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Best Career Advice Hidden in Jamaican Proverbs


I’m an immigrant. I grew up in Jamaica and lived there until I finished high school, before heading off to college. ‘From your eyes were at your knees’, you heard advice in the form of proverbs. What I realized is that I didn’t always understand what I was hearing. But, I remembered the proverbs and the context, despite not always understanding the meaning.


That’s the power of anecdotes. They help break down complex ideas into bitesize and easy to understand concepts. Now, keep in mind that we all tend to blindly believe in anecdotes as verifiable facts. Try to think of them more as a guide. And, from a learning perspective, they are usually so catchy that they stick in your mind easily. So, it’s with that in mind that I wanted to share the best career advice that I’ve found hidden in Jamaican Proverbs.

What sweet nanny goat ago run eeh belly

Everything good isn’t necessarily good for you. I heard this a lot as a child, usually from my Mom when I was ‘having too much fun.’ From a business context, it’s a great reminder that some things are too good to be true. It’s good to have a measured dose of skepticism. It doesn’t mean that you ignore positive intent but that you practice verification of critical elements in any initiative.

Heel nevah go before toe

Put first things first. Most of us are used to having competing priorities. There is usually more to get done than there is time available. Therefore, a process for prioritizing is critical. The metaphor for this proverb is very well suited as a reminder to prioritize. To keep moving forward effectively, there is a set and consistent process to follow.

Every lang lane ave a turning

Nothing lasts forever. It’s no secret that our workload will ebb and flow. There are times of extreme stress, crashing deadlines, and overwhelming expectations. But, despite the long roads that often present themselves. It’s good to remember and take solace in the fact that it will come to an end at some point. With that in mind, it becomes easier to slow down, prioritize, and find the best plan forward.

Yuh cyaan carry two face undah one hat

Do what you say you’ll do. Or, even better, practice what you preach. It’s important to stay mindful of your perception to your colleagues. One thing to avoid at all costs is the appearance of being duplicitous. If we give off an attitude that the ‘rules’ do not apply to us or that we are willing to bend or break them purely for our own sake, trust will be eroded. Working in a team where trust is lacking destroys collaboration and efficiency.


One, one cocoa full basket

Success doesn’t happen overnight, it happens slowly. Not only is this a proverb I heard repeatedly growing up, but it’s also one of my favorites. Every day we are making a deposit or an investment into everything that we do. That includes the quality of our work, relationships, and personal development. Often, lasting change occurs not drastically but after much consistent and targeted effort to improve.


Fingah nevah say”look’ere,”‘im seh “look deh

We all tend to see the faults in others and ignore our own. This might come as a surprise to you but you have many faults. Maybe even as many as the person who annoys you the most at work. Despite our best efforts, it can be difficult to show empath to colleagues that get on our nerves. It may be even more difficult to value their input. But difficult relationships can often be opportunities for growth, or at the very least understanding.

Talk and taste your tongue

Think before you speak. Admittedly, this proverb presents an interesting visual. But, it’s quite effective. Careless words are not uncommon in the workplace. Colleagues will take credit that’s not theirs and even throw others under the bus. However, we must think about the impact of our words before we speak them. Often it’s not what’s said that has the most significant impact but how it’s said.

As time goes on, I’ve found myself enjoying the proverbs I grew up hearing more and more. Which probably means I’m getting old. They are fun and thoughtful ways of giving wise and timeless reminders that apply to multiple facets of life. Having the perfect one in your back pocket and ready when the situation presents itself is hugely satisfying. I hope you’ve enjoyed analyzing these proverbs as much as I have!

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