Iron Rice Bowl

So somebody had asked me, "Do you think the reason Asian males are suppressed (whether in the dating world or the corporate world) is simply because our cultural values does not match those of Western values?"

And I replied back that yes, cultural dissonance does contribute to the suppression of the Asian American male.  I also said that racism and limiting beliefs were significant factors as well.

But in my reply back (The Overconfidence Effect), I only addressed the supposed difficulties of Asian American men in the dating world.  In this post, I'd like to address Asian Americans in the workforce and some of the difficulties we face there.

Now keep in mind that I have a rather sketchy employment history, so my observations of Asians in the workforce is a little limited.  I've worked a lot of odd jobs.  I've worked in retail.  I've been a personal trainer.  I was once a reader for the blind.  I've worked for the government.  I've worked in market research.  I worked in a library.  I've also been a union leader.  So I've worked in a variety of fields using a variety of skill sets.

I can't say what it's like to work at a dot com where employees get to play ping pong every day.  Although my brother has worked such places, so I get to hear his experiences.  But the bottom line is that I've worked at places where work was work and not play.  So my observations of Asians in the workforce is based on traditional work environments, not work environments where it's college, part two.

A lot of Asians have the Iron Rice Bowl mentality.  Government jobs are the ideal Iron Rice Bowls, since they offer greater job security, decent income and solid benefits.  The only problem is that many government jobs are rather mundane.  Feeds the stomach, but doesn't feed the soul.

The funny thing is that not every body cares about feeding the soul.  This comment that I found on the Single Asian Man blog kind of summarizes how a lot of Asians just don't aspire to anything more than a stable job:

"For the most part, all AA’s are the same. And most just strive for what everyone else wants – nice house, 2 car garage, 2 kids, yard, decent job that pays the bills, middle class, go to church maybe, not break any laws and pay your taxes, and be a good nice citizen/neighbor. All AA’s care about is what’s inside their little bubble – anything beyond that or outside of that, it’s irrelevant and unimportant. If it doesn’t have anything to do with us directly, we don’t care.

"That’s pretty much it. None of us strive to be some CEO of a fortune 500 company, none of us date supermodels, or become rock stars, and none of us travel the world and see the 8 natural wonders of the world. All we want to do is live in our little bubble, commute to work, eat out sometimes, hang with friends, play poker, drink at a bar, and come home, hope to get some sex from the wife, and go to sleep. And the entire cycle repeats next morning.

"Most move to the suburbs after marriage and kids, to be able to inject the kids to a good school district. We like to buy electronic toys from time to time to keep up with technology and with the Jones, or in this case, the Kims or Wongs. 

"What else is there? That’s it. It’s the simple things in life. We don’t care what happens in Iraq or Afghanistan, we don’t care who is leading our country, we don’t care about politics or what shapes the world, and we don’t even probably vote. We don’t care about social injustices happening to other AA’s in the U.S., as long as the AA is safe and still in his/her own bubble."

I don't think there's anything wrong with the Iron Rice Bowl mentality.  Beats being unemployed, that's for sure.  But what I find strange is that most people do not aspire beyond the suburban family lifestyle.  Not because they can't achieve greater things, but because they really don't care to achieve greater things.

The reason why we don't have a lot of Jeremy Lins is that ambition and drive are very rare traits.  Most people want to enjoy simple pleasures:  have a morning latte, have dim sum with friends, watch The Walking Dead, take the kids to Disneyland.

On the other hand, dreaming big and making those dreams happen takes a lot of work and sacrifice.  Most people are not that adventurous.  Most people do not seek to change the world, and they don't seek personal glory.

So in the workplace, I don't find a lot of people (Asian or otherwise) who are power hungry and want to promote and climb the corporate ladder or trade their small iron rice bowls for bigger iron rice bowls.  Which I completely understand, because in order to promote, you sometimes have to be someone else's bitch.

So while there is certainly a Bamboo Ceiling preventing ambitious Asians from entering the upper echelons, I also find a lot of Asians in the workforce are content with where they are.  Most seem to be inclined to holding on to that which they have (their jobs) as opposed to always searching for something better.

The other thing I've noticed is that a lot of Asians assume that we live in a meritocracy.  This may be because Asian cultures stress academics, which is supposed to be meritocratic.  But in the job world, a lot of your success is based on politics and social influence.  Your social skills are much more important than your technical skills in helping you get ahead.  This is why there are a lot of bosses who are dumb as nails, but they understand people.  They understand who's good at what.  They don't need technical expertise, because they can simply hack into the expertise of other people.

If you want to get ahead, you have to get out of the meritocracy-only mindset.  You have to play the socio-political game at work if you want to get ahead.

So make a good first impression at a new workplace.  This is very important, because once your reputation is established, it's very hard to shake off.  You want to come off as extremely competent, but you don't want to come off as a pushover.  Bosses often promise a promotion if you go the extra mile at work, but if you're a newbie, then the seasoned workers will try to advantage of your unfamiliarity of how things are done.  The bottom line is you do not want to be someone else's bitch.  Once you're stuck in the bitch zone, it's very hard to get out.

Being quiet is a detriment to the hard worker, because he or she doesn't advocate for himself or herself.  You have to advocate for yourself, because nobody else is going to do it for you.  Your boss may be praising you to your face for your hard work, but behind your back and behind closed doors he or she may be ruining your reputation and telling upper management how you're not a leader and don't deserve a promotion.  Your boss will take credit for your good work, but will throw you under the bus when things go wrong.

So make a good impression on the higher ups.  Not just your immediate supervisor, but the boss of your boss and the boss of his boss.  Make friends in high places.  Get a mentor within the organization you're working, who can guide you on a path to success.


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