Lessons learned: be patient, be strong, be mindful, and most importantly, be YOU!

Lessons learned: be patient, be strong, be mindful, and most importantly, be YOU!

Written by Elnaz Barati

The city of Jakarta provides an otherworldly experience. Behind the tall, mammoth-sized buildings of luxury brand names, with their blaring LED lit jumbotrons, lie the bustling enclaves of small, city villages. In these city villages, as far as the eye can see, dusty, cracked pavements, bustling traffic, and the rich aroma of spices are a common sight. A stark juxtaposition between the adoption of western development and the dying efforts to maintain the last remnants of a more traditional existence. It is interesting to imagine what the city will look like in the near future, as the country continues to undergo rapid economic development. As a member of the G20, Indonesia recently established itself as middle-income, industrialized country. The country has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Having spent several months in the heart of Jakarta working at United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Indonesia, there are several lessons learnt. These lessons learnt from working in Jakarta may perhaps provide some wisdom and insight, which may be applicable to working in a variety of other countries. Firstly, patience. Be patient. Learn to appreciate the beauty of patience. Often, we seek to win the race before we have even started. Just because you have been offered an incredible opportunity to work at organization, such as the UNDP, and you are well-educated does not mean you know everything, nor do you necessarily know how everything operates, both culturally and bureaucratically. In fact, sometimes even if your understandings of a situation is correct, there are unspoken cultural and social norms and that exist, which require you to read between the lines. Do not rush. Take your time to get to know the people around you. Through having the patience and taking the time to know your colleagues, by forming meaningful work relationships, you are building a strong foundation. It is hard work! Sometimes you may feel alone, but as an individual you need to take the initiative. These initiatives can be as small as chatting by the coffee machine or helping a colleague edit a short email that they have been struggling to complete. By fostering these relationships, you slowly learn about the cultural and social norms and nuances of the country. Believe it or not, you can sometimes learn more about the way an organization and country work through your colleagues, than through the work you conduct. Through slowly building meaningful relationships, you also learn about new opportunities and ways to which you can contribute to other related projects. It should also be emphasised that just because you are assigned a supervisor, does not mean you cannot seek out other mentors and colleagues that you can turn to for significant feedback. Often, despite being brilliant individuals, your supervisors can be incredibly busy individuals. It is, therefore, important that you consider seeking out other mentors.

Another friendly recommendation is do not, I repeat do not, oversell your expertise and intellectual capacities. Be honest with yourself and with those you work with on a daily basis. Have integrity and be proud of what you have learned through your life experiences and education thus far. You do not have to be perfect at everything and know everything. It is an ongoing, iterative learning process. Although it is important to actively ask for meaningful work from your supervisor(s) and/or colleagues, you should not try to claim a set expertise you do not have a proficient understanding in. You may be assigned tasks that you are unable to complete, or you produce a less than adequate piece of work, which can affect your relationship with your supervisor(s) and/or colleagues. Though this has not been the case for me, thankfully, I have heard stories of such a phenomenon occurring, which has had negative ramifications. This is disclosed to offer some food for thought.

Though this has happened to me directly, it is something I have observed happen to others.
Your time should be about gaining experiences, not trying to satisfy expectations. That is to say, it is important to not have or expect certain outcomes from one’s time working at organizations such as UNDP. In life, you often prepare yourself to accomplish a huge list of tasks, and to develop a set of expertise by the end of your time at an organization and/or job. This can lead to many disappointments when expectations are not lived up to and/or met. Instead, try to gain experiences and to learn as much as you can from the culture, from colleagues and from the work you have received.

When working at any organization or job, be patient, be strong, be mindful, and most importantly, be YOU!


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