Immigrant problems are often swept under the carpet, dismissed as “that’s the way life is”.
But when these problems hold you back from being the best business owner the you can be— or the best person you can be— then I believe it’s a burden worth shedding.
I spoke to Li Lin, Founder of Immigrant CEO School, and we wrote this article to help you master the common anxieties immigrant entrepreneurs face.
MASTER YOUR MIND
The gamut of assault on one’s self-worth as an immigrant is both perceived and real. Beliefs like “I’m not good enough” can bounce off the reality that one may be of the “wrong skin colour” in certain circles, creating a frantic mind that cannot shut up. That way, we are always lost in our heads, where worries have infinite space to fester, multiply and metastasise.
Think about the last time someone delivered you news that threw you off. Chances are, you made choices and reacted in ways that you looked back upon later and thought, “I could have done it so differently”.
We make the wisest decisions when we can master our minds.
To quote Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, “People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. ”
The simplest way to get out of your head is to take three deep, full breaths. Breathing in from your belly, feel your lungs expand as oxygen enters your nose and every cell. Then feel the air leave you as you exhale. (See here for how to power it up with nature).
Another method is to activate your Heart Protector accupoint, otherwise known as Pericardium 6 in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This spot is located three fingers down from your wrist. To activate it, press firmly in between your tendons. It helps to soothe overwhelming anxiety, especially if you experience tightness of pain in your chest. According to my friend Qigong instructor Em Burnett, your Heart Protector helps open up the space around our hearts and brings focus back to the body.
It’s easy to fall back onto the excuse that we don’t have time or money to take part in activities or pursue our hobbies. Yet when left to our own devices, our anxieties have infinite space to fester.
Or, as the old adage goes, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop”.
Li spoke about the lowest point of her life, where she was fired as a business analyst and sushi waitress. At 23, everything that was important to her seemed out of reach. However, a shattered ego meant she had nothing to lose.
So she posted an ad offering to teach someone Chinese.
It turned out to be the most important $40 she ever made.
She taught a jeweller with a big Chinese clientele language basics, and this episode affirmed in her the importance of being proactive.
In her words “My business started off with a Craigslist post. Don’t underestimate any little thing you do”.
It doesn’t have to be you starting your business. Who knows what doing something will bring you.
Besides looking up a list of free events and meet-ups that a city offers, volunteering has the double benefit of knowing you’ve done something good for someone else, and an opportunity to socialise. Often, social interactions lead to a domino effect of doing more and meeting more people, which is linked to higher dopamine in your brain— that oh-so-awesome feeling of being rewarded.
MASTER YOUR SOCIAL CAPITAL
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu was onto something when he wrote about social capital back in the 1980s.
Put simply, the crowd you hang out with can impact your future, net worth and wellbeing. In essence, your network is your resource.
On the flip side, feeling and being lonely is linked neurochemically to a serotonin deficiency, which exacerbates loneliness.
Who do you want in your circle? These could be people who inspire you, support you, or whose company you simply enjoy. It could also be an opportunity for you to seek out a mentor.
Even if you have very few people in your circle right now, remember, some of the most connected people started off with none. It’s about conquering our fears about socialising that matters— such as acknowledging our fears kindly, remembering everyone improves over time, and taking the person you’d love to connect with off the pedestal.
Remember, they are human too. As an introvert, I once feared speaking to others. Then my mentor Selena Soo (Publicity Expert) taught me that all I needed was to add value to someone else’s life.
While revelling in the warmth of human connection, treat the art of networking like the games you play on your phone. You will level up in your ability. You may not get along well with everybody; don’t take rejection personally. Instead, ask yourself “How can I improve my skills the next time”, and “In what way is said person and I a bad fit”.
My colleague and fellow immigrant entrepreneur Tepsii helpfully points out that people are quite forgiving if you aren’t exactly a master of the language. If you are an expert in your field, your knowledge is what people care about, not how flowery your linguistic prowess is. She adds, “Most people are just as nervous as you anyway”.
And, give yourself permission to enjoy yourself in the process.
BE OPEN TO CREATING YOUR NEW IDENTITY
It can feel like betraying your roots, or playing a new role stiltedly like an amateur dramatics actor.
The truth is, identity is fluid.
Just as you were not your five year-old or adolescent self, your identity gets reshaped by a combination of forces within and beyond your control.
I’ve met people who doggedly hold on to every aspect of their old culture despite making the conscious decision to emigrate. On the other hand, I’ve met others who adamantly disown their origins. Most of these people from both camps are unhappy.
Instead, see this new environment as your opportunity to write your own biography and savour new experiences.
In playwright George Bernard Shaw’s words, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”.
Li Lin shares her story about how she hid in bathrooms during breaks when she was in high school. She saw herself as shy. One day, she decided that identity was no longer serving her.
Today, she has a podcast, Youtube channel and spoke on TedX. She, like many other immigrants, is testament to how you are the master of your identity if you decide to do so.
Ask yourself what about the old identity does not serve you anymore? Looking back, Li Lin realised that shyness kept her protected when she moved to the USA.
However, sometimes we become the Helicopter Parents to ourselves, stifling our personal growth.
Then reflect upon which aspects of your origins you want to keep. These could be for sentimental reasons, feeling connected to your family-of-origin, professional reasons, or simply because you love it.
And then experiment with aspects of your new environment you’d like to try. Perhaps you read about it growing up with wide-eyed fascination; perhaps it’s a novel thing that stokes your curiosity.
Play. Have fun. Make mistakes. These are tiny risks you can afford to take, that go a long way in establishing who you are.
When you have a coherent identity, you feel like a whole person. You speak with authenticity, regardless of your personality type. Because you are comfortable in who you are, and don’t need to be a carbon copy of somebody else.
Things happen in life that causes ruptures in our sense of self; let this be your opportunity to own and master your identity.