It’s not easy being the odd one in any environment.
It’s even more intense when you’re in a new country, with people who do not look like you or talk like you; let’s not also throw in culture and other differences. You stick out all day, every day! Add that to the pressure of getting and doing well at a workplace, and you may have a well-oiled stress machine.
As young professionals, it is vital to be successful. Residing outside your home country increases the pressure of being successful because there may not be the flexibility or freedom to change workplaces like natives of the country. Additionally, a lot of people may be depending on you financially and otherwise. Aside from the things mentioned above, you also want to climb the ladder of success and enjoy the benefits that it brings.
Since you already stand out because you are from another country, how about you STAND OUT even more for the benefit of your workplace and those around you. I mean, you already have the name and accent, let’s butter it up some more (winks).
Ever heard that quote “Be yourself, everyone else is taken”? Nothing could be truer. I know it’s tempting to try to dress, walk, talk, eat, or even laugh like people around you when you’re in the minority. Something in you may even believe that you will get liked or accepted more if this happens. The truth is, changing who you are to please anyone won’t get you, true friends or admirers, it will only make you lose yourself and your unique qualities. You were hired for a reason, so relax and maintain your originality. If you do have poor personal or social habits, I’m not saying keep those and not improve on them. I am saying, at the core of who you are, your personality, values, likes/dislikes, the “real you,” keep and maintain that. You will find that the right tasks, opportunities, and interactions will gradually gravitate to the person you are. You won’t have to force or struggle in those situations. Even better, adding value becomes more natural, because you are contributing your unique qualities in everything you do.
2. Learn Your Environment
I have found that one of the best things you can do for yourself in any given situation is to LEARN more about your environment. This helps you note the unspoken rules, mode of conduct, dos and don’ts, etc. You should never assume anything, and ask questions to clarify as much as possible. I also find that getting different perspectives of the codes of your workplaces gives you a full view of where you are and what is expected or accepted. Learning your environment helps you modify your behavior, present yourself appropriately, and avoid ruffling any feathers.
3. Curate Knowledge
To curate knowledge, means to gather essential pieces of information and share or use as needed for the improvement of something. As a young professional, curating knowledge goes beyond learning about your environment to gathering knowledge to improve your work experience. I’m not saying become the work-police to point out every lapse that needs to be fixed or changed, absolutely not! In the process of curating knowledge, you should do the following:
Gather information about your job position and how you can be the best at it.
Gather information on the needs of your workplace and current priorities.
And gather information on sensitive areas of your workplace or history that is important.
Armed with the different kinds of knowledge described above, you set yourself up to be an asset to your workplace. This information will guide how you do your work, relate with people, and support your organization.
4. Keep to workplace policies
As you learn about your work environment and curate knowledge, you will find out even more about your workplace policies. It is essential to keep to these policies as much as possible. Workplace policies could cover anything ranging from the time you should report to work, to how you should dress, or how long lunch is, or how to handle conflicts, etc. It is tempting to see people who have been there longer than you bend the rules or even completely disregard them. However, you have to remember that apart from it being the wrong way to be an employee, being an international/foreign young professional does not give you the same options (e.g., unemployment checks) as natives if you get fired from your job. Aside from the protection from adverse consequences at work, following workplace policies helps you stand out, by displaying qualities like integrity that place you in the right place for leadership positions and tasks, including promotions.
5. Exceed expectations
Job positions are tied to expectations. One of the best advice that I have received concerning work is “remember you were hired because you were needed.” Knowing that there is a need behind your employment should make you realize that there are expectations tied to your position that you are supposed to fulfill. However, staying average or meeting the minimum is not enough. In fact, being average is saturated, and it is very difficult or even impossible to stand out when you are average in anything you do. You will also be doing your job position a disservice by doing just the minimum. To stand out in your workplace, you should always strive to exceed expectations. While this might not occur in every single aspect of your work life, you could be exceptional in one or two things that you do at work. Exceeding expectations at work do not only benefit your current workplace, but it sets up a pathway for growth and even better opportunities that will take you to the next level in your career.
6. Create/join a social support group
Another famous African Saying is “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (I’m definitely in a quote-mood today!). From personal experience, I can attest that being successful by working all by yourself without any support, can be incredibly hard. Being an international or foreign young professional can make that even harder because a lot of times, family members and close friends are not within close proximity. A social support group is when people of similar interest gather together for a common goal. Groups could comprise of people in the same situation (e.g., new employees), same country/region, same race/ethnicity, same gender, same religious beliefs, or any common interest even if its just to support each other. A lot of times variations of support groups already exist in your workplace or community and all you’ll need to do is join. Other times, depending on your needs, you may need to create one. Either way they are a valuable part of succeeding as a young professional. Social support groups help provide a buffer for concerns or pressure from work, can provide feedback for unfamiliar terrain, collaborate with you on personal or collective projects, and hold you accountable to work-related goals.
7. Make Valuable Contributions
This is the icing on the cake. After applying all that has been discussed, you will be well on your way to make valuable contributions to your workplace. Contributions could be you delivering your duties in the best possible way. It could also be offering services outside your routine tasks when you see a need that you can address. Similarly, you could point areas that need improvements that will strengthen your workplace. This could be tricky because there is a legitimate concern that someone could be offended when you’re trying to help. However, this shouldn’t keep you quiet or complacent. Instead carefully choose words and approaches, be constructive and humble, and make sure your contributions are not self-serving but always target the development of your workplace and/or colleagues.
Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Make it a Winning-Day