How To Break Into A Scene – Like An Anthropologist


Friday, 5.20am

Sheffield, U.K.

For a Punjabi singer to find acceptance down South is a tall task. I’m glad I earned their love and respect. – Yo Yo Honey Singh

In the last post I looked at how figure out what was “your thing” was important, and the posts before that were about what stood in your way, both externally and inside your mind.

Let’s say you’ve found your thing, then, and have pushed past the obstacles in your way, what next?

We need to look at breaking into a scene, the value of networks and routes to success – again from a few different perspectives.

Being the new kid at school

One of the things about self-help books is that they rarely tell you how hard it is to fit into somewhere new.

They suggest that if you do the right things, work hard on your stuff, then success is a natural consequence, that the universe will align to give you what you want.

But that’s not always the case. Human nature and the nature of society play a much stronger part in that than we might realise.

Take Van Gogh, for example.

His art is worth millions now, but he died virtually unknown and penniless.

We don’t know about all the people that worked really hard and did the right things but failed to make it – because no one has written their story or told you all about it.

We only see the successes, and that’s a biased sample set – you can’t generalise from their experience to create universal truth.

You’re better off going back to your own experience, how you know the world works.

Like life was back in school.

If you can remember your first day in school, or the experience of changing schools, then you know about that feeling of being out of place, in unfamiliar territory.

Or you might want to join a game but not know anyone else there – and you’re hanging around on the fringes trying to get in.

That’s what life is like again and again – places where there are people who already know each other and have a community going, and new people who are trying to break into that group, to get accepted and recognised for what they bring and do.

It took time to do that back in school, and it still takes time as an adult.

Prepare to work for 20 years, maybe more

Let’s start with the bad news first, there’s no point sugar-coating it.

If you move to a new place, a new scene and you’re different, it’s going to take you around twenty years to break in.

Ten years to find your feet, and another ten years to find your place.

That seems like a long time to wait, and it is, but I think it’s realistic.

Let’s see why that is the case.

From the outside, looking in

I’m going to look at this from the point of view of an immigrant and a person of colour – what’s that experience like?

Let’s say you’re a young Indian student and you move to the UK or US, you’re exposed to a bewildering new world, a different culture, different ways of doing things, different smells and food.

People are infuriatingly polite, they don’t just come out and say what they mean.

They spend a weird amount of time talking about the weather and the best way to drive from A to B.

They’re nice, but very different from you.

Now, race is the most visible difference, and it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it’s what makes the difference – the colour of your skin is what keeps you out, but that would be a lazy way to think.

What keeps you out is that you don’t know what keeps others in.


If you want to fit into that culture, you spend the first ten years learning about it and how they talk and act and think.

You watch and imitate and learn, speak the way they do, see the world the way they do.

It really comes down to learning how to do field anthropology, you’re in a strange new culture and you have to carry out participant observation, you have to join in and act and live the way they do.

And then you’ll start to be accepted into their way of life, their way of living.

This is not rocket science, really.

It’s easy to get exercised about how you shouldn’t lose your culture, how you shouldn’t be absorbed into the mainstream and have to change who you are to fit in.

And that’s all true.

You’re not changing who you are, what you believe in, the essence of your being.

What you’re doing is empathising, learning to see the world the way that community sees it – and when people see that you empathise with them then they open up and accept you, along with what you bring with you.

When you think of anthropology the picture that comes to mind is Livingstone in Africa.

Actually, it’s something that describes what everyone who comes to a new place should be prepared to do – to listen, talk and empathise with the people you find there.

Here’s an amazing course and resource kit from Professor Mike Wesch to get you started with learning anthropology.

*When you’re inside, looking in*xn

It’s not easy going someplace new, and different communities have different ways to adapt.

Many people will go to places where there are others like them.

Many Indian communities, for example, especially those that have a merchant background, will always welcome someone from their own community, put them up, help them with finance for a new business, and help them get on their feet.

There are closely knit communities living in larger, different societies like this all over the world.

You could very easily spend a lifetime in another place and live the way you’ve always lived.

Because you’re already part of a community, and it’s easier to look inwards rather than worrying about engaging with the wider world.

What often happens in these situations is that it’s the next generation, your kids, who grow up in this new society, go to school with others and then start to learn about more than what they see at home and in your community.

Perhaps they’ll try and find their way in the wider world, and they’re the ones that come up against those barriers of understanding and comprehension.

And it’s going to take them time to find their feet and their place, but it might be faster because they started as children rather than as adults.

It’s not about breaking in, it’s about being accepted

There is no doubt that for much of history the story has been about exclusion, about being prevented from achieving your full potential.

Whether its race or gender, there have been, there are issues around barriers to entry and unlevel playing fields.

Those have to be fought and dismantled, and that’s a task for society as a whole and change-makers in particular.

For you, personally, whatever your race or gender, the question is more about whether you are in or out of the community doing the thing you want to do.

If you are entering a completely new world and you are visibly different and don’t know the culture – my argument is that you should prepare to work for twenty years before you really have a chance to get going.

Treat it as a field study, take the time to jump in and learn about their culture.

If you’re further along the path to understanding, you already know enough to empathise with that group, it will take you less time.

And there’s no guarantee that you will succeed.

So it helps if you do something you enjoy doing anyway, where the process gives you the satisfaction you need, and it’s not just about the outcome.

What next?

Now, with all these caveats that it’s going to take time, what are you going to do next to develop your business?

There are two things to look at – the power of networks and what to do if you haven’t got a network.

Let’s explore those as we go ahead with this Getting Started book project


Karthik Suresh

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