By Joe Miao
You might not realise it right off the bat, but Australia is a really weird place full of Vegemite, bin chickens and giving things a ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’. Australians drive on the left side of the road, they don’t eat rice with every meal and have toilets that aren’t a hole in the ground. All big surprises for little 4-year-old me flown over from China. All of these things were quite easy for me to pick up and get used to. Hang around long enough and you get used to being on the opposite side of the road. But there were also a lot of weird things happening below the surface that took me a lot longer to pick up.
Australia fits into what some psychologists call WEIRD: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic. Countries who fit within the mould of WEIRD see and think about things very differently to many other people around the world, both literally and metaphorically. Look at these two lines below, which one is longer?
The answer is that they’re actually the same length! In an experiment, researchers made line A progressively longer until the participants thought the lines were the same length. The San people of the Kalahari Desert were unaffected by the illusion, whilst American undergraduate students thought line B was longer until line A was actually made 20% longer. WEIRD people literally see things differently!
Now I know unless you’re one of the students living in building 6, you probably don’t stare at lines the whole day, so what’s the big deal? Well, in the same way the two lines are exactly the same length and perceived differently, people out there in the workforce can have similar abilities but be judged differently on how they’re framed.
Apart from being used to eating lots of rice, being from a Chinese background also means that through my experiences and upbringing, I find it really difficult to engage with personal branding and “selling myself”. At first I thought it was just me, but it turns out there’s research out there (Heine & Hanamura, 20071) showing that people from East Asian cultures tend to be more self-critical than those from Western cultures. In the WEIRD world of Australia, personal branding and being able to articulate your worth is actually quite important for career success. So what happens next?
Australia can be WEIRD to us, but we’re also weird in Australia. Not every person in Australia is WEIRD, nor every team, nor every organisation. Success isn’t about being better at being WEIRD, it’s more about being adaptable, kind of like a chameleon. I’m not saying you need to reinvent yourself and cut all ties with your culture to succeed in Australia. If you’re born a chameleon, you’re always going to be a chameleon. But instead we need to build a greater understanding of how culture works and how different cultures interact with each other to overcome differences and being open to appropriately changing your colours at times. It’s understanding where there might be gaps in your skills and identifying the best strategies for overcoming them without losing who you are.
It comes through a combination self-improvement, as well as collaboration. If you’re not the strongest at selling yourself, you can work on getting better at it, or maybe you just need an advocate with open ears to act as your megaphone who loves to introduce you to other people and tell them how amazing you are!
But when it comes down to it, it’s all about going out there, enjoying and learning from the weird WEIRD world of Australia.
1Heine, S. J. & Hamamura, T. (2007) In search of East Asian self-enhancement. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11:1–24.
Joe Miao is a Psychologist working as a Recruitment Advisor at UTS Careers, where he helps students get a head start in their career journeys. He is passionate about guiding people to make the most of their experiences, use their skills to work purposefully and achieve their potential.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash