Musings from our Journey

Authors: Deepa Mohan and Mini Nair

“I wandered everywhere, through cities and countries wide. And everywhere I went, the world was on my side”. ― Roman Payne

We were reminiscing about our journey in Corporate America as stereotypical Asian females, during one of our casual conversations. We never wanted to rock any boat or attract any unwanted attention from any quarters of our workspace. We stayed under the radar relying solely on our IQ and our ability to work hard.

But we dared to dream. How much we have transformed from that timid persona of ours to the new avatar where we are now mentoring and coaching individuals from varied backgrounds and skill sets! We established a successful career path of our own accord and unintentionally became role models for many. That made us think through some of the competencies and traits that we brought from our South Asian upbringing and the things that really helped us. Subsequently, the conversation proceeded towards the traits we brought that we had to let go and the traits that we have adopted in our new life across the seven seas.

The following is a humble attempt in listing them, to share it with other kindred spirits and well wishers who saw our journey up-close and to provide some insights to newcomers from similar upbringing who are landing on this shore.

We started looking at it from three different angles.

  • Competencies we brought in that we continue to pursue
  • Competencies that we let go in our journey here
  • Competencies that we adopted during our corporate American journey

Competencies we brought in that we continue to pursue

By the time we started our journey in corporate America we had spent all our formative years in India and had formed some hardcore traits soaked in South Asian work culture and ethic.

  • Perseverance: We knew from early childhood that hard work was the critical path to success when faced with scarce opportunities and high competition. All along the expectation was to work relentlessly and tirelessly till we achieved the desired outcomes. The lesson we learned in our childhood was “ if we persist, we will achieve and when we do, we will create a bright future”. This drive for continuous learning and working long hours were easy to execute when we joined corporate America.
  • Resilience: Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. Right from early days, when faced with a setback, we learnt from it. We never allowed setbacks to bring us down as there were challenges every step of the way. We were taught to embrace failures with grace, believe in ourselves, practice gratitude, and move forward with confidence. Resilience is what we rely on in today’s world to face new challenges and forge ahead to drive things. As we show up, time after time, we exercise our resiliency muscle, which has become our survival method thus helping us to come out stronger.
  • Discipline: Discipline was one of the key tools we relied on to succeed in our educational system back in our youth. The dire consequences of being unorganized was ingrained in us. So even though organizational skills were hard to develop and required solid commitment, routine and instructional rules helped us master them eventually. Staying intentional helps us stay focused on tasks at hand and accomplish constructive completion. Discipline is what we bank on when the situation around us goes into chaos or confusion.

Competencies that we let go in our journey

To let things go, the first and foremost step is to be aware of them. We often reflected, analyzed, and practiced, thus aligning our thought process with our actions. Shedding some of the baggage became imperative to our growth and implementing actionable changes became the order of the day.

  • Risk aversion: We had a straightforward career path throughout, staying within accustomed situations and resisting changes and risks. Further reflection clarified that aversion to risks stemmed from constant fear of failure, resulting embarrassment, and added effort to regain the lost ground and perceived loss of respect. Encouragement from our support system got us past our overthinking thus enabling us to break barriers to take risks. As we stepped outside our comfort zone, we felt confident to open up to infinite possibilities and seek opportunities to advance ahead.
  • Perfectionism: We believed that our high standards, attention to detail, and obsession for excellence aided our success so far, and therefore abandoning our perfectionism would negatively impact our performance. Any deviation from our well-used path made our “imposter syndrome” worse. Luckily over the course of time, we realized that ‘progress over perfection’ is a better alternative. The path to perfection took longer to achieve the end results and caused great anxiety. We have now accepted that true perfection is a concept and not a practical reality and the attempts seeking perfection often lead to disappointment, delays, and confidence erosion.
  • Absolute adherence to supervisory directives: We were brought up to respect and revere experience and seniority. Insubordination was a mortal sin in our Asian work culture. It still is. Needless to say this was the hardest one to shed because of the guilt associated with it. Today, there is a newfound courage within us to question things when they defy logic, common sense or moral ethics. We rely on our analytical skills and data to take an informed stand on all matters. We collaborate with our peers to enhance our stance based on pros and cons before pitching it back up the corporate hierarchy. This new technique has given us the confidence to handle the pressure from a top-down decision.

Competencies that we adopted during our Corporate American journey

We also developed some new skills along the way, mostly out of sheer circumstantial pressure around us. These attributes have enriched our lives and propelled us forward.

  • Being candid: Acquiring the courage to tell difficult truth came only after we learned more about EQ. Add a dash of empathy and compassion to a solid serving of good intent, then any tough truth can be delivered. This took some effort and we often found ourselves hooked on many related training sessions, books, and podcasts. Being candid meant having grit as sometimes the truth is hard to tell, as it can be to digest. Thinking objectively and being aware of our biases also helped us refine the matter.
  • Know your self-worth: Coming from a culture where talking about our achievement is considered as boastful, we were always very reluctant to showcase the value we bring to the table. We could never present our accomplishments without cringing and that hesitation usually gets perceived as lack of confidence, resulting in people questioning our credibility. We had to gain the confidence to tell our story for the sake of our own growth. The mantra we resorted to is, “If it is based on facts, it’s not bragging” and “breaking the glass ceiling” became very pertinent.
  • Self-care: In our early days, the needs of others trumped our own needs. We recognized over the course of time that without practicing self-care we cannot take care of others. Putting the oxygen mask on ourselves is always the first step towards caring for others. We learned that self-care is all about treating ourselves with empathy and support. Prioritizing rest, exercise, and nutrition as well as practicing mindfulness proved to be the key tenets of self-care. We also built a loyal tribe to share our experiences with, brainstorm ideas, and support us in times of need. Asking for help, which was earlier considered as a weakness now became a strength. Making self-care a focus led us to find a better balance among our dimensions of wellness.
  • Manage ambiguity: Whenever a tangible task was identified we knew how to achieve it through hard work and discipline. But when there is ambiguity and an absence of clear goal, we tend to be lost. We soon learned that ambiguity has the potential to stunt our growth. It was imperative that we learn to navigate through chaos and confusion if we ever wanted to advance our corporate journey any further. This is where mentorship helped us the most. We explored new ways of thinking, being exposed to others’ experiences and guidance. Over the course of time, we devised a step-by-step tactical approach to tackle uncertainties through experimentation.

These newer traits are still in early stages of development and will need plenty of practice and refinement to become habitual.

Did you enjoy reading the blog ?

I hope some of these thoughts resonate with you. Please note that these are purely subjective and are based on our personal experiences. These are raw and true bits from our journey through adulthood in a new land.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts.