I encourage young professionals to view their multicultural perspectives as an asset.
I grew up in Argentina, so you could say that I am Argentinian. But my dad immigrated there from Italy, so you could also say that there’s a lot of Italian in me. But then again, I’ve also spent the last 21 years living in the US, so you could also call me an American. I would call myself all three. It’s a rich cultural heritage that I’m extremely proud of, but when you are a part of more than one culture, you often feel like you don’t fully belong to any of them. You’re a cultural outsider and insider all at once.
These emotions often come under a magnifying glass when you enter the professional world. Everything from your accent to your understanding of cultural norms feels like it’s on display for the world to judge. I remember early on in my career, I had a big interview with a fairly large company in Atlanta, which would have been stressful enough on its own. As the meeting wrapped up, the interviewer complimented the clarity of my English … but a compliment on your English can also feel like a giant flashing sign pointing to your accent.
I felt extremely insecure in that moment, and afterward I spent years trying to fit the mold of the American professional. Rather than leveraging the natural inclinations I had gained through a multicultural upbringing, I tried to play the game like an American. Now, looking back, I wish I could share some hard-won wisdom with myself, and other young professionals in the same position:
All of the parts of yourself that you’re repressing to fit the American mold are the parts you should embrace the most. Your unique experiences bring value to clients and teams in ways they’d never expect. Try your very best to be authentic, even if it makes you stand out a little.
Most young professionals struggle with confidence, whether they’re American or not. They simply haven’t had enough experiences in their work lives to reassure them that they’re capable and knowledgeable. Imposter syndrome is real for everyone, but it can be especially overpowering when you’re new to both a profession and a culture.
I know that what overcomes those feelings is simply the confidence that comes with experience. But in the meantime, I want to encourage young professionals to view their multicultural perspectives as an asset. If you say an English word incorrectly, take a friend’s correction in stride. Laugh at your faux pas, and allow your humility to draw others to you. Be vulnerable with your colleagues when you do need to understand something more about the culture you’re working in — then they’ll be able to be more vulnerable with you, too.
I have found that my accent actually makes me more memorable to my clients, and my experiences allow me to bring unique perspectives to my professional circles. I’ve built deep relationships with the people I’ve turned to for guidance when I’m in uncharted territory.
Looking back, I can see that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t conceal my identity to fit someone else’s mold. When I stopped trying to hide and let my authenticity shine, I finally saw how much it benefited me and everyone around me.