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Georgetown - GuyanaGeorgetown – Capital and Chief Port of Guyana
Photo by John Greene from MeGuyana.com

My fifteen-year work experience in Guyana played an important role in my success as an international trade professional in Brazil. This was especially the case in the tough work environment at Italbras Leather Producer & Exporter Ltd.*

In Guyana, I had worked in both the public and private sectors: high school teacher (geography and art), university assistant librarian trainee, and executive secretary (equivalent to today’s executive administrative assistant) at local Head Office branches of a multinational oil company and bank.

My teaching skills at simplifying difficult concepts in a step-by-step process came into play in identifying bottlenecks in work processes. At the end of my ill-fated, three-month probationary period at Italbras, my proposed flow chart for a more effective and time-saving control and record of foreign payments and export finance contracts saved the day.

Working in the private sector, I had observed that knowledge was power to guard for one’s own personal advancement within a company. This appeared counterintuitive. My inclination to share know-how appeared ingenuous to some of my colleagues. But my teacher-mentality and training skills paved the way for my professional growth.

The five years I had worked as an executive secretary to top-tier managers—four Guyanese and one Jamaican—prepared me for anticipating the needs of clients worldwide. In viewing a company as interconnected units working together for a common goal, I could appreciate the importance of each person’s role, including my own. Aware of the company’s plan for expansion, I knew that the export department would need restructuring for optimizing the control and flow of information.

Over the years in the workforce, we also pick up people skills. We learn how to work with others, to be part of a team, and to relate with demanding bosses and clients. With each conflict, with each mistake, we learn. We grow. Sometimes, our bosses throw us in the deep end, expecting us to know how to stay afloat.

My first experience of this kind occurred during the year I worked at the government secondary school in Guyana’s hinterland region. After the first term on the job, the headmaster announced his transfer to another school district, leaving me in charge as the acting headmistress. No time for understudy. The Ministry of Education showed no concern for my predicament. His replacement never materialized.

Criticism, opposition, and obstruction came from several fronts. I floundered. I was not up to the task.

The lessons learned during those months of struggle and eventual failure prepared me for rising above Italbras’ company politics and co-worker schemes to undermine my work. When our performance stands out, we can become a threat to our supervisors and co-workers, insecure about losing their promotion or their jobs.

Problem-solving and people skills don’t develop overnight. They are born of risk-taking and putting ourselves out there, of innumerable gaffes and mistakes, of ridicule and failure. It’s what gives the edge to older workers who often lack the high technological skills of our younger colleagues.

* Fictitious name