After graduating from Georgia Tech, you feel so full of potential, and so ready to go out to make a huge and memorable impact on world as soon as possible. And all of these feelings are extremely valid because being equipped with an incredible education and powerful critical thinking skills while simultaneously being surrounded by inspiring change-making peers ultimately challenges you to be the best version of yourself possible. For me, this collegiate environment activated the ‘achieving’ part of my personality; thus, planning and efficiency have become integral parts of my existence a result of being bred in a culture of ‘doers’. At Georgia Tech, we are taught to see problems and creatively work to devise ground breaking solutions. This task-oriented, incredibly efficient STEM mentality, coupled with lifelong teachings from both of my parents with military backgrounds, has made me value the concept of working smarter rather than working harder.
With the coming of age of my generation, Gen Y, the western business world is bracing itself for massive changes as millennials advocate for increased flexibility, transparency, and independence in the work place in an effort to create an environment that stimulates valuable output for each individualized person. Most of my work experience throughout my collegiate career mimicked much of these values as I freelanced, made my own hours or worked remotely on task oriented projects where I could largely work when and how I needed in order to produce the most meaningful content. Additionally, as a blossoming social entrepreneur and creative humanitarian activist, I have begun to translate the work ethic that I learned from Georgia Tech into my professional life, on my own terms and in my own way-which usually means working in the most efficient way possible while simultaneously challenging conventional institutions and strategies in the name of progress and innovation.
However, ‘efficiency’ has different meanings and different rankings on lists of priorities to different people from different places who work in different sectors of society. Moving to Zambia and deeply immersing myself in a non-profit, non-American, and traditional corporate work place has definitely been a culture shock for me. I joined the Society of Family Health (SFH) immediately after an intensely inspiring Global Health Corps training, so I was prepared to make immediate impact within my first 90 days and to hit the ground running. However, I have quickly learned that in order to make meaningful impact, you have to gain people’s trust and show respect to the culture of the organization before trying to push the needle of change. SFH is an incredible organization that I am blessed to be a part of, and in my first few months here, I have grown to learn the value of taking a step back and slow down my constant quest for forward progress to simply listen and observe. And it has been a big and important professional development adjustment.
I initially spent several days feeling frustrated with myself. I felt like a burden or that my ideas were not being embraced or that I was not achieving the aggressive goals that I had set for myself all of which made the “achieving” part of my personality feel neglected. This neglect often manifested as a form of candor that can be perceived as aggressive in many non-western countries and in many non-profit settings. I have recently realized how selfish that mentality has been. As much as this experience is about developing myself as a professional, I am still an outsider to this organization and its culture; thus, in order to be embraced as a valuable member of the team, I have to listen and translate the principles of my empathic design work into the work place. Rather than allowing myself to feel like a burden, I have actively begun asking questions and seeking ways to get ‘doable’ tasks assigned to me. Rather than feeling offended when my ideas are not embraced, I now recognize that I approach problems with a western perspective that is not always correct or applicable in every context, despite how awesome or efficient the idea may be to me. And rather than giving myself lofty, high reaching goals, the “achieving” part of my personality has found satisfaction in setting feasible and attainable goals each week in order to ensure the continuity of my contributions to the team. Advocacy is essential in social impact work, but it has to be smart in order for it to be effective. It is important to discern when to advocate for yourself and your ideas and when you should sit back and work with what you are given in an effort to learn and build trust. Trust is essential and is the only way to get things accomplished within a team.
I am the sum of my life story’s parts including military-based efficiency, STEM teachings, and an entrepreneurial work ethic; however, in order to effectively work as a member of a team in this global space, I have to understand how to approach problems with an open mind and learn when I need to advocate for myself or my ideas versus when I need to respectfully sit back and say “Let’s work the way you work”.