What’s Your Story?
I have come across several discussions debating why it may or may not be worth it immigrating to Canada. When asked, many who eventually succeeded would argue that immigrating to Canada is perhaps the best decision they made for themselves and their families. For those who are still struggling or who did not have a so great experience after landing in Canada, they would wonder why it ever makes sense for people to leave their “successful lives” behind in their country of birth and have to take up “survival jobs” or less gratifying professional jobs in Canada.
Viewpoints will continue to vary depending on which side of the divide one prefers to stay. I have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly side of immigration but my story is still being written. Although the best version of myself is still ahead because I am still a work in progress yet I will share a little bit of my experience so far.
I will also share my personal opinion on different School of thoughts but kindly realize it will be biased since it is based on my personal experience, observation, interpretation and perspective to life. In reality, there is by no means a right or wrong answer, suggestion or opinion. Whatever anyone says is nothing but an opinion; everybody’s circumstance will be unique no matter how similar. And a number of factors will contribute to that.
Survival jobs – It is my personal opinion that there is nothing wrong with this. Actually, I don’t like the name. It appears to connote a negative or suffering mien. If you don’t mind, I’d prefer to call it temporary job, transit job, preparatory job or whatever other name that suggests a temporary contract rather than “survival”. In my opinion, “survival job” suggests barely making it and paints a negative picture. Struggling to escape death. That perception in itself is a morale killer rather than a booster. The word in itself may not be an issue but words paint pictures in our minds, it is the negative picture that it tends to paint that I don’t like. However, the money it brings is fantastic even though it can always be better.
There are two ways to come into Canada – prepared and unprepared. And this in itself needs some form of qualification – financial, mental, career, spiritual etc. In my humble opinion of myself, I was prepared. The Canadian dream for me was not an accident. And neither was it a fad. My first glimpse into the Canadian dream was in 1993 – just when I was pushing to secure admission into the University. But I parked it – it was not time. And I did not lose sight of it – I kept following up laws, trends, success stories, failure stories and reminding myself that one day, my time will come. So much so it was one of the things I took to the discussion table when I was courting my wife in 2002/2003. Canada was not negotiable for me so we had to agree so the journey can be smoother. Fortunately, the dream was not a big deal to her although it was a BIG sacrifice and so eventually she embraced it. In pursuit of my Canadian dream, it was therefore not a surprise that I took up two Canadian certifications (the I.S.P and ITCP) with http://www.cips.ca in 2007 and 2008. I had not even applied for Canadian immigration but I knew the opportunity would come one day. And a few months later – it did! In late 2007, I applied for Canadian immigration. I felt on top of the world! My joy was however short lived! Early 2008, the laws got changed so my application was not processed! But I kept up the hope.
I continued to improve my career. I spent time to discover myself, my aspiration and what my preferred career would be like. I was a very technical person deeply involved in Project Management and I was successful at it. But something wasn’t quite right. Out of self discovery and with God’s help, I charted my course and knew exactly what I wanted to do. I love to help people. I love to listen to what is said and more importantly to the unsaid. I love to connect with people and help them find a solution to their challenges and problems. I look out for needs in what people communicate rather than wants. I am a big picture person so I try to marry the current with the future. I enjoy reading, I love writing and don’t think twice before creating documents. I am happy making presentations and challenging the status quo in my own way – just relish giving people alternative ways to think. I love taking on challenges, I am quite adventurous. It wasn’t long before I realized my personal attributes and passion would suit the business analysis career. And so I started preparing, training myself, attending training and seeking such opportunities at my work place. It took time, money and deliberate effort – it wasn’t easy. But I had a dream and I was willing to give whatever it takes to see it come to pass.
In 2010, another opportunity came my way and I thought to apply for Canadian immigration a second time. Phew! I was to start my MBA at Warwick Business School, UK after a hard won admission rigor. Just before I paid my School fees from borrowed funds, I sought advise from a trusted friend based in Canada (Kemi Abiola) and after a long deliberation, I took her advise not to bother. If it was a Canadian degree, she didn’t mind but from UK? Maybe not. Painful but I know the kind of friends I keep so I shelved my UK runs because I trusted her advise. But today, I am very happy I took that decision. Readers beware – don’t necessarily do what I did!
It was the borrowed funds that I used in paying for my application and in 2012, we had our visas! Within six weeks of securing our visas, we were in Canada! I was hungry! Was it a easy decision? NO. And that for four major reasons – I had a juicy offer from an international company for an exciting role a month before we left for Calgary. I was head hunted. Two – I had a pending offer from another international company that required me to relocate and work outside Nigeria in another African country. I already had a final interview with the Senegal based EMEA Director so I was just counting down. It was a very promising job. I was head hunted. Three – At the company where I worked, I was billed to travel for a premium training in France the very month I left for Canada. All expense paid two weeks training with one of the company vendors. I was hand picked – never solicited for it. Four – Rather than resign at my then place of work, I was given a golden offer to go settle my family in Canada for 3 months and return to my work in Lagos. It was a nice paid 3-month vacation offer. While I appreciated it, I graciously turned it down eventually even though it was very tempting. Even my sister in Canada suggested that I accepted it but I said no. It was a tough decision but it was also a easy one – I was going to leave with my family so we could face things together. Fortunately, my wife and I were in agreement so that made things easier to handle. In the face of uncertainty and fear, we decided to move on and leave our lives in God’s hands. Is this approach for everyone? Certainly not. Know thyself and be true to thyself.
Arriving in Calgary was one of the easiest things. What’s there in jumping on a plane headed towards Calgary and getting down at YYC? Mmmh. After the euphoria of living in Canada died down within about six weeks of arrival, I saw clearly. Yeah. Our financial resources ran out quickly – a lot happened that took a hit on our funds. So much for being prepared! With this background information, securing a means of livelihood almost immediately was not negotiable. It was a need. Sadly, as prepared as I thought I was, nothing seemed to work. Well, those who know me would know that I am seldom one of those who wait for success – I just keep moving and success usually catches up with me. For instance, I married into a one bedroom shared apartment right in the middle of a company recession. People thought I was crazy and many were sincere in telling me to at least postpone my wedding. My wife and I thought otherwise so we moved on – literally without a job. At least, of what use is a job that wasn’t paying you salaries? A job that owed about six months of salary? (don’t tell anyone, they’re still owing. lol!) But wait, wedding was on Saturday and Monday, just as we were preparing to travel to Akure town for honeymoon (don’t laugh please), I got a call for job interview from a company I never knew existed and for a job I never applied for. Well, I got the job and started a few weeks after my wedding. But for God.
Back to Calgary. So I set out to secure a job – any job at all. And I meant it. If it is not against the law of the land and it is not against the law of God, I was ready for it. Whatever. My concern was just to feed my family and keep them happy. Every other thing mattered less. Part of our plan was to have my wife back in School in support of her passion so she could not initially work while we struggled to settle down. I therefore applied for all manner of jobs – construction worker, garden tender, restaurant worker, call center, commission sales agent, grocery clerk, petrol attendant, plane loader at the airport etc. Many didn’t understand my drive. I needed to take care of my family – that’s all. But it wasn’t even coming! Then I got a message from my manager in Nigeria. It was for an opportunity in BC and I quickly got in touch with the recruiter. All looked good but I was required to relocate to BC. That was easy – my ready answer was NO. NO for me is a complete statement but the recruiter thought otherwise so he asked me why. I said I was not ready to leave my family and before he could say something more, I said “and we are not ready to relocate to BC either”. I closed that door but I appreciated the opportunity to speak with a recruiter. It felt like rain drop in a dry land.
Eventually, I got a call center job through kijiji.ca and that paid me an handsome $10 an hour without tax. I managed to secure about 4hrs shift daily, traveled about 3hrs and spent about $20 daily on feeding and transport. I was somewhat having something to take home. I worked there for about a month and then we went on christmas recess and was not called back. About 3 minutes away from my house the day we closed for the Christmas season, my wife called me to please help her pick some groceries from the retail store. Seriously, that was not the best time – I was only a few meters away from home and it was cold. Why didn’t she tell me about it before? Why couldn’t she have gone out to do grocery shopping without waiting for me? All sorts of questions raced through my mind. Anyway, I turned back grudgingly and went to the big retail store in my neighborhood. As I was leaving, the idea dropped in me to ask to see the store manager in case they had an opening. Fortunately, a floor staff pointed him out to me. I walked up to him and introduced myself. “How can I help you today” he asked. I told my story – I was looking for a night role (night because I wanted to spend my day on doing whatever it took to land me my professional role but I could sacrifice my night). He smiled and said, “I am sorry, we don’t have that opening right now but you can keep checking”. I appreciated him for his time and started walking away. Suddenly he ran after me – “Did you say, night role?” he asked. I said yes. “Oh, I’m sorry, we might actually have something for you. We just agreed to hire one person for a night role this morning but it’s not yet posted. Do you have your resume with you?” I explained that I was only there to buy groceries but that I could bring it if he needed it right away. Then he told me to get home, apply for ANY ROLE at all that I saw online for his store and return immediately with a hard copy of my resume. I did as I was instructed, I got interviewed on the spot and I landed the job! I started three days later.
I recall during the interview, the store manager asked if I ever worked in a grocery store, I said no. He asked every other question relating to the role, I consistently gave him a negative answer. Then he asked, “then what experience do you have to work here?” I said, “I am a new immigrant with integrity who is very much experienced with working overnight (I started and managed a cyber cafe in Nigeria for over 2yrs), work well with people and give myself passionately to everything I do.” The rest is history but I worked there for a little over 6 months! I earned $13.23 per hour for 7 or 8hrs every night for most of the 6 months. I even had health benefits for my family among others. But I had a dream. While I worked for that retail store, I ensured the retail job did not become my internal reality. My professional job was my daily reality. Just to be clear, I worked as a grocery clerk. I remember one day, I was at that store with my family buying groceries and my wife picked something from the shelf but after walking a few aisles, she decided she was not buying that item again and just dropped it on one of the shelves. I stopped her. “Hey, please return it to where you picked it up because when I return this night, I will have to fix that”. She laughed and I laughed but she got the message and quickly made amends. Talk of being considerate of others in a new way. I appreciated that and till date, that affects my shopping habits.
While there, another staff took interest in me and introduced me to another job. My interview was waived and I secured a job at the Calgary airport. To secure a pass for that job, I went through all manner of security checks including retina scan – no jokes. But it was a good paying job. About $35 an hour for about 2 – 2.5hrs daily. I resumed there about 4hrs before starting at the retail store daily and just headed for my night shift right after. My job was to hop unto cargo planes and unload the goods. I made friends there, learned a few lessons and learned to have fun at it. It was an extra income that paid well but took a toll on my back. Yes. And a few times made me useless at home. But I loved the money :). I took my family with me there twice to see what I did, we all had to feel it. We thought it was an opportunity so it was all good. A few dollars here and there that made my family more comfortable and helped me repay the cash I withdrew from my Nigerian bank credit card once when I could not pay my house rent here. Whichever way you looked at it, it made sense. And to crown it all, the company that hired me called me a few weeks into that job and offered me a 2 year contract for the same role for a higher wage. I could choose to sub contract the job to another person I was told but to keep the contract going I had to do the job myself at least twice a month if I remember correctly. I did not solicit for it, my supervisor apparently took interest in me and asked HR to talk to me. Of course, I accepted the contract and it was a different phase. I did have to cancel the contract later for reasons that you will soon find out.
I’ll cut the long story short by letting you know that exactly nine months after landing (it took a friend to a colleague 18 months and even more for some people), God provided me with my professional job – without undergoing the typical kind of interview. I started out by working for free. I got an offer for 2yr contract at the end of the first week but did not start until 6 weeks later for other reasons. Three months into the professional role, my manager gave me another employment letter – my contract papers had been changed and I was made full time staff. If anything, I can only say that my story is that of someone who God helped. I would not be bragging if I told you that I made a positive impact in the organization. I have since left the company and moved on to a senior role elsewhere and things have been good. Again, I was head hunted for the senior role – I did not apply. I have built networks and continue to maintain relationships here and there. I believe that things can only go up by the grace of God.
And here is where it gets even more interesting. My new hiring company started facing its own challenges and therefore decided to change directions. Some units including my business analysis team were scrapped. Several people were let go while a few simply walked away – for reasons best known to them. I was one of the people that was let go. It hurt especially when you believe you sacrificed a lot for the company, did your best and therefore don’t deserve the treatment. But hey, if I was asked to nominate someone else in my stead, who would I have nominated? Nobody. It’s just life. No one deserves to lose his job, no one deserves not to get a good professional job. No one deserves to lose a loved one to an accident or incurable disease. No one deserves to be under the weight of financial pressure. No one deserves to have a broken home. But it happens. It’s called life. And when it happens, what do you do? Burn bridges? Heck No! Give up? Not advised. Throw a pity party and invite others to mourn with you? Maybe but I just suspect that strategy will work in your favor for a bit but not for long. If you stay there crying, you’ll just keep Kleenex in business at your own cost.
Like I said at the beginning of this write-up, my life story is still a work in progress. It’s not been smooth but it has been rewarding. When I decided to organize the very successful first of the “Arise Calgary 2016” training workshop series, some people thought I was crazy. A “jobless” man trying to improve the lives of others around him?! The external critics were even nothing compared with that inglorious voice in my head trying to shut me down or more appropriately bully me into canceling the event. “What gave you the authority to talk to people?”, “Who do you think you are these days?”, “Physician heal thyself!”, “Why do you think people will come listen to you?”, “What if you fail?”, “What if no one shows up?” and the attacks went on and on. But I refused to listen because I was ready to make a fool of myself and fail while trying to be true to my heart and passion. Thankfully; aside from my mentors, I had a core team of people that believed in the dream and decided to join hands with me. Thanks Babatunde Ojo and Tolulope Oguntoyinbo! I love helping people, I hate it when people give up. I feel a pain in my heart when I imagine the possibilities that could have been if someone had not given up. I like to inspire hope and it’s not because I am perfect. Rather it’s because I have accepted my mortality and continue to rise above my imperfections in order to reach my goals. I believe it was Dale Carnegie that said “most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” That is a major secret to rising above limiting circumstances.
I have taken time to share my experience in the hope that at least just one person will be able to make a better decision based on my experience. My story does not have to be your story especially with the temporary job so feel free to decide the course of your own life and destiny. Whether you need to get the so called survival job or not is left to you. I can tell you at least four personally known friends in Calgary – and I mean personal friends who secured jobs (at least pending final interview) while still in their home countries. And they only landed to resume the roles. Was I cursed? No. Was I unlucky? Far from it! Was I unprepared professionally? I’d say No. Could it have been better? Probably yes. Could I have made better decisions? Possibly. Did I have to go through the so called survival jobs? Likely No but I did. We all have different paths.
Whether you should leave Canada, Calgary or your current city is your choice. My aim in writing this e-book worthy of a treatise is not to tell anyone what to do. Rather, I thought to share a bit of my own story just perhaps one person will be encouraged not to look down on himself or herself, not to give up on life, on the Canadian dream or on their efforts at restarting their career. I also want to give people different perspectives to the way they see things. That’s all I aim to achieve. Like I said at the beginning, “everybody’s circumstance will be unique no matter how similar” and whether you believe in God or not, there is an invisible hand that influences the affairs of every man. Just be sensitive and sensible. Like the holy writ says, “in due season you will reap if you faint not.” Neither I or anyone has the infallible blue print for succeeding here or anywhere else; you and whatever/whoever you believe in will decide that.
Summarily, what I am saying is this – the vision of your preferable future should be strong enough to keep you from quitting. It will be rough and your challenges may become gory but if you don’t give up, your story will turn into glory. I also received my fair share of pressure so many times. I didn’t just get to where I am overnight. But I went through it all – and still going through things in order to grow and become a better person. I know how to have and not have in the Canadian economy. And I know how to stay focused when the heat is greatest. I know how to keep my family happy and focused even when we have little. At least I lost a job at some point, some didn’t even have that chance because they never even got called for an interview not to talk of securing a job!
I remember losing my temper with my wife and kids sometimes due to the battles I was fighting. There were days I did not feel like talking to anyone. There were days I felt like packing my bag and leaving Canada. There were those times “I finally realized” how foolish I was for abandoning everything and taking the so called leap of faith. I fought both internal and external demons. I was so afraid to stay in touch with those people who warned me about pursuing that glamorous Canadian dream for fear of hearing them say, “we told you so”. There was a day I even overheard my son asking his mum, “why is dad always frowning?”. I felt morbid but acted like I did not hear that. My sadness multiplied. I couldn’t even tell my parents or in-laws back in Nigeria what I was going through. Whenever we talked on phone, I was always “fine”. I suspect they had an inkling that things were not that good but they just decided to quietly pray for us. There was even a time we did not have money to pay our house rent but gratefully I remembered we had a Nigerian credit card on hand and so we took cash out of it to bail our way through that very month. What of the days when all we could do was buy a $10 gas into our van instead of the full tank that we certainly needed. I could go on and on but I am happy we fought our way through. And oh yes, there were those days when literally, I felt I would pass out due to overdose of super satisfaction!
Through it all, I give glory to God and I thank Him for the privilege to have gone through the experience that I went though before getting to where I am today. It was not easy and I am not where I see myself yet. My best story is yet to be written, it is still in the works. A lot will still happen and I am completely open to God. However He leads, I will follow but I will do my part. I will not resign to fate. I will not lose hope, I will continue to press forward. I will continue to pray and develop myself professionally. I will work hard. I will continue to give back to Calgary in various ways that I don’t need to mention here but mostly I volunteer a lot and try to create opportunities for others too. I will continue to stay true to my family and involve them in all my decisions, they mean the world to me.
Everyone has a story to tell and we won’t all take the same route. I know not everyone will be bold enough to tell the world how rough their beginning was or what things they still struggle with. I bet it’s more glamorous talking about the new seven-figure income, the promotion, the new posh car, the big house and other seemingly more dignifying accomplishments than share personal struggles and seeming failures. But it is those less attractive stories that save lives and inspire hope. When shared, those stories put positive energy back into the society. Those stories of failures, struggles and triumph make the world feel warmer – especially in Canada :). In every glory, there is a story. I ask every reader to share their story with someone – you just never know who would need it. What’s your story?