This essay in The New York Times, written by a woman raised with traditional Confucian values, really hit home for me:
Much of one’s worth is equated to compensation and promotions in the workplace. And for years, bringing up these topics and taking credit for my own work were still uncomfortable and even embarrassing.
But I realized I had to stretch myself to succeed in an environment that was so different from my cultural upbringing. Confidence was expected. And I knew it wouldn’t just spring up from a pat-yourself-on-the-back brand of puffery, but from a deeper understanding of worth and how it could be communicated in the workplace.
As I examined my background and core values, I discovered that having a perpetually apologetic stance didn’t necessarily represent true humility. I found that I could offer an honest self-portrait without being arrogant, so others would see how I could make a difference…
Throughout my career, I’ve met many other professionals who have struggled to find their worth on the job. Women and members of minority groups, especially, are often raised with one set of values and expectations, and then suddenly need to excel in a new environment where the path to success is much different.
One challenge immigrants face when moving to the United States is the sheer number of people you’ll be competing with for good jobs. Maybe not if you move from India or China, but Canada — where I lived to the age of 30 — has only 10 percent of the population of the U.S.
When I moved to the States, after having established a thriving journalism career in Canada, I felt like a raindrop falling into the ocean.
Would I ever be able to re-make my reputation? Was it even possible? How?
More importantly, though, is the brass-knuckled self-confidence you’ve got to have, (or fake successfully and project consistently), here — certainly in New York — to meet the the right people, say the right things, answer with the requisite ballsiness.
Anyone modest or self-deprecating is quickly and easily trampled by the brazen, who will become your boss.
When you grow up in a smaller place, people know you, and your family. They know the value of your university degree — not mistaking it, as happens here all the time (sigh) that my alma mater U of T (University of Toronto, the Harvard of Canada) is not the University of Texas (hook ‘em, horns!)
They also get why you’re not chest-beating and telling everyone how amaaaaaaaaaazing you are — because, in some cultures, modesty is highly prized. Boasters are declasse.
Here, I had to be taught, seriously, how to interview effectively for jobs:
Lean forward in your chair! Smile! Keep their gaze! Have a 30-second elevator speech!
In Australia, they deride such overt confidence as “tall poppy syndrome” — as in, the tallest poppy will get its head lopped off. Better to be a low-lying blade of grass.
I recently had a conversation about this, with a total stranger, a woman of French origin who’s lived here for more than 40 years. Like me, she’s a sole proprietor of her business, a cafe and catering business. Like me, she still struggles with the internal messaging that boasting is ugly.
When our bolder — and more successful — competitors do it all day, every day.
How about you?
Do you feel comfortable tooting — or blaring — your own horn?