Saturday, 28 May 2011

Life's Classroom...

Every week I get an email newsletter from Australian Times.  It keeps me in touch with what's going on with Aussies in London and also with some of the big stories Down Under.  But this week's article by Adrian Craddock, Does Being Australian Make You Less Employable? hit a particularly sensitive spot.

I arrived in London at the age of 34.  I had achieved a great many things in my career up to that point and my move to London, while sudden, was a permanent one as far as I was concerned. I had great references and could give many examples showing the results I'd achieved and how I'd 'managed' to do this. I'd qualified easily for my work visa under the Highly Skilled Migrants Programme. Note that this was not the 2 year working visa, or youth mobility visa as it's now called, that most Aussies who are under the age of 30 and without UK ancestry come on. I'd sold my apartment and had a shipping container of furniture on the way. 

No-one actually said anything but as I trawled the recruiters and the job boards and built my networks, I felt an undercurrent of disbelief from the locals.  Had I actually done all of those things at such a 'young' age?  Was I really here for good and how could they count on me not to get homesick and flee back to Melbourne? And for that matter, why hadn't I stayed in Australia if my career had been that great?

On top of this, I was faced with the constant refusal to believe that the skills and experience I had put to such good use in Australia (and in dealing with suppliers and customers in overseas markets while based there) could possibly be transferred to the UK.

And the longer this went on, the more difficult it got.  Added to the great unspoken was the question, 'Why aren't you working yet?'

My networks were gone - the Australian ones I'd left behind could do little to provide any pragmatic help and the new ones, while delighted with the opportunity to ask me 'what I was doing here', proved a bit of a closed shop.  I didn't resort to spending my time fulfilling the common view of Australians as hard-working wanderlusts, ready to 'make the most' of the plethora of multicultural experiences just a couple of hours and a few quid away across the Channel.  I kept working - temping and working in the kinds of roles I'd worked in 8-10 years prior - trying to get a foothold in the market and earn enough to pay my bills and build my life here. 

Seven and a half years on and a whole rollercoaster of ups and downs later, I've learnt a lesson or two.  

The first is around dogged hard-graft, relentless persistence and above all, emotional resilience.  It's tough to start again.  Really tough.  And it's destabilising to be without those taken-for-granted ways of life, the unconditional daily support networks and, not to put too finer point on it, money.  It made me dig deep to find new ways to keep going and new things to embrace about my life. 

Which leads me to the second lesson: humility, integrity and faith that it would 'happen' for me.  There is no such thing as being 'too big for your boots' when doing the coffee round for the office was helping me to pay my bills.  I was employed to do a job, whether I liked that job or not. And I'm someone who always wants to do a job well, sometimes in the face of much cynicism and comments like 'why are going above and beyond? No-one cares!'. (I am not a proud, proud Leo for nothing!) 

I'm emerging from a 2 year dip now, enjoying the sunshine (so to speak) as I climb to the top of the hill again.  It's good to feel inspired and hopeful.  Everywhere I look, the future is looking bright and shiny. 

And the best part?  I feel grounded, like I can deal with whatever comes, and lucky to have such valuable lessons from Life's never-ending classroom under my belt.
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