Think Like an Immigrant to Get Ahead

It has been said so often, it seems a cliché, but it’s no less true for all the repetition: immigrants made America great! We tend to forget this more easily now that it has become fashionable – in some circles – to demonize immigrants. Lest we forget, from time to time it helps to think back on our grade school lessons about Ellis Island, about the steady flow of talented and hardworking immigrants who brought their brains, brawn, energy, and creativity to the United States, building the greatest democracy and the most powerful economy the world has ever seen.

In spite of this history, many Americans remain deeply ambivalent about immigrants and immigration, an ambivalence that accounts for a near-schizophrenic immigration policy that seeks to close the borders yet still maintain all the benefits of a more open system. In some cases, ambivalence tips over into outright animosity. All too often, one hears complaints that immigrants in the United States work too hard, or are overly competitive – as if hard work and competition were somehow negative things!

Truth to tell, the immigrants are onto something, and we would do well to learn from their example, as Glenn Llopis points out in an excellent article on (See How to Survive in 2011: Think Like an Immigrant,” by Glenn Llopis,, 14.Mar.2011.) What we need to learn from immigrants, according to Llopis, is the art of “earned serendipity,” the luck that comes to those with the sharp eyes and good sense to see an opportunity when it comes their way, and to recognize the potential for advancement that’s latent even in mundane tasks. It comes from staying hungry – not getting fat, happy and complacent, not standing idle, waiting for a bigger opportunity to come along, but making the most of all the little opportunities that will lead to bigger and better things.

Success, Llopis suggests, is all about our attitude, and the right habits of mind can make an enormous difference. As Llopis sums it up:

“The immigrant trusts that great opportunities are all around him, in both obvious and not-so-obvious places. Through keen observation he is always searching for these valuable treasures. In today’s fiercely competitive global market, we must begin to think more like the immigrant, discovering:

•    Opportunities in common, menial tasks
•    Opportunities in requests for help
•    Opportunities in small acts of kindness or sacrifice
•    Opportunities in new relationships
•    Opportunities in everyday conversations
•    Opportunities in simple transactions
•    Opportunities where no one else sees opportunities”

For native-born Americans, expectations get in the way. According to Llopis, we fail to recognize the potential in the unspectacular everyday opportunities that immigrants would be the first to turn to full advantage. Llopis observes, “When we’ve lived all our lives in material plenty, we’re prone to miss many opportunities simply because there are so many before us. We are also prone to pass by many opportunities through apathy, laziness, or busyness.”

Why is this? According to Llopis, part of the problem is that Americans are trained to narrow their “line of sight,” to focus on opportunities that lie along our chosen educational and career path. Llopis concludes that we would be “better by far to emulate the immigrant and see more widely, and seize opportunity wherever we find it.” Instead of making excuses, we should learn from the vision and hard work of the immigrants of today – who, like our immigrant ancestors, could teach us a thing or two about how to get ahead.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.