Atlanta Stories 2

One morning, we woke up to loud knocking. The knocking was consistent and loud, the type that means all business. Since apartment walls are usually drywall and have no sound-proofing, I thought someone was knocking at our door. I got out of bed quickly and looked through the key hole and saw the police waiting outside. But they were facing our neighbour’s door and continued knocking.

Now that was interesting! There were 4 policemen outside. What was our neighbour up to? We had seen this neighbour before. She seemed like a polite woman and always smiled when we met her on the stairs. She had a kid and we had met some of the other people who lived with her.

I had to leave for work so I had to stop spying and get ready. It took me a few minutes to get ready and when I stepped out, our neighbor was sitting by the staircase. I tried to act cool and make my way down the stairs without inconveniencing them but the flurry of activities made it awkward. I found my way down the stairs somehow and didn’t look back.

A few men had been arrested. We inferred later that they were involved in gangs and drug deals. I don’t think they stayed there every night but would stop by sometimes.

When I came back from work, the action scene had concluded. Our neighbour had been evicted and the apartment was being cleaned out.

The apartment complex we lived in was a gated community but the gate was almost always broken. The apartment administration would fix it sometimes and add more security options but it would be get broken again.

The smells of Atlanta

Did you know that marijuana smells sweetish and unpleasant? We had a few neighbours who smoked it all the time and we could smell it all the way up to our apartment. I wonder if it’s possible to get high through passive smoking. I didn’t feel any different.

The part of Atlanta that we lived in had several stinky streets with problems of open defecation. Homelessness exists in the US and you can find people living on the streets in warmer cities like Atlanta. The homeless would often beg for money and make temporary shelters under flyovers and street corners. I don’t think I ever saw children who were homeless.

Walking downtown was always fun. The stadium was right there. The streets were busy with tourists, soccer fans and people wearing costumes.

Roadtrips

Road trips are a popular way for intercity travel in the US. The first road trip we took was from Atlanta to Nashville. It was less than four hours away but I was so restless throughout the trip. Now I don’t mind road trips as much and sometimes road trips are a much better option than being in tiny planes getting tossed in the wind.

Atlanta Stories

Atlanta is a vibrant city, full of life, very diverse and  and we lived there nearly four years. We recently moved and I wanted to record a few of our unique Atlanta experiences before we forget all about them 🙂

Atlanta summers can get as high as 38 degree Celsius with humidity. That heat is familiar since I am from Kolkata. What’s different is that some of our neighbors just sit in their cars during hot summer afternoons even though all apartments have air conditioning. Sometimes they turn music on but sometimes, they just sit in the parking lot for hours, doing nothing else.

For a few months last year, someone would play loud music around 3 AM every night while sitting in his car. The music would often wake us up and it turned into quite a tradition. In fact, a few days after the music stopped waking us up, we wondered if the neighbor had left. Around the same time, we had a neighbor who would practice his drum lessons late at night. Since everything else is “hear a pin drop” quiet, those drums were loud.

Our apartment was right next to railway tracks for cargo trains. These trains run through the day and night and their weight would make our furniture rattle.  I don’t think we will miss that part about living there.

For a few nights I stayed by myself while my husband worked night shifts. One night while trying to sleep and trying to ignore those creaks and sounds that are creepier and louder at night, I heard a loud scream, ‘they’re gonna kill me!”

At first I was frozen to the bed in fear, unable to move. When the shouting was accompanied by more commotion, I realized that the noise was coming from right below our apartment. I jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

There were police cars everywhere. The railway tracks were lit up and people’s porch lights were on which made the night look brighter than it was. A man was struggling to escape the clutches of two policemen.  He had managed to make it halfway over the fence.

The fences are almost 6 feet high and he was trying very hard to slide across to the other side. The police seemed to have caught him just as he was about to reach the top. So when I looked out of the window, I saw the man almost on the tips of the fence with two policemen trying to prevent him from making it to the other side. My heart was still racing as the man continued screaming, “they’re gonna kill me. Help! Help me, momma! Momma!”

It was during the same year when the media and public were misrepresenting police actions and making police appear to be villains all over the US. You might have read some of the bad publicity city police offices were getting and most of the stories were falsified. That night I prayed that the officers would do the right thing because clearly the man was trying everything he could to get injured in order to escape arrest.

Soon an elderly lady ran out of one of the apartments on the ground floor. I was shocked to realize that the man was in fact calling out to his mother. She lived right there, in our apartment complex and perhaps so did he! There was a crime suspect living so close to our apartment!

The elderly lady ran out shouting words of comfort to her son and abuses at the officers. In that moment, the man managed to break free from the police and ran towards our building. More police cars had arrived by then. It was like a scene from the movies. Sirens blaring, officers hurried out of their cars chasing him on foot. He was surrounded in seconds. They were now on the other side of the building and I couldn’t follow the rest of the action. The commotion continued till the man was finally arrested and the mother calmed down.

Over the next few minutes the police cars departed, apartment porch lights went out and the outside was dark again. I was too excited to sleep. I had just witnessed something exciting – a crime bust right below our apartment!

When my husband returned home from work later that night, I learned that the man had been involved in regular theft from the cargo trains that parked on the tracks at night. The police had finally caught on to his tricks and had arrested him.

Deciphering Indian Courtesies

Slide1The last time I visited my Kolkata home, there was a large crowd of people bidding goodbye to one person at the airport. Goodbyes are significant events and often extended families and even neighbours will come to see people off at airports and railway stations.

I thought of writing this post about deciphering Indian courtesies because of several recent conversations on Cultural Intelligence that I have had with colleagues. It will be interesting to learn which other cultures around the world follow similar practices. Since India is so culturally diverse, its amazing to see how some courtesies and traditions are the same across India.

For example, guests are highly valued in all Indian contexts. “Athithi devo bhava” meaning guest is god is accepted seriously across all people groups in India. As a result, guests are often not allowed to do anything that could count as a chore. Hosts will insist on serving something to everyone who visits their home, even if it’s just water. If you’re the guest, be polite and take a few sips even if you are not thirsty.

Guests can show up unannounced, sometimes during mid afternoon nap hours (nap times exist in several Indian cities) or even late at night. Hosts will demonstrate warm hospitality and serve snacks and beverages. Indian homes will keep sweets and snacks available for such surprise visits. If a guest ever showed up unannounced and our fridge wasn’t well stocked, it would cause some serious stress at home. But as an unannounced guest, your job is to convince your host not to worry about serving anything. “Just water is fine. I just ate”, is a well accepted excuse.

It is good manners to take something for your host – whether you were invited or showing up unannounced. Something simple like a box of good quality sweets or a bag of fruits is a good gift.

It is considered polite to arrive a little late when you are invited to a meal. Being late by 5 or 10 minutes is a good idea but try to keep it less than 15 minutes. Being a little late implies that although you are excited about the invitation, you are not desperate to eat and have some self-esteem.

Most Indian hosts will wait till all guests have eaten before they sit down to eat. Sometimes, hosts will wait till after the guests have left. This can feel uncomfortable if you’re unfamiliar with having a host wait on you and serve you multiple portions without themselves sitting down to eat. As a guest you can try convincing them to eat with you but it’s hard for people to change this belief.

Slide3After a meal, the host may pack some of the leftovers for guests. Its important that any reusable container is returned to the host as soon as possible. It is impolite to return an empty container. People will typically add some special sweets before returning it. I love this tradition – you never what delicacy you will find.

Some of my family members are left handed but since it’s improper to use your left hand to eat, they eat using their right hand, at least in public. The left hand is considered unclean and is therefore not used to give or accept anything. I have had vendors decline payment if I mistakenly extended it with my left hand.

This one applies not just to guests: Most Indians will offer the last leftovers from a delicacy to someone else. It’s a strange mindset but if there’s only one sweet left, families will split it or they will offer it to a visitor. I guess we have all heard this and believe it to be true that“the last bite carries the most blessing”. 

Unless you invite someone in person or over the phone (if you live in different cities), an invitation card has no meaning. In fact, mailing an invitation without following it up with a phone call is considered as rude as not inviting someone at all. Personal connections are highly valued and emphasized.

Slide2This is almost the funniest thing about Indian families but goodbyes can be a lengthy affair…even when you will meet the person again the very next day. You can spend hours at someone’s house but when it’s time to leave, it’s natural to stand at the door and talk for a looong time! Some goodbye conversations at our house have lasted 45 minutes. Maybe it is our way of saying. I enjoy your company so much that it’s hard to leave. 

 

What are some other Indian courtesies that I missed highlighting? Do you know if any of these are practiced in other world cultures?

Leave a comment below or write to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com. We would love to hear from you!

 

Lessons from Burnt Cookies

I have a failed relationship with chocolate chip cookies. I love them so I want to learn to bake them but they refuse to bake right. Both my attempts at baking chocolate chip cookies have resulted in overdone and slightly burnt cookies. I agree that I need to practice baking but honestly I am pretty sure that if I burn another batch of cookies, I will give up baking altogether.

We have all heard it before – failures are the stepping stones to success. Then why are failures so hard to deal with? Perhaps it’s because a lot of emphasis is laid on success and minimal emphasis is laid on learning from failures.

One thing that happens when dealing with unfamiliar settings is that it’s easier to become more accepting of failures. For example when you are learning to drive in a new country, its easier to be accommodating of others who might be driving slowly or making mistakes just like you. When learning to bake, you can empathize with someone who over-baked a batch of cookies. In a way, you begin to view failures a little differently.

The most recent book I read is called Little bets by Peter Sims. Its a good book that talks about how “breakthrough ideas emerge from small discoveries”. It highlights a few interesting perspectives on dealing with failures while creating something magnificent.

One of the concepts discussed talks about failure resulting from the “illusion of rationality. We are all vulnerable to this illusion. It happens when ideas are assumptions seem logical in a plan, spreadsheet model, PowerPoint, or memo, yet they haven’t been validated on the ground or in the real world.”

Failure is inevitable and often instrumental in nudging us forward. Knowing which losses are affordable is defined in the book as the “Affordable loss principle”. This is based on the research of Professor Saras Sarasvathy. “Seasoned entrepreneurs will tend to determine in advance what they are willing to lose rather than calculating expected gains.” This principle could be used by anyone as a guideline when navigating failures. No matter how accepting of failures you might be, failure is always unwanted. We don’t want to ever fail but understanding which losses are affordable can prevent us from sulking about everything. It can also help us determine which failures are not worth risking.

The book goes on to talk about how a growth mindset learns more from setbacks than a fixed mindset. “By expecting to get things right at the start, we block ourselves psychologically and choke off a host of opportunities to learn.”

The idea of failing quickly means that we “invest less emotion and less time in any particular idea or prototype or piece of work”. This is practical advice because the less attached you are to something, the easier it is to learn from it and move on.

The book Lean Startup talks about the idea of leading small experiments while launching a new idea rather than waiting to get it all right all at once. By the time you get it all right, the world may have moved on from that phase. Consider a new initiative that you want to start in your own company or within your team. For the sake of an example, let’s consider that your team has pointed out that your company is not transparent and often they are left in the dark about important decisions. In starting small remedial steps you could begin to bridge the communication gap steadily. Instead of thinking of ideas that might fail and waiting for a break through solution, implementing “little bets” can help you learn lessons that simply can’t be learnt in theory. Remember the “Illusion of Rationality” that we covered earlier.

In a low risk setting, failure may be viewed as an unpleasant experience. But when the stakes are higher, the fear of failure can be crippling. But it is in these high risk settings, when the concept of little bets can help us keep moving forward. It minimizes the time and resources spent behind ideas and it keeps us moving forward.

Growing into a growth mindset has a lot of advantages and you can begin dealing with failures more practically and actually learn valuable lessons. Failure might be a sign that you’re moving forward. The best way to avoid failure is to not try at all…but that also means you miss out on experiences that could expand your creativity and help you grow.


Beautiful Image Credit: Pixabay 

Share your business and living overseas experiences with The Overseas Magazine. Email theoverseasmagazine@gmail.com 

Good boss, bad boss

A few days ago I realized that this year marks a decade of my career in Human Resources. Over this past decade I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of bosses and in some of my roles, I have had the opportunity to manage teams.

So I wrote down a few points about the different types of bosses that I have had and how they have influenced me. Of course, it was almost easier to remember all the annoying traits and the more I thought about them, the more it became clear to me that I have been all those annoying traits to someone else. But first a little more about these amazing boss traits. 

Amazing bosses really led their team to excellence and did it with compassion. They were not afraid to fail, they gave solid feedback to help people improve, and they invested time in mentoring. They let their teams own their projects, encouraging innovation and leadership.

They measured outcomes against high standards. Trust was common. These leaders helped their team shine before their own bosses and were comfortable leading with a servant heart. They stood up for their teams, protecting them from fruitless labour. They didn’t feel threatened when their teams knew more than them and were able to accept their mistakes. They created a growth attitude and pushed their teams to new challenges to enable them to become stronger.

They bought treats for their teams out of their own pocket. They let their teams rest on vacations and weekends. They knew their families and bothered to ask about them sometimes. They discouraged gossip and kindled a culture of respectful feedback. They knew how to celebrate successes. These are the leaders that have impacted me so deeply and I strive to be like them.

Now on to some funny traits:  

20180421_160343

I am always stressed out – I work all the time and expect my team to do the same.

I stress over minute details and I need to please everyone! What if they don’t like me?! is my greatest fear. As a result, I can’t give thorough feedback, can’t handle feedback about myself, but end up making my team rework everything just because someone suggested it.

I am competent so I micromanage. I am always late to meetings because I always “need” to finish “one more thing”.

20180421_160314I know more than you ever will – how dare you try to teach me! I need to reply to all emails immediately – even during sensitive meetings.

You can’t expect me to remember everything and I can’t bear any blame. It is always someone else’s mistake. Be diplomatic with me and praise me all the time, not because I need affirmation but because I truly deserve it – I am the best.

Every one likes me – what’s not to like? I am full of life and I know everything.

20180421_160302I hear no feedback, I change nothing! Don’t innovate and just do it my way.

I can show strategic compassion to make my team feel valued. If someone in my team knows more than me, they will be favoured above the others.

If you make a mistake, I will reprimand you in front of the team so that no one ever thinks of repeating that mistake ever! I love gifts, initiative and people who follow instructions impeccably. 

 

20180421_160322I am laid back and I am awesome. I have a new vision speech every week but can’t seem to follow through on any plans. I think it’s because I am a perfectionist and if I cannot do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all.

I borrow ideas and spin it off as my own, taking credit for work I didn’t do. If I am leading a project, I cannot delegate because no one else can do it a perfectly. It’s okay if I miss important deadlines that impact my team.

I hate confrontation but you can pick up hints from my passive aggression.


I guess we are all combinations of some good boss and some bad boss. Being self aware can help us become better bosses and have lasting impacts in the lives of our teammates. If you have had a good boss, remember to send them a thank you note today.

 

How to be More Creative at Work

This year’s Global Leadership Summit included a session with author Fredrik Haren (author of The Idea Book).  Haren is a business creativity expert from Sweden who, according to Forbes, lets people stay on his private island for free. His session during the summit got me thinking a little more about business creativity.

He made an interesting point during this talk. He said when you ask people if they are creative most people say that they are not. Creativity is connected to crafts, artists, and musical talent. But creativity has so much to do with the what we think  and do everyday.

I decided to try something new. I scheduled an hour of Creative Space into my week.  The idea is to intentionally nurture creativity. During this hour, I do one of the following: think of a new project, read about a topic I wouldn’t normally read about, learn something new, create something, write something, compose something. Needless to say I am enjoying this new habit because it’s just fun. Its an hour of intentional creative growth each week.

Creative thinking and creative problem solving are valued very highly in terms of getting ahead at work. Creativity plays an important role in time management, prioritizing multiple demands, negotiation skills, and basically staying sane during stressful work weeks.

Creativity and Innovation are close associates. Innovation means doing something new by making a new combination of things that already exist. In his speech, Haren reminds us that God alone can make something out of nothing so that’s not something humans need to worry about. We can make new things from other existing things. That made this whole creativity and innovation business more manageable.

The other concept that I re-read recently and that resonates with my personality is this: One needs to be structured in order to be creative. Creativity doesn’t flow from complete chaos. Let’s rephrase that a little – for meaningful creativity to flourish, there needs to be some structure even in chaos.

The SCAMPER principle is a structured guideline to develop creative:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to other use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

To have a great idea, have a lot of them (Thomas Edison). Creative experts recommend divergent thinking while problem solving. Instead of finding one solution to solve multiple problems, think of multiple solutions for problems. This prevents tunnel vision, which is often the enemy of creative thinking. It is also important to take a break when tackling problems and let your ideas incubate to help you in picking the best solutions.

Think about how creative entrepreneurs got their ideas. Here are some examples from the November 2017 edition of Inc. Magazine, Koel Thomae launched Noosa Yoghurt after tasting a new kind of creamy, full-fat yogurt while visiting her mother in Australia. Paul English started Kayak, inspired by his trip to Haiti, to make online travel search easier. Blake Mycoskie started TOMS because of the impact that his trip to Argentina had on him. He was moved by the difficult life of rural children, many of whom had no shoes. That was the genesis of his shoe company and its buy-one, give-one model. Kombi Vans in South Africa inspired Logan Green to start his company Lyft.

There are endless stories about entrepreneurs who were able to use inspired creativity to innovate. The key to their success is that they were not afraid to fail.

As a manager, provide opportunities to your team to grow in business creativity. Instead of giving them answers to problems, challenge them to come up with solutions. As a manager don’t crush your team when they fail or you will stifle creativity and innovation.

We wish ideas would just flow naturally while we are sleeping or enjoying some macaroons with coffee. But business creativity flows when we show up to work. Show up and start brainstorming solutions and ideas. Creativity is a combination of imagination, curiosity and knowledge.

Creativity is what sets you apart as a leader in your workplace. “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” (Peter Drucker)


What helps you nurture creativity? Email your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com 

Learning to Network in a New City

The last time I had a sales job, I had regular nightmares about failing at achieving ‘targets’. That was almost nine years ago but I still remember the exhausting feeling. I hated networking. I hated going to work and trying to sell insurance to customers. But it was my first job after college while I tried to figure out which career to pursue and the job paid handsomely. Thankfully, I had a good boss who helped me realize that sales was not my calling. So after six grueling months of meeting clients and growing a sales network, I decided that the stress was not worth the money and quit.

After quitting I did some freelance work and then started my professional journey with IJM. In my Business Admin and Human Resources role, most of my responsibilities were office internal. When I was assigned the responsibility of being a recruiter, I enjoyed networking with organization leaders, colleges and individuals. This networking often took less selling skills because most people wanted to work at IJM.

I was getting quite comfortable in my role when one year our Director assigned an additional networking responsibility to me. I was to serve as a liaison to the German Consulate in Kolkata. This would involve staying in touch with some officials and attending social events hosted by the German Consulate. It wasn’t complicated really but I tried to wiggle out of it and failed.

The first social event I went to alone, I felt out of place and awkward at the beginning but I ended up meeting some cool people. Over time I learned to attend social events on my own, which meant that I actually had to meet strangers, start conversations, eliminate awkward silences and get to know people that I had no real interest in getting to know. The exposure was amazing! I grew more confident, comfortable and appeared more extroverted. My favorite part of the events remained unchanged – I loved when it was time to leave 🙂 But I became less apprehensive about intentional networking.

Learning to network is a key skill that leads to opportunities. Networking doesn’t have to be phony and selfish. It can be a great tool in building connections, advancing knowledge and greater success.

When I moved to Atlanta these networking lessons were put to good use. We knew only a couple of people here. While I waited for my US work authorization, I was able to use that tiny Atlanta network to connect with several business leaders. These leaders then introduced me to other business leaders in the city. Not all of them led to substantial outcomes but the city began to feel more familiar as my professional network grew.

Read related: Living Overseas: Community

You need to be proactive in making these meetings happen. Don’t hesitate to follow up with your contacts when you are waiting to hear about potential networking opportunities – reminders work wonders. But there is fine line between being proactive and being annoying and that line depends on the kind of contacts that you have. Use the appropriate time of day to reach out, always give people a lot of time to respond and don’t hold grudges when they don’t respond. 

Most of the time people were more available to speak over the phone instead of meeting in person. Either way the conversations included introductions, ideas about top things to do in Atlanta and some career advice. I had prepared a brief about myself and a list of questions about the person’s career choices and I would try to keep the pace and sequence as natural as possible. I didn’t ask any of them for a job but simply shared what I was looking for and sought their advice about next steps.

The other networking tool that I used was LinkedIn. I first spent a few hours creating a strong LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allowed me to find and reach out to company leaders and recruiters in Atlanta. About 75% of those I contacted responded back kindly. The rest didn’t respond at all. I would find the people listed on job boards or leaders listed on company websites and simply reach out via email. It was awkward at first but with every positive response I received, the more natural the approach became.

Read related: What do people who thrive overseas have in common?

Of course not all of the 75% who responded led to substantial outcomes in terms of job searches but each of those conversations helped me improve the next email and conversation. I also enjoyed the exposure that I got to company processes and cultures and that was just priceless. When I emailed someone, irrespective of whether I knew them or not, I would ask them for one favor and that was to allow me to learn about their career trajectory, choices and lessons they had learned along the way as it would help me maneuver my new career path in Atlanta. I am very grateful to those who responded and shared invaluable lessons with me.

The key to this approach was not to get too attached to the opportunities and networks that I was pursuing. This attitude eliminated any feeling of insult when people didn’t respond because quite practically, not everyone has the time or interest to respond to strangers. However, if someone didn’t respond at first, I would send them a follow up email and keep it brief. Most leaders responded to the second email and agreed to schedule a time to connect over the phone and some of them even invited me to meet them at their offices and explore career opportunities with their companies.

Some of these networking sessions led to job opportunities in Atlanta. Some of them led to new friends. I almost enjoy networking meetings now.

You can learn more about networking through these articles:


You can share your professional lessons with readers. Email your stories to editor@theoverseasmagazine.com