Chasing success (Published in Republica)

Having grown up in two distinct cultures—Nepali and American—I have had the opportunity to learn the best from each of them. Values such as hard work, humility, and respect are beautiful attributes of Nepali culture. From my work experience in Nepal, I have come to realize three qualities that we can strive for a better professional life. They are understanding the value of time, being accountable for our words, and being patient in the pursuit of our professional goals.

Different cultures perceive and approach time in their own ways. In the American culture, time is literally regarded as money, while Nepali culture looks at time as more of a relative concept. This important distinction has a huge impact in how we go about our personal and professional lives. In Nepal, for example, if you say to someone let’s meet at 10, it is generally considered five to 15 minutes later than the mentioned time. However, in the American culture, if you say to someone let’s meet at 10, it means that you have to be present at the location before 10. By understanding how each culture approaches time, people from Nepali and American cultures can have better communication and relationship with each other. 

Rethinking Nepali time

The concept of “Nepali time” has become too common in our culture and we need to seriously consider the impact this is having in our personal and professional lives. While we can casually disregard that it is really not a big deal, this is causing conflict and miscommunication at personal, professional, and national levels. At the personal level, if you are meeting your friends and relatives and consistently coming on “Nepali time” then eventually it can lead to annoyance or you becoming less trustworthy overtime. At the professional level, you and your team are constantly working on projects that have deadlines. If one team member or the team does not understand the urgency or timely delivery of the project, then it can lead to missed deadlines and even the client altogether. At the national level, we hear of many international conferences being held in Nepal and the preparations are mostly done at the last minute. When the international conference is at the door, our government steps up efforts to pave the roads, clean the streets, put up banners everywhere, etc. If the government does proper planning and executes well, it will not only benefit Nepal’s image internationally, but also garner the support and admiration of its citizens.

While “Nepali time” has become a habit for most of us, we can have much better and trustworthy relationships with our friends, relatives, and colleagues by understanding the value of time and showing up when promised. Being on time means you are respectful to others and it is the right thing to do. If you do run late for whatever reason, it is also courteous to communicate that to the person who is waiting on you.

Keep your words 

Another quality that is highly regarded in the professional context is being accountable for our words. Words have power. If you want to build trust with someone, the simplest thing you can do is to follow up on your words. If what you say and what you do are not in alignment, then a disagreement, confusion or conflict will surely occur. I have been in countless situations around Nepal where words and verbal commitments do not hold that much weight. Some people use words and make statements very casually. In the professional context, if the verbal commitment you have made to deliver on a project, handle certain responsibilities or follow up on something is not kept, then trust gets lost. Once trust is lost, it will take a long time to gain it back.

In Nepali culture, a lot of time we say things that we do not really mean. We generally want to appear nice and not hurt someone else’s feelings. Thus, we do not communicate directly and leave things in ambiguity. Other times we tend to overpromise on things and underdeliver. In both cases, it is essential to realize what you are saying and how people are interpreting it. It is important to be a person who is authentic and genuine with his or her words. 

It is admirable to build a reputation where people can trust what you say and you can be counted upon. If on the other hand, people cannot trust what you say, then you will be left out of many great opportunities in the professional setting. There are times when what you promised cannot be delivered because of unforeseen circumstances that are out of your control. In these circumstances, it is important to promptly communicate to anyone who could be impacted by the situation. These are simple ways to build trust and accountability.

Patience pays 

Patience is another quality that can have a profound impact on your professional success and long-term happiness. From my experience of teaching at a college and interviewing individuals for jobs, I have felt so much rush for young professionals to be making a lot of money or be in a higher position. While being ambitious at a young age is noteworthy, it is also important to put in the work and be prepared to achieve the goals. I have met a few young professionals who are extremely dedicated in their craft, but mostly meet those who are targeting for fast success.

There can be a lot of reasons why we are becoming more attached to “overnight” success stories and not understand the full sacrifice, dedication and grit that it takes to become successful. Social media and reality shows have not helped in this regard either as we have become more glued to sensational and unrealistic standards of “success.” It is essential to understand your own goals, be patient in the efforts and take steps accordingly. The fruits of labor gained after struggle and sacrifice is even sweeter.

Many young and experienced professionals in Nepal are climbing up the professional ladder because they understand the value of time, have trust worthy communication, are patient and have other professional skills. In a globalized economy, these qualities are even more important. Combining Nepali cultural values of hard work, humility and respect with a disciplined approach to time, trustworthy communication and being patient, we can live a more fulfilling personal and professional lives.

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Rebranding the concept of "Nepali time"

Last month the Prime Minister of Nepal was in New York for the UN General Assembly. In his weeklong visit he took the time to speak at the New School in Manhattan and at The Chian Federation in Queens. Both places drew a crowd and the concept of “Nepali time” seemed to get rebranded.

At the New School, the Prime Minister arrived on time and the program went as scheduled at 12:45pm. At The Chian Federation, the Prime Minister and his delegation arrived at 7:25pm and the event was scheduled to start at 7pm. The Prime Minster went on stage and immediately apologized for the tardiness. He stated that if he had known that getting to The Chian Federation would take long from Manhattan, he would have left earlier. I applaud him for acknowledging that he was late and apologizing to the audience.

The Prime Minister’s acknowledgement of his unpunctuality triggered a few thoughts to me. First, it showed that he valued time. When you acknowledge the value of time and especially other people’s time, you are being considerate and respectful to others who are there to listen to your speech. Second, he apologized for it. As a person of his stature, people could understand why he could be late but he did not offer excuses. Instead the PM acknowledged and admitted his part.

Nepali people are familiar with the concept of “Nepali time.” Generally the case is you tell someone that you will meet them at a certain time but show up 15, 30, 45 minutes or even an hour later. Of course, there will be times that you cannot avoid being late because of weather, traffic or some unforeseen circumstance but I am talking about the times when you arrive late for no valid reason.

The idea of “Nepali time” has paralyzed our culture and can be seen at its highest level of governance. This is a bold statement and I stand by it. The drafting of a new democratic constitution has been postponed several times from the original date. When we have created an environment where time is not highly valued, it should be little surprise to hear when critical government deadlines are not met and decisions not reached on time. The concept of time has definitely played a part in the decision dilemma. If as a culture, we regard time as a valuable commodity, meeting deadlines would not be such a monumental task.

My point is that we need to rebrand the concept of “Nepali time”. This new concept of “Nepali time” will mean that we arrive early rather than late. Why can we not arrive at least 10 minutes early to a meeting or an important event? Do we want to be known as a culture who does not value time? Are we teaching our youth that arriving late should just be expected?

There are major implications culturally that comes along when living by the “Nepali time”. In the Western business context, if someone says to their clients to meet at 2:30, coming later than that time will mean tardiness and a lack of consideration on the person arriving late. You will lose your client’s trust and most likely obliterate business opportunities. When at times you’re late because of certain unforeseen circumstance, it is good practice to call the other person waiting on you to let them know that you are running late. A simple courtesy can save the reputation of an entire group of people.

I believe the concept of time in our culture is generational and context based as well. I observe that most young people who have grown up in Western societies arrive on time. It’s much harder to change a cultural reputation that we have built so far. When you arrive late because you expect the other party to arrive late too, what is the value in that relationship? If we build a reputation on always being on time or completing work on time, I am sure we will be regarded highly for our punctuality and also build trust and credibility with the people we are dealing with.

I strongly propose that we work on rebranding the concept of “Nepali time” and establish a reputation that we are ALWAYS early than the scheduled time. This message is more for the younger generation who can change a cultural stereotype that we have built. As the saying goes, first impression is the last impression. Just imagine that first impression saving your culture face.