student loan debt. Compared with when their predecessors entered the workforce, millennials have lower levels of personal income and overall wealth.

It’s no wonder they distrust the establishment and hold their cards a little closer to their chests. These highly traumatic, educational events had an inevitable emotional impact — and they’ve become part of millennials’ personal narratives in the process.

Millennials are eager to contribute to the greater good, but they aren’t blind to risk. They’re the cautious overachievers. It’s a strange combination, but it’s one you, as a millennial, need to embrace if you hope to debunk the myth that you’re neither influential nor integral to a company’s success.

Here are six strategies that should help you find validity and strength in the face of a bad rap as you venture out into the working world:

1. Ignite Your Competitive Pilot Light

You grew up racing from soccer practice to dance lessons to band tryouts. And while you likely earned a shelf of participation ribbons along the way, you also learned how to compete.

Millennials can use their competitive experience to get the work world fired up. Play to be the best contributor, the hardest worker, and the most eager associate. It’s the simplest way to earn respect — not to mention a raise.

2. Let Your Social Side Shine

Millennials are undeniably social. Having grown up during the first age of social media, they’re often criticized for being tethered to their Twitter accounts while at work. Though it may seem like young professionals keep one eye on work and another on their news feeds, sociability doesn’t have to be bad for business.

Millennials today tend to have a free-agency mindset: Have career, will travel. Free agents can be highly successful people — building their careers determinedly and forging steady paths ahead through growth and performance. You can own your social side by showing how relationships can spark innovation, how communication can effect change, and how the pulse of the market can be found and understood via social networks.

Related: More Millennials Are Living at Home

3. Read Incessantly

Read articles, books, and industry publications. It will add fuel to your opinions and inspiration to your ideas. It will make you relevant and interesting. Read novels, too. From mysteries to romances, reading fiction will help you appreciate storytelling, which is at the crux of American enterprise and an often forgotten art.

Reading is exercise for the brain. It activates your neural pathways and is more neurologically stimulating than listening to speech or perceiving images.

Put to practice, off-hours reading will often spark creative discussions that can have remarkable impacts on a company’s strategy. As we were evolving our brand at Transamerica, it was the perspective revealed from volumes of articles and books outside our industry that ultimately helped us understand customers’ desires to connect the elements of “health and wealth” in their lives.

4. Try Self-Deprecation

If you get the feeling that people are judging you by your millennial status — assuming you’re not informed or knowledgeable enough to be a meaningful contributor — try making some fun of yourself. After all, you’re just a Snapchat and Netflix junkie, right?

Humility, coupled with a dose of genuine eagerness to learn, can soften even the hardest hearts while illuminating your intelligence and maturity.

5. Raise Your Hand

Be the person who always asks, “Can I help you with anything?” Be the one who raises their hand — and keeps it up. If you make this part of your persona at work, it will begin to define you professionally and people will want to have you around. You’ll soon discover that people will solicit your help. You’ll become known as the associate who gets stuff done.

David (my boss and CMO) is the busiest person on the planet, and when I talk to him, I make a point of asking how I can help him. Asserting yourself through service is a great way to add value in the workplace.

6. Give the Gift We Don’t Have

Bring some uncovered insight to your organization. Chances are, your managers are in their mid-to-late career stages. They may be tired. They may be cynical. By bringing your fresh knowledge (from your incessant reading), your new ideas, your collegial and collaborative spirit, and all the other gifts that only you possess, you’ll bless your workplace with a wealth of interesting conversations and perspectives.

Last year, the 80 million-strong millennial population eclipsed Gen. X to become the largest generation in the workforce. Follow these strategies, and you can build a more financially and creatively fulfilling career. You’ll become more essential to your current and future employers, and you’ll grow that much closer to being the leader you envision yourself to be in the future.

Mike Mathies currently serves as the senior vice president of marketing at Transamerica.



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