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Professional Culture Shock

It has been ages since I've written and I'm remiss largely due to my own move overseas back to the U.S.

I returned in August, and was given some time off, which was useful and hardly enough. I've been back at work about one month and learning a new job both in terms of how it is perceived from the U.S. as well as a new position has been eye-opening. Since this months' newsletter was about professional culture shock and I'm in the midst of it myself, I thought I'd share my own experiences so far.

Returning to a new house, without all of my goods having also returned has come with its own challenges, namely at work I no longer can ask people to access my house and fix things, I have to plan to do those things on my own. While not a professional culture issue, it is a drastic change that has made me far more respectful of the time that folks spend at the office and numerous challenges they balance, relative to the ease of hired help overseas.

In many ways that change I expected. Because of Nextpat I also expected the shock at prices, at what people cared about, at news in the US, and the grocery store. But the professional one was one I hadn't prepared for!

Professionally, I have found some of the persistent stereotypes coming to life. Offices with a field and domestic component often have some tension, albeit wholly culturally created. The question of what on earth are they doing out there or back there as they case may be, seems awfully persistent. While smacking of poor communication, it also demonstrates a significant difference in expectations of the roles for each office. Like most people, I therefore approached my return to the US with the perspective of how to bring my lessons learned to bear on bridging that gap.

Boy, was I in for a learning curve.

There is a significant reason for the perspective to be so radically different, urgency is created largely by proximity. The clients in the US are rather different than those overseas. On top of that field offices are often significantly smaller, resulting in far more autonomy, authority, and less bureaucracy. A small office can also mean greater mission focus. On the other hand, being at the home office involves far more administrative tasks, a more burdensome bureaucracy to navigate (one that in my case has changed significantly since the last time I approached it), and less understanding of the layers of management and how they operate and therefore your ability to leverage change.

I found the experience infuriating. Didn't these people know that helping with the things I thought are important are the entire purpose of the organization? My perception of mission was radically different than theirs, critical to understand in my adjustment.

The pace of business was also radically different. The behemoth that is the home office makes status quo far stickier. It also means that more ideas have already been tested and rejected. Change is possible, but it will have to be gradual and at a scale that is eventually scalable - something like federalism, with my little area being a hub of innovation.

This brings me to the critical point - celebrate all the small wins. Learning the new environment is going to be challenging and you will want to challenge the status quo - getting through each day without totally messing it up or learning about new parts of the job that you never saw in the field are all critical to celebrate. They are also the ways in which we learn how to achieve our big goals. It's still a learning curve for me and I have no doubt that will continue.

So far, recognizing that I have no idea how the systems

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