The culture of shortcoming

A couple of days ago I was thinking about some messages a friend sent me. The place where she lives, which I know very well, those who have ‘only’ studied languages do not find work so easily. A concept that is unfortunately widespread, as if humanities graduate were marathon runners taking part in a competition without having trained.

I’ve thought how much it can be frustrating and demotivaing to be told that one is not good enough for something or for a job position. How being told that one lacks something is not a real feedback, but rather a judgement.

Let’s start from the beginning: anyone who has studied languages or has a degree in the humanities, has been able to attend university courses for several years, prepare for examinations, organise themself between study and other commitments, has written a dissertation, and so on. This is the basis of anyone who has studied, and therefore, it is a person who has worked hard to reach that goal, and who has certainly learned something during those university years, and not only on a cultural level.

Since the above description is common to anyone who studied, there are no first and second level degree courses. Anyone who dedicated a part of their life to reach a goal is a person who should be recognised for this effort, not merely the denigration of: “You have only studied XY.”.

Having clear this, I would like to point out how emphasising what is lacking shifts the focus solely and exclusively on this. Personally, I come from backgrounds where for a long time I was always told what I lacked. With hindsight and the maturity I have now, I realise that this is not making a suggestion at all, but is merely a judgement.

People who are interested in motivating and improving other, in fact, do give opinions on what can be improved, but they do so starting from what one already can, which means starting from the skills one already has, and how they can be used to add another piece. What you already have is a tool to reach your goals and improve yourself.

For many years I was used to thinking about what I lacked, instead of focusing on how to use my skills and experience to achieve what I needed. When I began to realise that this focus was wrong, I realised that I was more than “the girl who speaks four languages”. I knew I had interests, but they were as if hidden behind the enormous heaviness of a dusty marquee called ‘lacks’.

So many times I read e-mails thanking me for being interested in a job position, meaning that I was rejected because someone else was better for that job. BETTER, HOW? Again, being told that you are not enough is not a feedback, because you don’t have the opportunity to know how you can still improve.

Behind a résumé there is always a person. Behind a person who has studied languages there is someone who has developed the so-called soft skills. I mention several of these abilities in my article 11 Reasons Why You Should Hire a Linguist and here are a couple of examples. A linguist, for example, goes ahead despite criticism, despite the ‘you only studied languages’. A person who is not discouraged when facing difficulties is a person who is able to motivate and look for solutions even when the greatest business catastrophe is about to happen. Is this the great problem-solving that companies require, isn’t it? Is it not about knowing how to work in a team and support colleagues?

If you want to know a language well, it takes years of study and practice, but to learn a task, how much does it take? To learn a business procedure, or a programme, does it really take that long? Since you know that after the “only language” degree you will have to adapt, you are then able to learn quickly and consistently.

These were just two of the examples I mention in my article, but they are essential to realise that what people and companies might consider to be shortcomings, they are actually opportunities: it’s time to see the better side of the coin.

Behind my MA in English & American Studies there is a person who can write and discuss. Why? Because the prerequisite for passing all the exams was to conduct research, and for many examination I also wrote ten-page essays and presented my research in front of the class. Are these MAYBE skills that companies look for?

It is not useful to say only what is missing, it is necessary to highlight the strengths in order to achieve new skills.

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