A unique path — difficult yet exponentially rewarding
Everyone tells you to be different yet all we want is to have a feeling that we belong somewhere. And that’s two conflicting objectives. Because being different often means walking the lonely path. Saying no to plans that you say yes to just to fit in. But at the same time, if you keep saying no you will never belong anywhere. And isn’t one of the joys in life to have a feeling of belonging to a community?
I want to use this post to walk through some experiences that rewarded me yet came at a price. I will then end with my 2 cents on the topic.
1. Being comfortable with jobs / roles / salaries what others might consider embarrassing
My first pay check that was ever deposited into a bank account was from McDonalds. I had my reasons for choosing to work at McDonalds. I was an international student who had just moved to the UK for my bachelors / undergrad studies. Unlike my UK peers who paid local fees or my fellow international peers who came from wealthy families, my tuition & needs were paid by a working mother who chose to educate me abroad over conventional goals such as buying a house. This meant that I needed some extra cash to take care of my wants. McDonalds offered a basic pay yet it was good enough to get by. It offered me the flexibility to choose my own hours. And most importantly it offered me the opportunity to interact with locals and improve my language skills. I worked there every week for a few hours for about 3 years getting promoted to the position of a floor manager in the process.
· My friends joked about it — Moments which at that point of time felt embarrassing to me.
· I gave up on my social life on the weekends with my friends but I made connections with local UK residents as co-workers and customers which I would never do at my university.
· I learnt to work in a fast-paced environment and communicate with people from different cultures and ethnicities.
· I cleaned toilets and tables teaching me to be humble and kind towards anyone who does that job. No job is too small.
· I learnt to lead — take decisions, hold myself and others accountable and treat others with respect.
That’s about it. Would I do this job forever? Probably not. But it still stands tall on my resume. I am quite proud of it.
When I graduated out of college and was being interviewed for a role, the interviewer was so amused to see that on my resume that he just wanted to know more and more about it. I was hired for a number of other reasons but this experience one was amongst the main ones.
2. Not keeping getting a permanent residency as a priority
If you talk to most immigrants raised in the developing world, the chances are high that they will tell you that their aim of moving abroad is to settle down by getting a permanent residency (PR). I would not like to get into a debate of whether that’s right or wrong. But I respect their choices. However, to this day that has not been my priority.
My mother sent me abroad not to settle down but to see the world & experience different cultures. To this day, her message is always the same — explore the world and then decide which place resonates well with you.
I think I am aligned with that vision. If one is really happy in all aspects of a place — the culture, the community, the history, the climate, the people & ones job; I would say that’s the moment to settle down.
I have lived in 4 different countries to this date. Yet, I don’t feel that I have found my spot yet and I keep moving.
· You are constantly bombarded with the noise of fellow immigrants who tell you that it’s a mistake to give up on the chance to a permanent residency.
· You are not forcing yourself to be in a place but just experience it and move on if you are not happy.
· You learn to take & own the risk of trying something new knowing that if you fail you will go back to your home country (which in all honesty is not that bad if you like the people and the place).
· You get to experience multiple cultures and grow yourself in the process. It sounds chiche but honestly I feel that your personality absorbs a part of every place you live in.
· You develop your self-confidence in the process by learning to believe in yourself. I mean, how is self-confidence developed really? By taking decisions. By taking actions. More importantly, by owning the outcome.
For the sake of this examples, let say you are an employer in a global organization or you are in the recruitment team of an esteemed university. You have 2 candidates — one who has been in one geographical location for a while and another who has moved around to multiple locations. The percentage of people falling in the first category will be definitely much higher than the second one. Who do you hire or enrol?
The answer of course depends on what kind of profile you are looking for but you surely cannot deny that in the world we live in today its becoming more and more important to communicate & integrate better with people from different cultures.
I was lucky that my employer believed in the above and hired me. I recently applied for an MBA program where I was offered a full scholarship predominantly for this reason.
3. Living with people who were raised in a different culture
When you move abroad, you miss home. Our first instinct is to find people from our country and meet them. Bond with them. That makes it a bit easier to be away from home. I am sure there are other reasons but that’s one of the main ones.
But if you look at it from a bigger picture; the whole point of moving abroad is to challenge yourself by learning about other cultures. Is it not? If you continue to spend most of your time with people who were raised in a similar culture with a similar set of values, you will probably not achieve the objective of learning about other cultures.
Again, there might be other reasons for moving abroad and if the your reasons resonate with your choice then one should go ahead.
Over the past 4–5 years, I have had flatmates & friends from multiple countries & cultures.
· I had to be patient. When explaining something to them or to understand something from them, I had to be patient and communicate in a way that we understood each other.
· I became open minded. We are raised with a set of beliefs and values which our environment thinks is correct. Its only when you spend time with people from other cultures that you learn to challenge those values and decide what’s really right and wrong for you. Does that make sense?
· I developed a sense of empathy. Whenever I have a difficult conversation with someone from a culture similar to a friend of mine; I am more understanding. l have more context because I can guess why they behave the way they behave.
· I do feel incredibly lonely at times. My friends today cannot resonate with my past and my friends back home cannot resonate with my present.
Personally, I believe that my experiences have helped me become more adaptable. I have become a better communicator. This has helped me professionally be it via a promotion or via compliments from my mentors & managers. And that’s always nice to hear. Is it not?
4. Saying yes to activities that resonate with you and no to the ones that don’t
This is my favourite these days. Until about a few years ago, I almost felt that it was my responsibility to adapt to anyone and everyone in my social life. My reasoning was that since I was the one who moved abroad, I should adapt to the people. I still believe its true but not always. I think there is a line / a point where you have to say no if you cannot resonate with something.
As an example, I like to have a social life but I don’t like to do drugs or go to a club & get drunk every weekend. I like to read and keep my Netflix time limited. I meditate frequently. I have taken up writing as a hobby. I spend very less time on social media.
I am 26 years old. I don’t think I am the only one who falls into the above category but most people my age would say I am getting old.
But I don’t believe that one’s choice of activities defines if you are young or old.
· It’s fairly difficult to develop a social circle with like minded individuals. You will often find yourself not being able to relate with some friends and vice versa.
· You say no to majority of the social plans and you have to overcome the fear of people judging you. You have to become comfortable with the idea of being alone (which isn’t that bad if done in morderation).
YOU ARE COMFORTABLE BEING ALONE. P.S. BEING ALONE DOES NOT EQUAL TO BEING LONELY.
The reason I right that in caps is because I feel that it’s a like a super power these days. I know of people who get anxious if they have to spend a few hours by themselves without social media.
Again this is something that has helped me both professionally & personally. It has taken the weight off my shoulders. I have fewer friends but the ones that accept me for my choices. Isn’t that liberating?
I am not out here to preach what is right or wrong. All I am saying is that often getting somewhere requires taking the unique path — a path with comes with a multiple consequences.
Having said that, I think there has to be a balance. If I keep taking the unique path in all aspects of my life, I will become less human. One of the things that energizes me is to have a sense of belonging towards the community. And that’s an amazing feeling!
I hope everyone can find their balance. I hope that every person can make an informed choice on how they lead their lives. Its just a liberating feeling to not do something because you are forced to do it but to do it because you want to do it.
Wish you the best!