Success as an Expat
Living in Shanghai has been an adventure that rivals none I’ve ever had.
It’s not just for the obvious reasons; yes, it’s communist and it’s dense, but there’s an unmistakable Wild West feeling that you get from both everyday and unusual situations.
Seeing an unguarded and exposed enormous piece of machinery that people are walking beneath and around while it’s being used would often give me pause.
Witnessing an enormous amount of cars straight up ignore red lights, but no one crashing tells me there’s either something going on beneath the surface, or I’m not watching the road long enough.
I straight up see people jaywalk constantly, and in front of police, and nothing bad happens. I spent my first year watching everything in disbelief, before I completely acclimated and joined everyone else in their way of life.
Confused by Life
Living in Shanghai and working for a Chinese company means I see things every day that confuse me – just simple things like how company executives handle situations or deal with employees.
It’s very obvious that some things definitely still feel new to some companies; which makes sense because it hasn’t been a very long time that foreigners have even been allowed work visas in China at all, relatively speaking in comparison to other countries.
For example, my boss will often run ideas past me before pitching them to other non-Chinese members of staff, as if a misplaced word is going to cause widespread offence. I find myself reminding her that while we’re culturally quite different, we’re all professionals and we’re here to do a job.
The Winners of Shanghai
From what I’ve observed, the winners among the expat community here in Shanghai aren’t the people who came here having booked a gig ahead of time with a recruiter back in their home country. Instead, the people who fly to China and found Chinese employers directly and in person got the best deal for what they were worth at the time.
But these winners don’t just stop there; they work in that position for half a year and do a damn good job at it. Once they’ve done that, they leverage their competency into more money or a better position.
Employers in Shanghai don’t need long to realise if they’ve found a gem, but the Wild West doesn’t allow gems to stay lying around and unnoticed for long. These winners gain the attention of other employers.
They take meetings and get offers, then return to that original employer and lay those out on the table.
The winner then negotiates more money, less work hours, better conditions, then repeat the process again in a year’s time.
I’m starting to see that there’s a lot of money to be made here, and only a small portion of the expats are making it by being clever and insatiable. This strategy however rides on good timing and being super duper competent.
Competency is King
Incompetence ruins all of this, because Shanghai employers don’t have the time or energy to work hard keeping the mere average in their company.
Drawbacks of Chinese Life
There are lots of drawbacks to living in China.
The internet is so bogged down by the firewall that it’s difficult to find a good and fast connection, plus all my favorites like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and recently Whatsapp are blocked.
But there are so many upsides too.
There’s a ton of opportunity, the cost of living is really low, it’s really vast and beautiful, and you can absolutely do whatever you want to do here (career-wise).
People are forging careers out of thinly drawn out terrain. Personally, being here is a really great chance for me to make an early impression in industries that are established and entrenched overseas where I am vastly out-skilled by the professional workforce.
Move somewhere you want to be, then work hard to become the best.
Living as a traveller doesn’t have to mean scrimping and penny-pinching your way through life. You can capitalise on your skills and become sought after for what you offer.
We’re really lucky as expats to be able to carve a niche using skills that we import from our own countries.
A skill that’s commonplace at home might be rare and bankable elsewhere. This is the golden goose of travel.
So what do you bring to the table?
I personally like to write courses, and my unique edge demands a premium for buyers.
Curious? Have a read below.
Writing Courses is the next Gold Mine
There’s a market right now for writing and selling courses to education companies — in China.
Take what you can – give nothing back.