By Younas Chaudhary
When you are young, it is fun and easy to navigate a new culture, learn its nuances, and acculturate fast. In the fall of 1973, I moved from a hot, dusty, village in Pakistan to a developed city, Edmonton, Canada, during one of its harshest winters in many years.
I was a young, brown immigrant immersed in a sea of whiteness.
Growing up in Pakistan, I rarely saw a white person descend into our village. In those days, the rare arrival of a white person evoked fascination and curiosity. We called them “firangis” or foreigners, and when we spotted one, we celebrated!
My initial days as an immigrant in Edmonton were filled with shyness, and a sense of inferiority, typical of most immigrants who arrived in Canada in those days. I both feared and respected Canadians. I felt they were superior to everyone else.
Canadians were blessed with jobs and opportunities unlike the villagers back in Pakistan, who had no good jobs and very few opportunities to succeed. In Edmonton, I found a job within two weeks of arrival and, within a few months, I was selling used cars, hawking pots and pans, working as a security guard, driving a cab, and working in a slaughterhouse. The hustle earned me decent money even though the hours were long, and the work was harsh and exhausting.
By the time I moved to Kansas in 1979, my inherent inferiority complex for locals started changing. I became more self-aware and confident, and my feeling of inferiority started to wane.
I bought oil and gas leases from local farmers and sold them to investors. They thought that I was smarter than them, even though initially I had no clue what I was doing. They started praising my work ethic and slowly this built my confidence. I often asked myself why they were praising me and sometimes doubted myself!
As time passed, farmers in rural Kansas acknowledged my skills and this made me even more confident. As an immigrant, there is a fine line between having confidence and not having it at all.
Luckily, farmers and other locals boosted my confidence by telling me I was better than them at what I was doing. I felt fortunate, lucky, and confident.
The local Kansans were genuinely wonderful people and working with them gave me a good start. I stayed humble and respectful to everyone and started building my business.
Soon, I started employing local folks. Several of them thought my ideas about running oil and gas wells were bright and kept on encouraging me. Highly educated engineers from top schools in the US who were working with me started asking which school I went to.
They were shocked when I told them that I did not have a degree in petroleum engineering or an MBA. Even lawyers would ask me if I had a law degree, and this further boosted my self-esteem. I realized that I am blessed with a unique skillset that had substantial value in the marketplace for an entrepreneur in the oil and gas business.
As my business grew, I made it a point to stay humble and treat all others with kindness. I was intensely focused on humility as a hallmark of my personal character and never strayed into pride, extravagance, or overconfidence.
As an immigrant, I am often asked about when I realized that I was faring equally well or better than the local people in doing business. Honestly, it did not take much time to figure that out. Local bankers, who were giving loans to local businesspeople, were lending me more and treating me with respect, because they knew I would keep my word and not default. So, I knew my true worth and felt blessed in running successful businesses.
As a young entrepreneur, I was savvy in deals, took calculated risks, watch my costs and made quick decisions. Bankers trusted my knowledge, experience, straightforwardness, and zeal. They understood it was worth investing in me and gave me business loans because they knew I had the skillset to manage cost, cash flow, and make the business succeed.
I learned to think outside the box, unlike some other immigrants who relied on old ways of lazy thinking. From my experience, I know that immigrants coming to the West with confidence and a willingness to work hard with consistency and dedication can truly succeed. Blessings.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not represent the opinions of any entity with which I have been, am now, or will be affiliated. Further, I make no warranty regarding the accuracy or effectiveness of my recommendations, and readers are advised to consult other advisors as well as their own judgments in making business decisions.