From the archives October 12, 2004
it doesn’t matter what your challenge is in life, the same principles apply.
As children, hearing the fable of the pot-o-gold at the end of the rainbow, we were relentless in pursuing the rainbow. We were always sure that sooner or later we would find that pot-o-gold. Whenever we chase a dream, moving to a new city, a new country, taking a new job, stepping out as an entrepreneur, we are often times expecting to find our pot-o-gold. Unfortunately, life has a funny way of disappointing our dreams and disrupting our plans.
When things don’t go our way we begin to feel vulnerable. At times, we might revert to one of our childhood tendencies to feel that the world owes us a better result. I’m often disappointed that this is not the way the world works. For many years I have supported immigrants in their transition to Vancouver as well as other unemployed individuals seeking entry to the workforce. Many have demonstrated the most charming and wonderfully optimistic personalities. Over time, with unmet expectations causing so much disappointment, I’ve seen them succumb to despair, negativity, and a belief that something is wrong with whom they are as a human being.
The reality of these situations, and these people, is much different from my perspective. I see them for the wonderful person that they are and I do recognize their value, their history, their culture, their dreams, and their ambitions. Arriving here from another country, now in Canada, a land full of opportunity and a new way of life, so many dreams are born. Knowing the skills they bring with them, they expect there will be little problem finding work in their chosen occupation. As they forge into their job-search and seek out employment, they meet much disappointment early on. Rarely does this deter them in the first six months. But as times goes by and success is not achieved at the level they had expected, optimism falters.
Having spent so many years working in the employment services industry I can also see why so many experience what they perceive to be failures. There are as many reasons as there are personalities that experience these setbacks. The common elements often seem to relate to communication of the spoken language, lack of cultural communication – the unspoken language – and unrealistic expectations. The last item is a hard and bitter pill to swallow but it is not just immigrants that suffer here. Unrealistic expectations are also what affect so many Canadians.
When English is your second language, more time and effort must be focused on polishing your communication skills. You see, in the business world, as you’ll recognize from your own country as well, much communication occurs in the unspoken world of social and cultural norms. This not only requires the study of language but also the study of culture. Why do people behave the way they do in Canada? How do Canadians interact in office settings? Why are there so many differences from one place to the next? Why are men behaving the way they do towards women? Why don’t Canadians come right out and speak more directly? Make it a study and discover the nuances that will enable better success in the business world.
Foreign education meets much resistance in some industry areas and in others, must be strictly controlled where lives, law, and specialized knowledge of Canadian standards are required. There is still a long way to go before your experience and education receives the credit it is due here in Canada. For those whose experience can permit quick access to work here you probably wonder: Why are we so slow in recognizing your education and experience? I don’t know but I don’t want you to dwell on that either. Instead, accept “what is” and move forward with an action plan to overcome all of the obstacles preventing you from achieving the level of success you experienced back home. My favorite example is a friend of mine that I met at school. His wife was killed in a civil war and he moved here with his children. He was a mechanical and structural engineer back home. I’ll call him Stan.
Stan arrived here with low expectations. He knew it would take time to regain the level of professionalism he was accustomed. He set about looking for work that would enable him to learn what he needed to know to become an expert here as well. For two years he worked on the shop floor as a machinist. Learning, studying, practicing, and all the while he continued to do the other things with studying and applying for accreditation through the engineers association. He set goals, plans, and put them into action and two years to the day, he was invited to the front office to begin working on plans. This was what he did back home. Now it was just a matter of time before the rest of the pieces fell into place. Stan knew that it would be no easy ride. He set about finding alternative routes to reaching his goals. He didn’t settle for a job in a gas-station or a grocery store. He got involved with his industry at the bottom and worked his way up. He paid his dues. He was recognized. He was given a chance. Had that chance not been given to him, his plan included a contingency to leave after two years and seek out another position at a higher level. I would encourage you to read his story again and again. There are a number of important lessons that can be applied to your own struggles and your eventual success.
Disappointment is a common companion to the journey in search of the pot-o-gold. Getting discouraged and disappointed is normal. Feeling sad and angry is common. These unwelcome emotions are normal for anyone experiencing minor transitions in life, let alone major transitions. The emotional journey to this country and trying to establish a new life can really take its toll. If you let it control you and you begin to feel that you are the problem, you will surely undermine any chance you have for success. So simply put, I want you to know, don’t OWN any of the negativity that will come up. It will come up. You will experience many negative emotions. It does not mean that you are the problem. It means that you are struggling with disappointment. It means that you are human. Remind yourself often of the goodness that is in you, the capabilities that you have, and that you are an intelligent, able individual. Often times, our patience wears out before the goals are achieved.
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to achieve their goals. If you were a lawyer, doctor, or another specialized profession, there are limitations to performing the same work here in Canada. It’s understandable when lives, safety, and public policy are at stake. There is much to learn and it may require much more than you are willing to invest. What are your alternatives? What are your goals? What else can you do? What are the skills that you’ve developed that you can translate into a new career? Pick something that suits all of who you are and pursue it with a single-mindedness that would drive your friends crazy. You’re starting over from scratch. Expect the worst and work the hardest. It will improve. Don’t give up.
Nothing in life is easy and many people, Canadians and immigrants alike, find themselves picking up the pieces of their life and starting over. Whenever you feel sorry for yourself, don’t blame, just accept. It only is what it is. You are human and like others on this planet, you’re feeling sad and hurt. The world isn’t out to get you. It only feels that way. But as with many immigrants I’ve met who have had remarkably positive can-do attitudes, you will make it and you can too.
As children, often times when we chased the rainbow in search of the pot-o-gold, it wasn’t the pot-o-gold that we found. Some days we walked home disappointed but most of the time we had many wonderful adventures and made other discoveries along the way. So keep your eyes open and your heart light; it improves your vision.
My heart and best wishes to all of you.