Success Is Wrong.

Culture Shock, the diary of an expat (1/6)

Culture Shock, the journal of an expat (3/6)

I hope that everyone reading this knows that it’s okay to fail. Though this belief can vary from culture to culture, I still think it’s true.

We may not be comfortable with failure, but we heard about Henry Ford’s bankruptcies and Walt Disney’s failed business initiatives, so we understand there’s value to losing. It makes you stronger; more resilient. It somehow prepares you for eventual success.

It’s our response to the achievement/disappointments ratio that can really mess it up for us. People who win more often than they lose can become a little obnoxious if they’re not careful. On the other hand, a streak of losses will take a toll on the regular Joe that can jeopardize his future chances at success. It can paralyze him.

Now, I have noticed a pattern in people’s responses to success or failure based on how much exposure they’ve had to each of these events as a society, and I came to the conclusion that it is generally unreasonable to expect one culture to have set the same definition or threshold for success (or failure) as the other. Every country offers different levels of access to resources and opportunities. Few cultures provide more access than the United States.

Consider the following stats, as an example:

Sociologist Thiago Moreira explains that “it is sociologically known that continuously repeated behaviors are transformed into patterns that will become habits, saving up energy by restraining the alternative options. When these habits are met with social actors that can personify a certain set of behaviors, a process of crystallization of a given model occurs”.

Such ‘crystallization’ is what may cause the harshest culture shock.

Though we understand that winning is not always the rule, and losing is not always okay, we often have misconceptions of what a winner or a loser look like in a foreign country.

Here are some signs you need to break the paradigm you’ve built regarding success:

Comparisons are part of my daily routine. This is the most common feedback I can give employees about their attitude at work. They express frustration in regards to what others have (or have not) accomplished in the company in comparison to their own performance. Newsflash: Life is unfair. You must abandon this thought-process ASAP. Playing the comparison game, up or down, will corrode your joy, and compromise your ability to focus on your own goals. Everyone is building a unique story, so comparisons are almost never appropriate. Now, if your issue has to do with jealousy, remember Abraham Lincoln’s approach: “That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well”.

Credibility-building bothers me. Brazilians have the exact opposite of Jerry McGuire’s “You had me at hello”. It’s “You Lost me at Hello”, applicable to anyone who chooses to start a conversation with a list of their degrees. When I first moved to the United States, I could not understand why anyone would start a speech by stating their accomplishments first. I later understood that it gives me the confidence I need to trust whatever they have to say afterwards.

Coaching is not for me. Consider the importance of a coach or mentor as you enter a new culture. As Malcolm Forbes once put it, “if you don’t ask questions, you either know everything, or know nothing”. Look for someone in your network that can test your perception of achievement. I have learned so much about Brazilian taxation and hr legislation just by having lunch with our Brazilian controller at least 2 times per week. It helped me shape better success goals and thresholds.

Creativity I provide is better than creativity itself. We all have been to that brainstorming session where nobody seems to understand the real problem, but you. Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe you need to re-evaluate what is at stake and the measurements of performance. So often have I noticed meetings become power-struggle sessions that are really focused on someone else losing an argument.

Moreira argues that “within contemporary times, competitive relationships have shaped success into socially harmful forms, whereas increasingly one’s success is associated with another’s failure.” In a society that experienced nearly 16 years of a populist administration, frequent stories continue to be circulated by the mainstream media about individuals who enjoy prosperity as a result of illicit gains. A few examples are below.

Eduardo Cunha
Link | Bio

Eike Batista
Link | Bio

Collor de Melo
Link | Bio

You can paste links into Google Translate for (a less than perfect) translation.

Though prosperity is not wrong, avoid certain behaviors that will help you steer clear from the stereotype:

Practice Thomas Hitchcock’s notion of good sportsmanship: Loose as if you liked it, and win as if you were used to it.

Mind your audience: Unnecessary material displays of wealth are likely obvious, but comments are also important. Avoid describing how terrible your business class seat was when chatting by the water cooler, for example.

At the end of the day, we can rarely control our failures, but we can certainly push for higher rates of understanding and common gains (aka win-win).

Contributor Thiago Lima Moreira is a Specialized Researcher on Urban Sociology (Rio de Janeiro State University) and holds a Master of Science Degree in Sociology (Fluminense Federal University). He focuses his studies on Contemporary Sociology.

Nick was raised in Brazil before moving to the United States where he went to school and started his career in marketing. He returned to South America on a 2-year contract as Country Manager for a US-based company ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games (2015–2016).

Please share your own examples and experiences with me by leaving your comments.