|Nyasha Gopo | Consulting Manager | Charlotte, NC|
Imagine if you can for a moment a young Zimbabwean man with an American wife and a year-old child. They pack their bags in their Cape Town home and move to America because the wife misses her family. So in the aftermath of a huge North Carolina snowstorm, they arrive in Charlotte with the intention of beginning a new life. If you can imagine this, you will see me five years ago, a young Zimbabwean man full of anticipation and hope for his new life in the U.S.
When I look back at that first winter, I shudder thinking about the naïve man I was five years ago. I was a Zimbabwean with an established career in South Africa. I believed once I arrived in the U.S.—as a result of an internal transfer with the firm I worked for in South Africa—I would be able to carry on from where I had left off. Little did I know that when I immigrated to the United States, I was to begin the painful journey of joining a new culture.
After barely a month in the U.S., I realized something was wrong. My senses were struggling to keep up with everything new that bombarded me. The accents. The business culture. The focus on managing perceptions and self-image. Early on my manager said, “Nyasha, perception is reality.” These words added a weight that hung heavy over my shoulders, this responsibility of ensuring that other people thought well of me.
In South Africa I had been selected for leadership programs, and I had given presentations that met with a roomful of applause. However, in the U.S., I was losing confidence. Full of self-doubt, I retreated into a shell because of how often I had to repeat myself because of my accent. I felt sidelined at client meetings when people spoke over me or just ignored me.
Instead of being the potential leader and talented speaker others once called me, I was now called, “Too quiet. Too soft. Lacking in technical competencies.”
Those early months and years in the U.S. left me confused, lonely, and defeated. Most of all, I started to believe what people were saying about me. Maybe I wasn’t smart after all. Maybe I was too soft and too quiet. Maybe all that perceived leadership potential had just been sympathetic talk from people who felt too sorry to tell me the truth.
I felt my managers inaccurately suggested areas of improvement for me without fully understanding the challenges of transition I was going through. No one was there to believe in me and encourage me. No one provided me with valuable feedback to help me see things from new perspectives and set my sights on new horizons.
Fast forward to the present day, and I have found my voice again. With the help of family, counselors, wisdom, faith, and the passage of time, I have come to understand the culture in my adopted home, and I have come to know myself better. My new culture holds many ideals: the extroverted ideal, the body image ideal, the loud no-nonsense business type ideal. I’ve realized it is easy to become lost in this culture if you don’t meet these ideals.
With a greater understanding of my adopted home, I have more enthusiasm. I share with people who I meet how one can navigate this culture especially as an immigrant. A friend of mine recently began the same journey that I did five years ago. I have spent time talking with him about the new life here. “Take your time,” I have said to him. “You’ve just gone through major change. It will take time for you to figure things out.”
As I spoke with him, I was reminded of my enthusiasm for helping other people thrive. I have long known myself to be an encourager of others. I have a passion for helping other people realize their potential in spite of the odds they may face. This past summer my newly immigrated friend and I had another intense conversation about the process of learning to thrive in a new culture. My friend told me, “You are a great coach. You should do this for more people like me.”
For me those words confirmed a passion that has been growing in me for a long time. There is so much rich experience and knowledge new Americans and immigrants can bring to our country and our businesses. However, the transition to a new culture often involves shaky starts and a reduction of confidence. As an immigrant who is now proudly a new American, I want to see new Americans and immigrants reach their fullest potential and realize from early on that they are not alone.
When the 90-90-9 opportunity was announced, excitement filled my thoughts as I dreamed of the possibility of pursuing formal training as a life coach with a focus on immigrant and new American populations. Our very own firm, RSM, has a fairly significant number of immigrants and new Americans. I want to help these individuals and others like them tap into their potential and achieve the best for themselves and society at large.
Coach U is an organization focused on the training and accreditation of life coaches through the International Coach Federation (ICF). I dream of being formally trained as a certified life coach through Coach U. This would be a huge step toward extracting the potential of immigrants and new Americans here at RSM, in my own community, and in our country as a whole.
As a certified coach, I will be able to help others like my newly immigrated friend to find their voice, stand tall, and be all they were born to be for the benefit of our society.