Dear Immigrant: Life Happens. Do not be Defeated.

I’ll say it simply. Moving to a new country – whatever your reason, can be hard. Sometimes, it chokes the life out of you. It may even bring about rational and irrational fears you never thought were possible. The rising fear and insecurity of life not ‘falling into place’ has the capacity to stifle, diminish, limit and reduce you to dust. Life as an immigrant to a country where you have to basically start afresh can be fragile, crippling, and devastating. And slowly, without your conscious consent, you begin to feel subdued.

Sometimes, when you feel downcast from that special ‘immigrant depression,’ four things might happen. 

  1. You begin to resent the things around you and your new home.
  2. You become a (seemingly) habitual ‘complainer’ in the process of rationalizing your current reality.
  3. You become a chronic people pleaser, because you want a chance, an opportunity, to be liked, or do not want to appear ungrateful.
  4. You begin to lose your voice.

In the past week or so, I have received some private messages from people via Diversify telling me about how the various articles I have written had resonated with them. In particular, my piece on depression struck chords with many. I am truly humbled. Some of the people who reached out talked about their hesitation with sharing their opinions and experiences because they were afraid that:

  1. It would come back and bite them, as they continue their years of job search, should a potential employer do an internet search on them.
  2. They might come off as unappreciative immigrants who only complain.
  3. They might face social repercussion from the little social circles they have.
  4. They might receive some “hate” from readers.

Naturally, after reflecting on their concerns, I was inspired to write this blog. I can certainly relate with the fear that many non-natives in a new country feel, and I have experienced my fair share of resentment, complaining, feeling silenced and having no self-worth (in other words, being a chronic people pleaser). The fear of speaking up in the face of injustice and potential repercussions is real, but we cannot allow that stop us from using our voices. 

This said, it does not mean that we should all become political activists, social justice warriors, write blogs to pour out some of our soul and sign it with our name. This just means that we need to find our own spaces where we have a supportive group of people with whom we can share. In my experience, meeting others who understood my situation and could empathize, had a measurable impact on my recovery and helped me gain insight on how to move forward. Sometimes, it helped to vent in a judgement free space without a solution for my problems in sight. I found that the more I vented, the more the load I carried lessened, which in turn led to a reduced feeling of suffocation and resentment. 

The reality is this – speaking up in whatever space you find solace is powerful and begets some degree of sanity. And the type of employer who would not hire you because you have constructively or emotionally shared your experience, or spoken up to elucidate a situation for the betterment of others, is also probably the type of employer you do not want to work for.

As human beings, it is our nature to worry about what our internal and external world thinks of us. It is also common sense that whatever we say or do might be used in our favor or against us. Nonetheless, the world does not end if some or most people disagree with us. So long as we are speaking our truth, it matters. And our voice counts.

I too worry, sometimes, about how I may be perceived but after much introspection, given my particular type of personality, I find that the burden of not being authentic or speaking up for something I believe in is far too heavy than my perceived fear of ramification. Consequently, in most cases, I choose the latter – most cases being that I have also found that sometimes it’s okay to not engage where I calculate the futility of doing so (i.e. when trying to rationalize certain situations with my mother, or endlessly debating with ‘keyboard warriors’ or trolls on social media).

As outspoken, opinionated, accomplished and confident as I believe I am, I also have an inherent fear of the spotlight. I am not sure why. But perhaps it has something to do with being a woman (much to unpack here), not wanting attention or judgement, misplaced humility, retaining a level of anonymity to separate my personal, public and professional lives, or just plainly not wanting to toot my own horns or come off as though I am ‘marketing’ myself. This process is something I am personally and currently working through.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, I find that speaking up also means that we continue to check-in with our self-worth. That we have standards and retain our dignity despite our challenges. That we know the difference  between an unpaid opportunity that might open a door or lead to future opportunity, versus a company or organization taking advantage of our desperation – working us like camels, in a role that has nothing to do with our skillset or experience, on a 40 hours a week basis, without the courtesy of offering us a stipend for transportation or lunch. We need to consciously hold on to our self-worth so it might awaken that little voice that nags at us when someone is trying to take the piss. Accordingly, we might be mindful not to settle for less than we deserve in the name of an elusive opportunity.

And let’s get real, in Norway, it is hard enough for Norwegians who often fit into the A4 requirement of many companies to secure employment, never mind their dream jobs that engages their capabilities and hones their interest and skillset. In many ways, they find it hard to receive their rightful slice of bread. So, for most immigrants, trailing spouses, refugees, asylum seekers, repats and expats, it is no wonder that you’d have to work thrice or four times as hard for a quarter of the slice of bread. Shit happens and will continue to happen, but we’ve got to figure out way to move on. When a door closes, find a window. We cannot allow ourselves to be defeated. I am of the opinion that for immigrants in a country like Norway, if you want a seat at the table, you have to demand and take it.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”  – Shirley Chisholm

Reality Check: It is unlikely that everything you need will fall into your lap by coincidence. Every single person you meet is fighting their own battle and have different priorities. That they are not paying attention to your struggle does not mean that they have none. This is your life, for which you are responsible. You cannot expect the world to align in place for you (I mean it would be nice, but it doesn’t always work like that). And when you are an immigrant, you sometimes have to jump through a lot of hoops, break down walls and thereafter, free-solo climb a mountain. You will experience things that are normal for all foreigners and some which are unfair and reflective of discrimination and bias depending on which additional sub-group you belong to. But do not be weary. Do not surrender.

Photo by Nghia Le.

Instead of waiting for Norway (or your new country of residence) to accept, see and welcome you, try using what you have access to (insert i.e. entrepreneurial skills, skillset, business skills, writing, ability to quickly learn a language, network, community building, a strong voice, social media, content creation) to get what you want. 

For examples:

If securing employment is important to you, but no one will hire you yet, try starting your own small business in the meantime, whilst you continue to apply for jobs. If you feel you do not have the necessary skills to start a business, then consult the internet, buy some books or reach out to someone who might have the skills you need to mentor you.

If you cannot find a judgement free or safe community, then start your own. If you cannot do it alone, find likeminded people to collaborate with. Chances are that there are many people who feel the same as you do and will benefit from your initiative.

The way I see it, if you are going to spend your time working an unpaid dead-end job that brings zero contributions to your life, you might as well spend that time doing something else that is unpaid, yet it adds value to you and possibly, others. The fact of the matter is that no one is better equipped to solve a problem than people who are wearing the shoe that hurts. Use whatever you have to make a difference in your life. You may not change the world, but your voice, your effort, or even your smile could be the difference between someone stepping off a (figurative) ledge or deciding to hang on to fight another day. 

Written by E.

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Chisom Udeze

Founder of Diversify, Diversify Consult, HerSpace & The Annual

Chisom is an Economist, a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Strategist, and a 3 times founder of impact driven companies. She has over 14 years of experience working with organizations like the European Commission, The United Nations, ExxonMobil and The Economist Group. Chisom is analytical and a data enthusiast. She is passionate about interrogating the cross-sectoral relationship between society’s inhabitants, resources, production, technology, distribution and output. She efficiently and effectively unlocks complex systems, interprets data, forecasts socio-economic trends and conducts research.

Having lived and worked in 7 countries across 3 continents, she is highly adaptable to different circumstances and people, and thrives in uncertain environments.

As the founder of Diversify and Diversify Consult, Chisom and her team work with companies, institutions, governments and civil society to develop sustainable DEIB strategies and embed measurable diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace and society. In addition, in 2022, Diversify launched the Diversify Nordics Summit, the largest conference in the Nordics that gathers cross-sectoral stakeholders to amplify DEIB in the Nordics and beyond.

In 2020, she founded HerSpace, a diverse and inclusive co-creation community for all genders, with particular focus on women and non-binary people. In 2022, HerSpace launched HerTech, Women in Tech incubator, for women-led companies, with a focus on the inclusion of diverse founders. 

Chisom is a thought-leader in DEIB and a passionate advocate for mental health and wellness. She writes often on DEIB and justice related topics, some of her work is published on Forbes.

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