The balance between adapting and keeping your ground

The corporate world is like a new universe to the uninitiated, whether you’re a recent college graduate trying to break in or in a professional outside of the business field– this world has its own unwritten rules, politics to navigate and relationships to manage– and it is essential to learn all of these that are critical to career success.

As a young female minority who constantly moved to different houses, neighborhoods and even countries in her childhood, I feel that most of my life has been about adapting to new environments, people and cultures. I had been forced into a new group of neighbors, classmates and colleagues and each environment seem to have a culture of its own, which could take some time to learn. I have been in situations where I’m either the youngest person in a class, the only female in a team, or the only one of different background. Some have been easy transitions, but there were also times when it was uncomfortable.

Most of us face challenges when adapting to different environments, especially ones in which nothing seems familiar. Some people can make transitions look so easy; they seem to handle it flawlessly, but even the most adaptable and experienced of us have inner doubts and fears. What if the new group doesn’t like me? What if my new responsibilities are overwhelming and I am not familiar with anything in this new role?

We have to calm our fears and try our best to push through the unfamiliar. It helps when we work with others who are relatively familiar with our new environments and draw from their experiences as we learn to navigate our new world. Despite the techniques we can employ to make adapting easier, at the end of the day, it is hard to adapt. It requires us to be flexible with the routines and processes that we’re familiar with to welcome new ways to do things. It can shake us, challenge our knowledge and raise doubts about our abilities– especially in the beginning when we don’t know how to act in a way that aligns with the new group’s culture. We’re seen as the different one, the outsider, the newbie.

Today’s world often rewards conformity. When a female seeks to rise through the ranks and finds herself alone in the company of men, she learns to adapt to her environment and in the process, starts acting like them. This issue is always raised in business circles and magazines– “Why do we need to act like men in order to move up?” Sometimes we accuse a woman for her actions that make her seem to act like a man. But looking at it from a different perspective, shouldn’t we look at her as someone who adapts well? She sees that there’s a certain culture in the higher ranks of management and she learns how to navigate that environment– we should acknowledge and celebrate her flexibility. Women in management don’t act like men because they want to be like men or that “it’s the only way to rise to the top.” Women are smart in that they know how to adapt and behave in such a way that the environment calls for it. Then, when she has prove her value, women usually act like themselves.

There’s a fine line between adapting and behaving like yourself. There had been plenty of times when, in the desire to adapt, we end up conforming a little too much, and instead of upholding our own ways and educating the new group about our differences, we end up acting like them. We need to be mindful of this, so that we don’t curtail our freedom to express our distinctiveness, but be champions of our differences. As long as we contribute a lot of value to the group, we can demand our ways and quirkiness to be respected.

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