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The Secret Advantage

You have a secret advantage.

I have a secret advantage.

Everyone has a secret advantage.

Whether everyone uses it to make the most of their life is a different story altogether. When you pursue opportunities in life that capitalize on your “secret” advantage, you get an edge.

I am going to share an article I wrote about the secret advantage Indian professionals working in the US have – just to make a point and then at the end of the article, I will share what to take away from the article.

Here is the article:

I strongly believe that Professionals who grew up in India have a secret advantage. This is something that they acquire in the process of growing up there.

Let me explain…

Most Indian professionals who are here come from middle-class families. If their parents were employed in public sector jobs, they had to move to a new town or city every few years. So, by the time one graduated from high school, he or she would have been through a few different schools in different geographic locations. This means one had to adapt to new teachers, new friends, new environments, new neighbors, new practices and new cultures very quickly. In short, one had to learn to adapt quickly to new situations.

Parents exert a lot of influence on what a kid chooses to study in school. Typical question they asked their kids as they entered middle school (or even earlier sometimes) was – “So what do you want to become? An engineer or a doctor?” It is as if the kid had ONLY two choices – to become an Engineer or to become a doctor. Parents wanted their kids to perform well and would do everything to motivate them – even if it meant frequently comparing them to other kids. As you can see, from a young age, the standards were set high.
One was expected to perform well academically. Grades were one of the key metrics the society would judge a kid by (and sometimes the quality of parenting). Kids typically don’t want to put their parents in an awkward position—where the parents had to explain to their friends why their kids did not perform well in school. In other words, society pressured parents to ensure that their kids achieved success.

Young students had to study a lot of subjects to complete their graduation requirements. Take a look at a typical high school syllabus:

Mathematics—Arithmetic, Algebra and Geometry;
Science—Physics, Chemistry and Biology;
Social Studies—History, Civics, Geography; and
Languages—Kannada, English and Hindi.

Students not only read all these subjects, they were also involved in many extracurricular activities. Because everybody was doing it, the course load did not seem complex. Students learned how to jump from one topic to another quickly. They learned how to push themselves. In other words, they learned to deal with complexity very early.

Students finishing their pre-university had to take an entrance test (called the Common Entrance Test) to get into an engineering or medical school. Everyone wanted to be accepted into a good school and get a scholarship—with reduced tuition/fees or perhaps even no tuition/fees. To achieve those things, one had to rank within the top 5,000 out of a few hundred thousand people who would write that exam.

Competition was intense at this and at all levels simply because the number of people competing was mind-bogglingly large. It’s hard to distinguish yourself against hundreds of thousands of competitors. Everyone learned to embrace competition.

Personally, my defining moment in life was when I wrote my first novel. I was ten years old. You might think this was a crazy childhood project. My parents were stunned when I announced this project to them. Yet, I completed my novel. The
crazier thing was that I wanted to get the book published by a publisher. I started on my journey with enthusiasm. I was a young man who wanted his dream to become reality. For the next three years, I faced rejections everywhere.

I don’t have the exact count, but I probably received about one hundred and sixty rejections. The lessons learnt earlier had sort of prepared me to face these rejections. Then, one day, someone said “yes.” That single “yes” was all that I needed. When I was thirteen, my first book was published by a well-known publisher. The lesson is that I learned to deal with rejection early, and I also learned to never give up quickly. There has been always one more way.

It gets simpler. Growing up in India teaches everyone the need to ask for help without feeling guilty. Everyone needs help there. When you need to travel to a place, you will need help. When you need to deal with a government agency, you will need help. When you need anything—whether it’s simple or complex, you will need help. It becomes a part of life’s pattern there.

I can go on. Almost every Indian who came to this country can share similar experiences and lessons learned. The combination of the lessons above creates the secret advantage that Indians have.

If I have to summarize it in one sentence:

Our secret advantage is the unconscious competence to adapt and deal with complexity and adversity.

There are so many Indian entrepreneurs here, and this secret advantage gives them a tangible edge in business. Sadly, for a large majority of Indians who are here–the secret advantage remains a secret – meaning they don’t see it. Some choose not to use it. Others don’t know how to use it.

Compared to India, life is simple here. Since we are tuned to deal with greater complexity (by practice), the simplicity here provides us spare capacity that can be used creatively. We can decide to use it or squander it. The choice is ours. Of course, few people use it but most squander it. I hope that more people will realize the power of this secret advantage and use the untapped capacity to create more wonders.


Now, coming to the point that I wanted to make in the first place:

Think about your own situation – where you were born, how you were brought up, the schools you attended, the friends you had while growing up, your teachers, your parents, your siblings – the entire ecosystem is hard to replicate and most often will present you a secret advantage that only you have. Why? Simply because “your” ecosystem that surrounded you while you reached where you are can never be replicated.

The wisdom is now in decoding that secret advantage and putting it to use as your “real advantage” – that is when you can start to capitalize on a lot more opportunities.

Now, let’s move to the ONE important question about opportunities.

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