5 Ways to Thrive in Corporate America – From One Immigrant to Another

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Photo by Jopwell

So remember Simsola, the entry-level analyst for whom I wrote a letter called “6 Ways to fake it till you make it in corporate America”? Now she’s been promoted to a mid-level position and she’s totally killing it in her new role. But of course, being the agbaya aunty that I am, I just can’t keep calm. So here I come again with some lessons for Simisola on how to thrive in corporate America, especially as an immigrant climbing the ladder.

1. Stop apologizing. 

We had all just gathered in a conference room for a meeting when Simisola walked in frantically saying, “I’m so sorry I forgot to attach the meeting agenda early enough”. Fam, I was smiling on the outside, but on the inside I was like “why, why, why, Simi?” Literally, all she had to say instead was, “I just sent out the meeting agenda… it should be at the top of your inbox”. No apologies needed. All of a sudden she sounds confident and in charge of the situation.

Friends, stop apologizing. Just staph eet! What exactly are you sorry for? Did you beat somebody ni? Or you stole their candy? Because I don’t understand why you feel the need to apologize. Ko necesstri

Whoever is reading this, I just want to tell you that you’re doing a fabulous job! You really are! So be confident. Instead of saying “I’m sorry if this is a dumb question…”, just say “Quick question…”, and then ask away. When in doubt of whether you need to apologize, just don’t. Literally, the only time you need to apologize is when you really really, like reeeeaaallly screw something up. And even then, I still don’t apologize; but you’d need to CashApp my consultation fee to learn how I handle that without appearing arrogant.

Photo by Jopwell

2. Learn to say “no”. 

At the end of that meeting, Mr. Luke assigned Simisola to write the first draft of a memo by end of the day. There was only two hours till the close of business, and I knew Simi had other things on her plate. Of course Mr. Luke’s request was unreasonable, and I knew too well that Simisola was cringing on the inside. But as a good employee and what not, she said with a sweet voice and a smile on her face, “sure, I’ll work on it.” Her email with the completed memo came through at 12:04am. 

Friends, it’s okay to push back gently like the sweet peaceful dove that you are, but be stern like the lion that you are on the inside; they don’t call us jagunlabi for nothing. So with a big smile on your face, nicely say, “I’m more than happy to work on the memo by Thursday. Is that okay?” If they born them well, let them say “no”. But you and I know that they born them well, and they will express concerns about the delay, so once again, we gently push back like the sweet peaceful doves that we are; we’ll remind them of other competing priorities. Trust me, they didn’t born them well to argue after this. If they still don’t agree at this point, then you have a problem client/boss, and bruh, your battle belongs to the Lord.

3. Project your voice. 

Simi, oh Simi, when shall we hear your voice during meetings? You hide comfortably behind Connor and let him do all the talking in YOUR meeting for YOUR project, and when you finally decide to speak, aunty we cannot hear what you are saying.

I used to be just like Simi… soooooo incredibly shy that you will need a hearing aid to hear anything I’m saying. I don’t know why; I think it was just a lack of confidence. Now, maybe the confidence finally came from my realization of the jagun that I am on the inside. As per lioness l’omo. Please friends, speak up loud and clear… accent or no accent, stutter or not, fluent English or not… just speak up. No one will think you are shouting. In fact, loud the volume some more. Projecting your voice really does make a difference in portraying confidence. Like I always say, nobody will bite you. A whole lion like you? Not possible.

Photo by Jopwell

4. Communicate red flags as soon as you find them. 

After the meeting, I heard Simi talking to Connor about how nervous she was that the project may be delayed because the client keeps changing their requirements.

Simi dear, venting to Connor is not enough. And don’t just keep it all in your head either. Offload your “headache” (AKA risks) to senior leadership to deal with. That is exactly what they get paid 10x your salary to handle. You can offer suggestions o, but just make sure that whatever you do, your headache is offloaded to them. Trust me, it’s the best Panadol you could ever take. Well, how do you know when to do this “offloading” you ask? If you’re awake at night, nervous about something for work or watching TV and thinking about a “what if” for your work project, then bruh you need to offload your “headache”. Just type up your concerns, why you think they are concerns, and how you are currently addressing those concerns. End with, “just want to make sure you are in the loop”. Then watch yourself sleep like the peaceful dove that you are. 

The Project Management gurus have some fancy risk logs for this, in case your headaches are plenty in number. Whatever you do… email, risk log, etc., just don’t wait too long. By the time the red flag actually happens, honey it’s too late, and you will be back to my point #1, telling stories that touch and trying to figure out whether you need to apologize.

5. Give responsibility to junior folks. 

Simi constantly complains to me about her workload and how overwhelmed she is. Wehdone ma. As na only you waka come, abi? You could have easily reassigned the first draft of that memo to Connor’s younger brother, Dustin. Half the time, he’s on his phone watching TikTok videos anyway. 

Delegate, delegate, delegate! Allow your team members to own a task or something; it’s a great opportunity for them to strive in their career. So go ahead and make them task lead of so and so. Trust me, they can handle it, and they will carry it like it’s their baby. No one wants to drop the ball on something they have been assigned. You should trust them, but obviously, review their work to give the final sign off. 

So please delegate; it’ll help them grow and give you a much needed rest. No, they are not a threat. And no, they won’t take your job from you or outshine you. Besides, you don’t plan to sit comfortably at this level of the ladder, do you? There’s more room up there for you to climb! Just remember, the success of your team members is also your success.

Photo by Jopwell

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Though these points seem minor, they are the little things that make a huge difference in your career. Notice that in all of them, one thing that is implied is that you must be hardworking. Really apply yourself and be proactive. 

What has worked for you in your career? Do you have any nuggets of wisdom to share?

If you’re interested in more career content, listen to my podcast episodes with Dr. Fope Agbedia, VP at MasterCard, and with Ikepo Oyenuga, former COO at Castalia.

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8 thoughts on “5 Ways to Thrive in Corporate America – From One Immigrant to Another

  1. Pls increase the volume on point number 1. It’s particularly common among females. Pls and pls stop apologizing. You’d never find me apologizing unnecessarily. Apologies should be meaningful and genuine.

    Having said that, I am guilty of number two! I have the head knowledge… it’s the implementation that’s the problem. Sister, you’re not a god, you can’t solve all the problems.

    Thanks for this beautiful piece.

  2. I’m terrible at number 2 and I’m guilty of number 3.
    I’ve been in a pool of regrets lately due to accumulated tasks that I refused to say no to from the very beginning.
    Then, I think the reason for number 3 would be shyness accentuated with a deep voice that I don’t want anybody to hear. Meveryone just dey their dey.😅

  3. At the end of #2 this song came to mind… “Who can Battle with Thy Lord (3x)… Noboby” Ask Femi to sing it for you lol

    Ok let me konitnu reading..

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