Share Royal Roads Online

Learn to Adapt to the Table You’ve Somehow Found Yourself Sitting At

March 4, 2020
Payten Jackson
School of Communication and Culture - Payten Jackson - Learn to Adapt

A concept that has become of increased curiosity to me during my time as a student at Royal Roads University are the ways in which we determine our individual core competencies.

 If you are unfamiliar with how to recognize your own “core competencies” in your professional relationships, personal relationships or physical workplace, you can start by reflecting on your positionality. Careful not to appropriate a practice I was taught during my Indigenous Studies degree, I would like to begin sharing what I believe to be the ideal core competencies through locating myself within the current space I am in. This is best done by first exploring where you have been.

Based on my professional, academic and social experiences, these are what I perceive to be the three most valuable core competencies in achieving success:

  1. A Profound Commitment to Succeed in Spite of the Facts
  2. The Ability to Respond to Adversity
  3. The Will to Resolve and Move through Conflict Very Quickly.

A Profound Commitment to Succeed in Spite of the Facts:

I grew up in a rural town of 300 people. The nearest neighbours were Hutterites and a number of farm properties. I did not grow up in a family that valued formal education for any particular reason other than we did not have access to it. My parents, while loving and fierce providers, had to work long hours just to be able to put milk on the table for their four children. My mom had four kids by the time she was 26 and worked as a janitor, house-keeper, store-owner and caterer until I was 18 years old. My dad was almost always working in order to support us. The four of us kids raised each other in many ways, and our perseverance is something I am steadily proud of. Every single night that we sat down to eat dinner at the kitchen table together, my mom was strict about a consistent gratitude practice. We would take turns going around the circle and share one thing we were grateful for; no matter how small, we knew it was important to recognize the goodness in our simple life. Watching my parents push themselves to support their family created an ability to adapt in me from a young age. I have learned that the ability to adapt to your environment despite discomfort, or unfavourable circumstance is monumental in achieving success.

The Ability to Respond to Adversity:

Yes, we need to talk about privilege. I am a 27 year-old white, settler woman who chose to complete a four-year degree in Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Governance and Politics before coming to Royal Roads. Why? Because I don’t like to be misinformed and it became clear to me in my first year of university that most of what I had perceived to be the Canadian “truth” was in fact, completely false. When I chose to become the numeric minority in the room, I learned to be quiet and listen. From this experience, I found myself at the table with voices I wasn’t used to hearing and while that was often confusing, it was mostly intellectually elevating. Sitting at a new table forced me to consider alternative ideas, thought processes and strategic approaches to problem-solving.

Within these Indigenous circles I was not once treated as, “The Privileged White Girl” I had painted a picture of myself as, but rather, someone who wanted to respectfully expand my body of knowledge. I became aware of my privilege by honouring the hardships I had faced throughout my life, but accepting that those hardships had nothing to do with the colour of my skin. So how does this seemingly positive, life-changing experience qualify as adverse? As I was welcomed with open arms by many Indigenous communities, I was pushed away by many of my own communities. Most of the circles I had been raised in did not want anothering opinions at the table, let alone voices that might challenge their own ways of viewing the world. Be warned: with growing and expanding your professional and personal frame of reference often comes alienation from those who do not possess the ability to adapt, and that can feel isolating.

The Will to Resolve and Move through Conflict Very Quickly:

In September I moved to Victoria, British Columbia to attend a Masters program at Royal Roads University. I chose Intercultural and International Communications for my grad studies by identifying a gap in ally participation at an increasingly globalized table. It was a strategic move rooted in paying off the $60,000 in student debt I had just accumulated. I did not know that moving to Victoria would also mean living amongst some of the richest people in Canada, let alone studying in the company of international wealth I did not know existed. My idea of multi-level privilege was totally flipped on its head within 24 hours of coming here.

Let me provide you with some context on my international learning experience at RRU. In my cohort of 39 people, we have more than eleven different countries present. Of these 39 people, five of us are born and raised in Canada. We use a collaborative approach that divides us into teams and the majority of work done within this collaborative framework determines our individual mark. That’s correct. Our ability to interact, communicate and problem solve with multiple languages, perspectives and cultures at the table decides our GPA. I have learned that this is a highly motivating strategy when you have no choice but to learn to understand diverse cultural communication approaches in order to academically succeed.

Full disclosure: in the beginning this learning method feels incredibly difficult, awkward and sometimes impossible, but with time it becomes quite fun. Getting to know your teammates and their viewpoint on team work via differing cultural lenses is like building a 10,000-piece puzzle; challenging but oh so rewarding. Here I am at the table with languages I don’t speak, a business approach I have never learned before, and wealth on levels I cannot comprehend, and I keep on coming back for more.

This year my family has faced immense trauma related to the illness of my brother-in-law that has cost over $250,000 in hospital bills. It has been emotionally and financially draining in a way I was not sure we would be able to come back from as a family. Point blank; it’s been enigmatic. However, as time passes, and I write request after request for funding from someone (anyone really) who is willing to help me pay for school, I am starting to feel grateful again. How annoying is that? Grateful for discomfort? Here’s the thing, discomfort in this life is unavoidable; that is an absolute certainty. How you choose to acknowledge that discomfort, pause and then pivot is entirely up to you and the resources you have access to. Am I literate? Yes. Do I have a computer? Yes. Clean drinking water? Check. Okay, well then I better sit down and get creative in making my professional dreams a reality.

Privilege is tricky to measure, but I assure you that your time is better spent educating yourself on the complexities of privilege rather than trying to argue it does not exist. I promise you it does because I look it in the eye every single day, and it looks different depending on where I find myself on the podium. In fact, the quicker you get real with yourself on the ways you have been privileged in life, the quicker you can develop these core competencies and cultivate a life you hope for. I strongly advise you to consider the possibility that there are multiple unique human experiences between the hours of 7 a.m and 7 p.m. dependent on your level of privilege. I think if you do, you’ll be surprised by the new personal and professional opportunities that come from simply getting out of your own way.

To me, Royal Roads University is the best possible table I could be seated at as I prepare for my six-month internship at The United Nations Headquarters in New York City with my Master of Arts in Intercultural and International Communications program. What I have learned from RRU is, if you want to be multi-level successful, you’re going to find yourself amongst varying companies.

True success should be built amongst a number of narratives and here’s why: constructing your entire personal and professional opinions from a single narrative won’t get you anywhere beyond the position you find yourself in. If you desire a promotion, a raise or even acceptance into grad school, my advice is that you learn to adapt your intellectual lens and start seating yourself at better tables.