It has been three years I moved to United States (thanks to LinkedIn, I had a comparatively smooth transition between countries). However, I still remember those first few months when I was completely new in United States and I felt like an outsider.
I grew up in a small town in India and I only had North Indian friends until the time I moved here.
When I got here, I not only had difficulty talking with people even informally, as we had nothing in common. I had difficulty recalling or even pronouncing their name. Half of the time I didn’t even follow what they were saying because of the variety of accents. I pretty much felt like a deer caught in headlights.
I felt like a total stranger, an outsider.
I thought to myself - “Why did I come here?”, “How will I get through this?”.
Every single day for those first months, I didn’t want to go to work. I felt unwanted, I felt excluded, I felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t even mention any of these feelings to anyone at work, so they could help. I always kept to myself, secluded, always looking into my computer screen, even if it was a screensaver. So my coworkers never bothered me, they thought they were giving me the space, I wanted.
One day I reached out to a friend, back in India and shared with him these feelings of exclusion. He asked me to put such negative thoughts out of my head.
“Give yourself some time to adjust. Keep doing your best at work and embrace your authenticity.” — My friend told me.
I took the advice and once I removed the negative thoughts from my head, I realized that people weren’t ignoring me, they were only giving me space. Though we still had almost nothing in common, by having lunch together we started bonding over the common product we were building. I started feeling welcome, no longer feeling like an outsider.
“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be. Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.” — Paulo Coelho
Gradually I realized my mistake that by focussing on our differences, I was overlooking all these amazing things we had in common. We care about the same users, we build the same product.
Even if we don’t speak the same language, we write code in the same language.
Meanwhile, my brain had figured out facial recognition models to remember and recall non-Indian faces. I started understanding a lot of accents. I also learnt that it’s ok to say — “Sorry, could you say that again please?”, or “Hey, we met yesterday and I remember you work on X, but I forgot your name, please remind me again”. And to even acknowledge “I don’t know the answer at the moment, I could investigate and get back to you”.
You know at workplace the thing that binds all of us together is not the color of our skin or the school we attended, or the food we eat or whether we drink beer or not, rather it’s the passion for work and the value we drive for the users of our product.
Most people you’ll interact with at work or college or even on road, you’ll find that all of them are generous, humble and forgiving. We humans long to belong and look for ways to be helpful. Yes, there are some arrogant people, some jerks, but trust me they are actually a minority even if they get the most coverage in news.
If you find yourself in a situation where it’s the opposite — most people are trying to 1Up you or put you down instead of constructively debating the idea you proposed or belittle your work, you should not put up with it. Don’t hesitate to switch teams or even companies. It’s their loss they couldn’t keep you.
I can not emphasize enough the power you have within you. The power each of you have because of your network, because of your voice, because of who you are.
It’s more than ok to ask for help. Reach out to your friends and family. Tap into your network, on LinkedIn or outside to find mentors and ask for advice. Make your voice heard, speak up, share your story.
Ask for feedback and give your feedback wherever it feels necessary. Ask for what you really want with confidence. Articulate it as clearly as possible in your head and to others.
Remember this too shall pass, you will get through it.
This is yet another phase of life, yet another struggle, yet another obstacle. This is just another challenge that life is presenting to you, to prepare you for the next best thing.
You will survive, you will rise, you will shine.