By Younas Chaudhary
As immigrants, we fail to speak up and end up losing many opportunities in our lives and careers. I was like that during my early days in the West. Due to my shy and introverted nature, I had a hard time speaking my mind even when the situation demanded it. But, I knew if I wanted to succeed in a world full of extroverts, I would have to make some changes. Want to know how I did it?
I had to speak up because I had to bring money to the table in the mid 1970’s. I forced myself to ask questions despite my introverted nature and the little English I knew. While working as a security guard earning a little over $3 per hour, I spoke up and asked people around me for other opportunities available to me and soon found out that driving a taxicab could earn me $100 in a shift.
I had to speak up when I started driving a cab. I did not know the street names and their locations, so I had a tough time finding addresses. I could not remain passive if I wanted to make money, so I purchased a street map and learned it on my own. I would choose an imaginary street location, try it on the map, and memorize the routes because there were no GPS or cell phones at that time. If I made a mistake, I would stop on a street corner, speak up, ask for directions, and find the shortest route to my destination address.
I continued this pattern when I sold pots and pans door to door to strangers. I knew that if I sold a set, I would make a $100 and that was important for my family.
Speaking up never came naturally to me. I was forced to speak up to survive in the Western world and, eventually, it became natural for me. I did it whenever I needed to.
I am inherently not a loud talker at work or home. When cutting business deals, I am quite blunt, quick and aggressive. I speak my mind, I am straightforward in making my points, and I try to create the best deal for my company. I address and respond quickly to business matters. I do not waste my time having meetings, gathering opinions, or overthinking. I am direct, frank, and I say things as they are without sugarcoating them.
In a non-business environment, I am a passive person, the silent one, and I try to stay in the background. I have been like that since my grade school days when I sat on the back bench at school.
The West teaches children more self-confidence than South Asian countries. Kids here grow up with a sense of pride as the job market expects them to speak up, be self-starters, driven, motivated, and eager to surpass goals. One thing that I learned back in Pakistan, however, was that I had to be respectful if I needed to speak up to my parents, grandparents, or any elders. I was also taught that I was obliged to give back and to take care of my family whenever the opportunity came.
Rugged individualism and the pursuit of happiness makes children in the West leave home at age 18 pursuing education, their new family life, their careers, and many do not return to be with their families later in life. Back home, we were taught to speak politely to our parents in a framework that showed respect for elders and trust. Moreover, we were taught to care for our parents in our homes during their old age.
Due to my early environment, I was an introvert at an early age, but with the passage of time I became more of an ambivert. This became second nature later in life. During my middle age I was aggressive both at home and work. This led to high blood pressure and over time I realized that being aggressive never changed anyone’s thoughts, opinions, or perspectives. It dawned on me that I had to change myself. Today, I take only half of my blood pressure medications and I am much happier.
My advice to anyone, especially to young immigrants to this country is to speak up but do it in an optimistic and realistic manner. You should speak up when it is a matter of principle, or you have been taken advantage of. Do speak up and raise your point of view, especially if you think you are being wronged.
Do not speak up just for the sake of speaking up as we know empty vessels are the ones that make a lot of noise. At the end of the day, listen more than you speak. This is the most valuable skill you can learn and practice every day, and this will make you more successful. Listen more and talk less. Speak your mind only when needed and do it with calmness and confidence. 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.