This weekend, I attended the NAAAP National Convention (National Association of Asian American Professionals) here in Boston. It was the first time I had ever attended this conference. What a buoying experience it was! I was thrilled to be a presenter at the conference on the topic of “Getting the Recognition and Visibility You Deserve at Work”. By the size of the turnout, this topic seems to have resonated strongly with many Asian-American professionals.
Seeking recognition and visibility at work is so incredibly hard for so many wonderfully talented Asian professionals. In this session, I could see the frustration. I could sense their feeling of being trapped — knowing what they should do, but unable to take the steps to stand out and publicly recognize their valuable contribution to their organization. It is such an anathema in our Asian cultural heritage to claim our contribution, our tireless efforts that have made a difference. We have been taught that hard work will be recognized and rewarded. To speak of our positives is so hideously viewed in the Asian culture, that it seems, we might as well as just exile from our community if we dared to take such a step. The notion runs deep, to the core of our being. Doing, without seeking recognition, is recognized as a form of high nobility.
Perhaps this nobility of action is recognized in the Asian (Asian-American) culture. But in mainstream (European) America, this perspective is anything but noble and revered. It is self-destructive and self-effacing. in a culture where celebrating one’s accomplishment is expected, we unknowingly disrespect ourselves and sabotage our path for greatness. Rather than being viewed as virtuous, our managers may view us as lacking in confidence or lacking a true interest in the work. At worst, managers take advantage of our willingness to work without recognition or reward and just keep working us harder and harder with little in return.
We are all human beings, seeking responses for our actions. When we don’t talk about the progress we’ve made at a team meeting, the team doesn’t respond with an understanding of our humility and recognize the work that’s been done. Instead, we are met with puzzlement, disinterest and distance. We become invisible. We’re the ATM of professional work. The machine.
Each of us craves validation. But in these moments, when we receive little back (whether in compliments or raises or promotions) we feel deeply hurt and unworthy. Over time, we devalue our contributions because of the lack of expected positive feedback. We accept “our place” in the organization or worse, we feel increased aggression and frustration and yet, do nothing.
I see too many individuals who come to believe that living in this untouchable silenced-misery is the only option. Do my work, go home. Interact as necessary to get the work done. Co-workers don’t seem much interested in me. it’s hard to socially engage with them. So I don’t ask for much. I’m glad to be paid, to have my work. And hope that the recognition and reward will come. And hope, as the years continue.
As we operate in European-American organizations, Asian-American professionals must be willing to act differently if we are to receive the appropriate feedback for the good work that is done. Seeking recognition from our managers, our peers, our team is not petty, is not being “small-minded”. Seeking recognition for the good work that is done, is a form of self-respect.
Self-respect. Valuing the time, the effort, the commitment we make to our work. Valuing our existence. Valuing the difference we make. Valuing ourselves because we matter. It’s that simple. It’s that profound.
Step forward I say. Claim your contributions at work. Unashamedly and excitedly tell your boss about your new discovery. Get the support of an internal publicist to talk on your behalf. Speak about the new process you’ve created at the team meeting. One step. Then another. And another. As you do, you claim your worth that is rightfully yours.
I ask you to change your “lens”. See through new eyes. See that when you speak of your accomplishments and seek recognition, it is actually a deep act of kindness to yourself. It is you, bowing to yourself, with the deepest form of self-respect. Each of us deserves this honoring. It is the only way.
So, take the step. Will you?