Cultural Compatibility Comes First
Anybody wishing to succeed in our brutally competitive country, first needs to check if he/she is culturally compatible with people who have already been allowed to the American achievers table. Do you even belong there? Few have been born to fit the American success-obsessed culture 100 percent, but many have a predisposition to develop the needed traits. Let’s see what it takes to get there.
Prime Parameter: Abundance Mentality
In my experience interviewing outstanding women-immigrants, the compatibility parameters for success in the US include creativity; growth mindset; willingness to integrate; American-style work ethic; long-term goals orientation; plus, education and ambition—but most importantly, the abundance mentality.
Abundance mentality does not come from “having a lot of stuff,” it’s NOT some sort of “bulked-up” scarcity, as in the picture.
Stephen Covey explained these basic for all American achievers concepts in his classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Scarcity mentality means thinking there is not enough pie/fruit/pizzas to go around. Many people are deeply scripted in it and see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie/fruit/pizza out there. The abundance mentality, believing there is plenty for everyone, is a building block of a win-win attitude and future success; it features:
- Optimism about opportunities
- Sharing, philanthropy
- Inclusion of people different from self
- Integrating and appreciating the community.
Abundance mentality is not something we acquire. It’s something we tune into. The US cannot be called a totally abundance-mentality culture. But it is certainly a rich country with high material abundance, which makes it easier for people to cultivate abundance mentality in the US climate. If we imagine scarcity vs. abundance mentalities on a graph, the average US-American is closer to the abundance-mentality point than those who grew up among poverty and chronic lack of opportunity.
No wonder countless gurus are dispensing advice about how to transition to a more expressed abundance mentality and sustain success.
Cultural Identity in a Flux
Human identity is relatively fluid, with some individuals being more willing to change than the others. Therefore, people who made a leap of faith jumping cultures, continents, and countries—expatriates, immigrants, refugees—may be the best examples of how to move one’s attitude/identity/action closer to the winning end of abundance mentality. When researching prominent immigrants for my upcoming book, I saw it clearly: they have been predisposed to adapting to and adopting the mainstream American mentality – so their stunning achievements happened sooner. Let me share this with you.
More than Culturally Compatible
Cultural compatibility with the mainstream American culture is a critical element in the success of immigrants. Compatibility with American optimism and possibility on an abundance-mentality level is its centerpiece. I feel fortunate to have interviewed women who exceled in cultural integration, reaching and exceeding the average American abundance mentality by far. Here’s one of the brightest:
Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg, from Venezuela: in the Pursuit of Alpha
Born and raised in Venezuela, known as homeland of some of the world’s top beauty queens, Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg (pictured) was blessed with a gift of beauty as well as a sharp brain – but had a sense that she had been born in the wrong country where “opportunism beats merit.”
Her intellect helped her win a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Harvard, and there she further developed the tools to strive for excellence. Eventually, she became an asset-liability advisor and chief investment officer at the World Bank pension fund (pictured with all-male upper management team).
Upon developing a competitively successful investment approach, Hilda founded her own firm—and the World Bank became her first client. Not bad for a start-up! Today this company, Strategic Investment Group, where she’s now non-executive Chairman and Senior Advisor, has well-known global investors as clients and sizeable assets under management. How did she accomplish that? Hilda enhanced her abundance-mentality orientation:
- Opting for optimism
The abundance mentality begins from a place of personal worth—and Hilda always believed in self, even when her life wasn’t too sunny. When ready, she opened her firm’s doors in 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial market value dropped a dizzying 508 points and while the US economy was on the brink of worldwide recession. Staying positive helped: a calculated risk-taker, the firm developed one of the first stress-testing risk models, which signaled higher probabilities of recovery than further losses. And the markets indeed recovered from the crash.
- Pursuing philanthropy
One of Hilda’s wealth-sharing initiatives was becoming a founding chairman of YOA (Youth Orchestra of the Americas), a Latin Grammy Winning world-class symphony orchestra of gifted musicians, representing more than 25 countries in the Western hemisphere. Passionate for supporting exceptional professionals, YOA seeks to promote excellence, supporting networks of prodigious musicians from the continent.
- Becoming a participatory leader
“A firm is never better than its human capital,” Hilda stated in her firm’s 20-year anniversary book. True to her inclusive spirit, she was leading by example and her firm incubated its managers, to push the frontiers of investment theory together.
Hilda sees life as a cooperative arena rather than competitive one. Win-win is her natural frame of mind that blossomed in the US: she constantly seeks mutual benefit in all business and personal interactions. Hilda’s inclusiveness brought her to the top 50 Smartest Women in Business in the US and had her included among Power 30 in Business
- Independent and sharing win-win experiences
“I do feel independent,” Hilda admitted, “I feel I have achieved what I wanted to, which was to pursue the life of creativity and excellence and a rich personal and family life.”
Sharing experiences with younger professional women, she advised how to be self-reliant: “You need to build a strong support system – and the key person is the one you marry. People say you have to marry for love. But I believe you have to marry for strength. But not the strength of the other person – find the person who gives you strength and let your heart fall in love with them.”
- Integrating and appreciating the US
Part and parcel of “becoming American” is adapting to realities that shape our behaviors—and Hilda identified a major test for adaptation as becoming “more professional and respectful of supporters and competitors.” Hilda’s success in the steep-in-tradition financial industry surely shows that she became well integrated in the US – although, as she puts it, “with the tenor of my Latino upbringing,” she truly belongs to the world at large.
The Point: Women immigrants’ standing in the US may seem modest. Some of the outliers, however, are more than culturally compatible—they are also fiercely competitive, and achieve highest levels of success.
Serious Success Is One-Way Street
Serious success in America is largely predicated by your degree of understanding the rules of the game—which for immigrants comes only after adequate cultural integration. One needs to fine-tune and fit the all-American abundance mentality level. You will be a big hero if you can exceed it ?.
Who should do it? Not only the immigrants. Whether native- or foreign-born, coming out of scarcity/financial fear – or more prepared for inclusiveness and prosperous meaningful live – we need to remember: the cornerstone of serious success is a one-way street towards growing our abundance mentality. The bumps on the road are unimportant: the goal is what matters!
Now, let’s learn success from the best-in-class. Let prominent role models, distant or close-by, inspire us to continually work on our cultural compatibility with those already sitting at the all-American success table.
Lilia Kalitiuk says
As insightful as usual, an encouraging, informative and well structured article. It’s also interesting to know that ‘mutual benefit’ approach in business brings success. Dr. Fiona Citkin, in all likelihood there are some countries in the world from where immigrants find most difficulty in being culturally compatible in the USA. I will be very glad to know about it.
It’s not so much “being compatible” as “becoming/making oneself compatible.” The US is a truly unique culture, very individual-oriented, and it’s up to concrete individuals to mobilize one’s drive and fine-tune themselves to the mainstream American culture. It’s good for people who are not afraid to work, ask the right questions, and restart life from scratch. I covered what it take in my webinar on April 24th.
Kate Christie says
Having an abundance attitude goes hand in hand with having a learning mindset – we are never so much an ‘expert’ that we can’t take learnings every single day from each interaction we have. Thanks for your thoughts.
Many thanks, Kate, for your wise words, much appreciated.
Gbenga Adebambo says
Abundance mindset! You can’t have it, if is not internally generated. It comes from within and it is deeply connected with having a healthy self-esteem. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you inferior without your own consent”. When we truly know our worth, we will stop giving others ‘discount’! Thank you Fiona for this scintillating piece.
It made me happy, Mr. Adebambo, to see your comment about the core of the abundance mentality. Also, the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt complements the topic nicely.
Sasho Ognenovski says
Great and precise article that opens widespread and increasing rethinking about before all cultural re-integration of the immigrant, especially of the women getting successful and self reliable in the american multicultural environment. Closing up to the abundance mentality using the variety of features like optimism, philanthropy and independence could maybe change the rules of the game. American environment is created by immigrant mixing cultures since it’s establishing a few centuries ago, so maybe the courage will reduce the bumps in the streets and get the return ticket and construct a circling cultural waves whose products would turn into the theory and the practical achievement into mutual success. Fiona, thank you for this incredible and very, very serious article.
Thank you, Mr. Odnenovski, for a positive feedback. It’s heart-warming that immigrant women lay their hands to improve so may things in our country, even the movie industry’s rules of the game. Ana Benitez, featured in the article, really inspired me with her experience-based innovation.