Desi work ethics: Key to success abroad

Indian work ethics are worth preserving and imitating

When it rains it pours. Only yesterday, the economy was flourishing in America. Everybody was spending away – buying bigger houses, bigger cars and probably bigger shoes. After all, you need extra room for the bigger ego!

There is a common saying in India that roughly translates to, ‘Size up your sheet before stretching your legs’; it basically means that you should spend within your means.

The American affluence over last many decades ended up creating complacency amongst many, leading to carelessness; many got used to spending beyond their means. And whenever there was a need for money, there was always a bank ready to lend; if nothing worked, the second mortgage was easy to get even when you did not qualify! The home equity line-of-credit was right there for the taking. Things were very rosy.

However, just as a basic law of physics and our mortal existence, everything comes to an end. With time, the tides turned and balance started to shift; a downturn in economy exposed the loopholes in the complacent financial system. The rest is a history: the banks could not recover the loans from the careless borrowers; the falling house prices put a lid on borrowing against the houses…. The mighty capitalist infrastructure, that stood number one in the world, came under the direct assault from capitalism itself. The problem could have been easily averted if everybody had stick to the basic common sense -‘Size up your sheet before stretching your legs!’

The first generation immigrants from India are often negatively stereotyped for their frugality, hard-work and for being too conservative. The fact is that these traits are a commonsense for survival in the new land. Many Indians migrate with only a few items in their possession, with a few bucks in their pockets. The qualities to preserve, work hard and to tread carefully are part of the basic defense mechanism against all odds that they have to put-up with in the beginning.

These traits – hard-work, perseverance and being frugal- are a part of the Indian culture. Gandhi said, “There is no substitute to hard work”; he was a living example of minimalism and frugality.
Preserving personal spending and other resources is considered a virtue in many parts of the world. Cutting down on consumption is not only good for our personal means but also for the environment. The amount of waste we generate is going to catch up with us sooner or later. After all, there is only one earth that we know of so far!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, the overall unemployment rate in US was at 9.7% in August, 2009. However, among Asians (there are no separate statistics for Indians), the rate is 7.5%. This is the lowest unemployment rate compared to any other ethnic classes including whites (8.9%), blacks (15.1%) and Hispanics (13.0%). The Asian advantage is even more impressive and much better if you take a look at US Employment scene by Race and Ethnicity.

The fact is that hard-work, perseverance, minimalism and related virtues affect our ability to succeed in the long run. These qualities do play a big role when it comes to standing out in work ethics at any work-place. Now more than ever, we need such traits to get back on our feet, to revive the capitalist system again.

If so many Indians with a few bucks in their pockets can come to this great country, start from scratch and be successful in spite of all the challenges they face; someone raised on this land of opportunities can certainly do the same with far less effort. It may involve slight pride adjustment, getting smaller toys, but now is not a time to compare the sizes of our houses, or cars… or shoes!

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2 Replies to “Desi work ethics: Key to success abroad”

  1. The quote “there is no substitute for hard work” is actually an thomas edison (american inventor) quote.

    Great article

  2. Thanks Jennifer for pointing this out. I have seen this quote attributed to Gandhi in some Indian writings. I have also seen it as a translated quote from Hindu holy book Gita. But when I google it, it does mentions Edison most of the time. Perhaps, the syaing is so basic and commonsense, different scholars may have used it one way or another …

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