Cultural connections and disconnections can alter and affect how you view and experience the world. They can derail your career and your ability to feel fulfilled. When you feel culturally disconnected, you have experiences, whether explicit or implicit, in which people make you feel wrong or bad for being who you are. You’ve had experiences in which being who you uniquely are felt like a weight and a curse. You feel like it’s of a lesser value or not culturally recognized with the same degree of respect and honor as others around you.
There are four aspects of being culturally disconnected:
- Feeling Uniquely Different, in a Nonvalue Added Way
- Feeling Left Out
- Feeling Judged
- Feeling Like You Need to Change to be Accepted
There was a season when I felt emotionally and culturally disconnected at work and in the city where I lived. I felt the beat of my life was off, out of sync, and off pace. I lacked a genuine connection with my coworkers. There were many days I felt out of place. I desired authentic relationships at work and desperately wanted to feel like I belonged. You could say my rhythmic beat was off!
I felt judged on several things, but mostly I felt judged at the intersection of gender and race. For example, on Fridays, if they had fried food, someone would come to my door and say, “Hey, they have fried chicken. I know you like fried chicken.” And let me be clear. I love fried chicken, but I didn’t need them to tell me I love fried chicken. They never came by to share other food options.
Or being called a gal or asked to go and get coffee for the men. Women are rarely invited to play golf or attend after work events with the men. This impacts our career opportunities because we lack access to deep relationships that occur in private settings.
Finding your authentic rhythm and voice takes a lot of energy and courage, especially for women. Women take great pains to develop their voices, and my journey was no exception. I spent countless hours trying to come up with the right tone, the perfect facial expressions (smile), and the ideal posture, and it all became too much.
I had changed. If I went to work events, I didn’t drink sweet tea, because that was a Southern drink. And I LOVE sweet tea. In an effort to lose my Southern accent, I would not talk a lot in open meetings. I didn’t have many people who looked like me at work. Surprisingly a few shared that they were fine with having a relationship with me in private but not in public.
How Women Are a Minority
Women are often the minority at senior tables in corporate America, especially in STEM fields. They are often overlooked and feel unheard, and they struggle to feel respected to the same degree as their male counterparts. They fear they will be denied career opportunities due to their parental status. And they overwork to prove they too can be the superwomen in their homes while trying to balance their career. This struggle comes at a cost, and many feel lost.
I was losing myself. Now from a career standpoint, everything was going well. I was getting promoted, getting raises, and long-term incentives. My career was looking awesome. So how do you think my family in Memphis thought I was doing?
They were proud of me and thought I was doing well. And that makes it even more complicated because when you call home, they’re so proud of you. And I was miserable. No one knew, not even me! I felt like I was carrying the weight of my family’s pride. They were proud of me, and I didn’t want to let them down.
It’s one thing to be fulfilled but it’s another thing to have success. They aren’t the same. There are a whole lot of people who have success on paper, but they’re unfulfilled in life. Never confuse the two as you journey in your career. Don’t ever get so caught up in success that you forget what fulfillment looks like as it relates to joy and happiness in your life. Success alone will not bring you joy.
As I did the work to find my Authentic Rhythm, I discovered three key strategies:
Being Me is My Greatest and Most Effective Strategy.
Charge yourself to give the world your authentic voice because not only is it your best voice, the world is waiting to hear what you have to say if you dare to come out and be discovered.
No Apologies Necessary.
Quit apologizing for being a woman, being different, being direct, and sharing your voice. The world does not want your modesty. They need your courage to SPEAK!
Blend In, Not Fit In.
Your voice changes when you try to fit in, and you lose your message. The goal is to stay authentic by blending in, not fitting in! So many of us assimilate into organizations and cultures. Instead, we should integrate. Assimilation requires us to change. For some of us, the weight of this is too heavy to bear. When we blend in, organizations benefit from our authentic skills, knowledge, and experiences.
It is important to understand why you are in this state so you can move to the next phase of self-discovery. Ask yourself:
- Have you ever felt culturally disconnected? If so, when and why?
- Do you feel like you belong at your workplace? If so, why or why not?
- Of the four aspects of cultural disconnections, which did you resonate with most and why?
- Have you ever or are you currently feeling disconnected? If so, how did/does it impact your ability to feel valued and respected in the workplace?
- How might you help others feel more connected at work?
- How can you reduce workplace exclusion?
Do the work of changing yourself for yourself, not them. You are worth the work!
This guest post was authored by Joy Fitzgerald
Joy Fitzgerald (aka Speaking Joy) is a coach, best-selling author, and corporate leader who has dedicated her life to motivating and igniting joy into every aspect of a person’s life. Her new book, Finding Authentic Rhythm: How to Win on Your Terms in Corporate America (March 2023), pulls together a wealth of experiences to help women successfully thrive in their careers.
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