27 Jun Never Settle
Sam Varie from Butler University shares his current experience working for a Non-profit organization in Singapore as one of Absolute’s Summer 2017 Intern Heroes.
It was the start of my second week at my internship, 15 minutes before presenting to my project manager, the Academy Director and the Director of Marketing & Corporate Relations. Had I known prior to arriving in Singapore that I would present the marketing materials I completed in the first week of my internship and be presenting it to this group of people, I wouldn’t have believed it. But there was no honeymoon period. I was expected to jump in, be productive and contribute meaningfully. Before the two directors arrived for the presentation, my project manager stepped in and asked, “Are you ready?” I responded, “I’m as prepared as I can be.” She proceeded to just stare at me so I followed up and asked, “Do you think I’m ready?” She responded with a not so encouraging, “You might have improved since yesterday’s practice presentation.” I was a deer in the headlights. My confidence was shaken.
But what really struck me is when she explained to me that I am not in academia anymore. She looked at me and said, “This is real. You’re a marketer.” At first, I thought she was being overly critical and insensitive. Then I realized that what she said is a perfect example of the difference between Western and Eastern work culture: there is no coddling or positive reinforcement. Coddling and positive reinforcement don’t exist, not because they are “mean,” but because they believe one can always do better.
My project manager is incredibly invested in me, what I am working on and ensuring I grow as a marketer. In doing so, she makes me think critically, and she asks hard questions. Everything I produce always can always be better. This mindset was a shock for me. I was accustomed to positive reinforcement and operated with the belief that because I am a student, I can treat my inferior work product as “a learning opportunity.” But my experience in the workplace in Singapore has helped me self-reflect: Why should I settle for good not great? Why settle to accept the standard and not push in order to grow? The Asian culture, or at least the Singaporean culture, has adopted the mindset of never settling, always pushing.
Although this mindset was an adjustment for me, it has been beneficial as it has forced me to change my perspective of the meaning of work. Prior to my internship, my perception of why I should perform well was to please others, to complete the task, and receive that positive reinforcement. Although I found meaning in the work that I did, whether it was for student organizations, Starbucks or the Office of Student Affairs, many times I was working in order to find that positive reinforcement. After three weeks, my supervisor taught me that finding meaning in my work comes from self-satisfaction and personal growth, not other’s appreciation for my work.
The questions she asked, the projects she assigned and the high expectations she displayed were all to push my work to the next level in order for me to grow and gain that self-satisfaction. In adopting this perspective of work, my performance level has been elevated while simultaneously making my personal experience more rewarding.