As a child growing up in a small town in India that experienced frequent power outages, my father always told me to “never be afraid of the dark.” At night, when the electricity would switch off unexpectedly he would remind me that we could still make our way in the darkness, and that soon, the day would break and the sun would shine again. It took a move to a different country and a global pandemic for me to truly understand the value of my father’s advice.
When I arrived in Canada as a young, working, first-time mother, armed with a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and professional experience in a stellar organization, Accenture Technologies, I was confident in making my Canadian dream come true. But soon the euphoria passed; I was engulfed in frustration, from my inability to find meaningful work, confusion with how to manage my day and my then 3-year-old, and disappointment with our family’s less than dreamlike circumstances. Often consumed with the thought of moving back home, I gradually learned to adapt to my next normal.
So, as we prepare ourselves for coming out of quarantine, I wanted to share three lessons about resilience I learned as an immigrant that helped me, in the hope that it may help you, too.
- Get organized – living in a joint family back home, I always had support getting chores done or taking care of my child. The foremost challenge I faced upon arriving in Canada was no family support; it was all on me. It took me a while to figure out an approach that worked but making a calendar and prioritizing work for the day using the urgent-important matrix (Eisenhower Matrix in human resources terms) was the first major success I achieved as a newcomer. Switching to different tasks at fixed regular intervals made me more productive and efficient in getting work done.In quarantine, too, where our work time and home time has all blurred together, setting and sticking to a weekly routine could help you and your family cope, and be key when it’s time to make our way back out to school and the workplace.
- Cultivate connections – restarting life in a new country also entailed creating community. My husband, son and I consciously worked on developing and nurturing genuine relationships in three to four groups. I worked on growing ties at the nearest local place of worship, with teachers at my child’s school, at a women’s social club and at my place of volunteer work. This made me feel good, reduced my vulnerability and helped me connect with diverse, but like-minded people.These days simply surviving your day, keeping up with remote work, or seeking employment in an incredibly challenging economy (not to mention taking care of kids and the home) have likely been overwhelming. After being at this for some time, you may want to consider using this next period to reconnect with friends and networks and to invest in your social connections either virtually or safely in person.
- Embrace gratitude – newcomers and vulnerability go hand in hand, and being new and vulnerable was what ultimately taught me the most about being resilient. I developed a sense of gratitude for everything I could. I was grateful to a friend who generously gave us her basement to live in when we first arrived in Canada, to the bus drivers who patiently told me which stop I had to get off at, to my neighbors who took us to our first ever lakeshore summer fest and to my boss at my first Canadian work place. I kept a journal and every week wrote down five things or five people I was grateful for. This made me more outgoing and helped pull me out of numerous dark days.I have started the journal again during COVID-19; it’s a great way to reflect on all the reasons to be grateful. I highly encourage you to do the same, whether you use a physical journal, a computer app or even just spend a few quiet moments in reflection.
With our current times making us more self-aware and giving us pause to reflect on our past journey, I am working on developing my future self, to move from adaptation to the acceptance of the pandemic, just like I had to when we relocated to Canada. Today I forgive myself more often and embrace my imperfections. Doing so has enabled me to better manage a given situation and to face the unknown. Developing resilience has reminded me that tomorrow will be brighter, and that my father was right when he said to never be afraid of the dark.