If you know anything about growing up in an African, ultra-Christian home, then you know a bit about how I was raised. I, like most of you, was brought up by family members who believed humility and gratitude were the most extolled virtues. It’s hard to disagree when you think of how many chapters in the Bible are dedicated to this ideology.
“Blessed are the meek…”
“In all things, give thanks…”
Where religion leaves off, conventional African wisdom picks up with sayings like…
“Pride goes before a fall…”
“The fool speaks, the wise man listens…”
“Pride is the mother of arrogance…”, etc again teaching us, from a very young age how far we can get in life simply by being humble and meek.
So it suffices to say that I grew up with these values ‘beaten’ (literally, albeit lovingly) into my subconscious.
As a young adult entering into the Corporate American landscape, I struggled with balancing these values long inculcated in me, with the new Corporate values of self promotion, i.e., speaking highly of one’s self and achievements. I had a difficult time talking about or taking credit for good work I had done.
It also became obvious to me, very quickly, that many of the coworkers I came in contact with, had not had the privilege of the same ‘upbringing’. Conversely, they seemed to have been taught the desire for leadership. Everyone seemed to want to be named leader.
Once as a new hire, I worked on a project alongside a small team I assembled. The project yielded over $1 million in savings and it was my ideas and actions specifically that led to the breakthrough. We were asked to present to the SVP. During the presentation, I couldn’t use the words “I did”. I just couldn’t. I continuously found a way to divert the spotlight. As if this wasn’t bad enough, a member of the team, who had done nothing but scratched his behind all day tried to jump in and claim the success as his!
During my corporate journey, I have come across non-U.S native, Corporate-Americans (especially Black folks) who seem to have the same struggles I did. You forget that most of the reason you have made it thus far is your hardwork, your determination, your inner hustle. You were not handed this job. If you are like me, you didn’t get hired because your daddy knew someone. You earned it!
Now, I am not encouraging arrogance and ingratitude. There really is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Be careful to know the difference. I am proud of the way I was raised and the values I was taught. But I have realized that it is not enough. I have begun to expand my value system to incorporate confidence and occasionally, the “self back-pat”. At the appropriate moment, I am not ashamed or too humble to remind my bosses of what I’ve done. It is necessary.
I am learning to subdue that part of me that wants to downplay my achievements, and allowing myself to stand in the spotlight from time to time.