5 Traps for Asian Female Executives

We were all born with the makings of success — the desire and ability to focus our entire beings on finding solutions to problems. Spend a few moments to watch grade-school kids at play or at work on projects. You don’t see them worrying about how they look to others, you don’t see them filing their nails or stealing glances at their reflections. Their entire beings are focused on what they’re doing. They’re determined to do the very best job they can and aren’t sidetracked by other considerations.

Remember what it was like to focus heart and soul on what you’re doing? That fundamental human impulse to give oneself wholeheartedly to the task at hand is the key to all success, whether in the classroom or the business world. That’s the state of mind we must recapture to achieve success in the adult world.

If only a minority of us attain success, it’s because many of us make the mistake of falling victim to distractions that rob us of the ability to focus 100% on what we’re doing. Getting on the success track is a matter of reacquiring the habit of focusing. To do that, we have to develop an instinct and a discipline of avoiding various traps that will distract us from our goals.

Distractions come in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes. Asian American women tend to succumb to five traps, especially in the early years of their careers — overextending themselves, letting peer pressure define their priorities, taking on time-consuming habits, entertaining harmful misconceptions about success and being too afraid of change to risk career progress. Learn to avoid these traps and you’ll make good progress toward achieving the level of success you really want.

TRAP 1: Overextending Yourself

A disproportionate number of Asian American women see themselves as overachievers who have become accustomed to working harder than their peers and being rewarded for it. That mindset enabled them to shine in high school, college and professional school. They carry these expectations into their first professional careers. Unfortunately, there are crucial differences between school and the workaday world, and those strategies can backfire.

In the controlled environment of academia, there’s a close correlation between effort and reward. Teachers usually reward hard-workers with good grades. The equation doesn’t carry over into the workaday world. Young doctors and lawyers and MBAs can work seventy-hour weeks and still lose patients, motions and business deals. Success — at least in the short- to mid- term — often depends on the quirks and whims of superiors, judges, clients and simple luck. What’s more, the vagaries of the real world often demand intense bursts of effort at unpredictable intervals.

The ability to absorb and respond to the countless nuances of personality, professional and corporate culture, and business climate and cycles often count for more than heads-down effort. A person who, in her eagerness to prove herself, has buried herself under too many deadlines can fail to absorb the big picture that can make her efforts more meaningful and effective. Too much hard work that goes unrewarded often leads to burnout, discouragement and alienation.

A hard worker is appreciated and generally rewarded, but a drudge can end up being taken for granted and passed over for truly meaningful assignments, especially if their efforts show little awareness of the big picture. Control the impulse to do more than others just to prove yourself. It’s much smarter to take on fewer assignments and do them well while staying alert to the nuances of your company and profession. Not only will the rewards be greater, but you’ll have a lot more fun.

TRAP 2: Surrendering Priorities to Peer Pressure

Nearly as many Asian American women fall into the opposite trap — that is, giving up their own goals to win the acceptance of colleagues. Surprisingly, for many the impulse to be accommodating even leads to foolish and awkward romantic relationships with colleagues that can damage their career prospects. The impulse is rooted partly in our cultural upbringing, possibly exacerbated by a consciousness of our minority status. Problem is, peer groups exert a strong downward pull toward mediocrity. Tens of thousands of otherwise talented, hard-working Asian American women fall into the trap of trading away their agendas for peer acceptance, then feel frustrated and cheated but are helpless to free themselves and get back on track. Next

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