On being ... good advice

By Ingrid Sapona

Unsolicited advice is a funny thing. Maybe it’s because it’s freely given, it’s often easy to ignore – and easy to forget. But it can also end up being profound. That’s certainly how I see the advice I got in 1987 from someone who offered me a job.

I was working overseas and I was applying for jobs to return to North America. Growing up in Buffalo, I thought Toronto, which was only about 100 miles away, would be an exciting place to live. So, I applied for positions in Toronto and in New York and I had an offer in both cities. Both offers were at large, international accounting firms and the positions were very similar.

By coincidence, Bill, the person hiring for the New York job, was a Canadian who was overseeing the NY group I would be working in. He was a dynamic guy and someone I thought would be interesting to work with. Rich, the person offering me a similar job in Toronto, seemed nice but I found him hard to read.

I was quite torn. I had truly hit it off with Bill but I wasn’t particularly interested in being in New York. Hoping Bill might understand my preference for Toronto, I asked him whether there was any way I could work for him there, instead of New York. He explained that wasn’t possible, because the job was with the U.S. firm.

Recognizing my trepidation, Bill offered me the best advice I ever got. He told me he thought I should choose the job in the city I wanted to live in. His rationale was that being where you want to be is more important than following a job. I took his advice and turned down his job offer, accepting Rich’s Toronto position instead. What neither Rich’s firm nor I realized was how tricky it would be for me to get permission to work in Canada. I ended up having to get full immigration status rather than come up on a work permit. The process took more than 18 months.

This past February I celebrated the 30th anniversary of becoming a landed immigrant in Canada. I ended up celebrating the actual day with Shanon – the immigration attorney who facilitated my immigration – we’ve been friends since she worked on my case!

If you’re surprised I didn’t write an On being … about that important anniversary, it’s because this year marks an even more momentous anniversary for me. Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of my becoming a Canadian citizen.

Growing up in the U.S., I always felt that voting is the most important right – and responsibility – conferred on citizens. To me, being able to vote means you have a voice that can shape the direction of your community and country. Without it, you’re not a full member of society. In both Canada and the U.S. only citizens can vote.

Back then, I think the rule was that you had to live in Canada for five years before you could apply for citizenship. On the one hand, taking Canadian citizenship was a no-brainer, given how strongly I feel about being able to vote. But, at the same time, it wasn’t something I did lightly. The main underlying question I asked myself was whether I thought I’d remain in Canada for the foreseeable future. Though I had only been here for five years, I was happy and felt at home here and I saw no reason to think that would change. So, I decided not to delay, and I applied for – and was granted – Canadian citizenship.

Given how significant these two anniversaries are for me, I thought a lot about how I might frame an On being …. I thought about writing about what all immigrants have in common: the conscious act of leaving one’s native country and settling in another country, often leaving friends and family behind. Of course, there’s no question that my immigration experience was charmed by comparison to many. But even so, there’s something humbling about asking a foreign government for status and having to make the case regarding what you have to offer that country.

I also thought that maybe I should write about what it’s like to be both American and Canadian, as that’s a somewhat unusual position to be in. I thought about writing about how, as a dual citizen, you feel you have a vested interest in both countries. Or perhaps I should write about how I relate to – and see – each country now, versus how I did 25 years ago.

But my mood is far too celebratory to delve into such weighty topics. Instead, this week I’ve been reflecting on how it is that anniversaries come about. The truth is, though we tend to celebrate anniversaries as though they’re an event that happens on a particular date, what we’re really celebrating is the choices we made that got us to the happy date.

When I think back on the root of these two anniversaries that mean so much to me, I can’t help think of Bill’s unsolicited advice. What a life changing gift it was, and how glad I am that I followed it.

What about you? Any advice you’ve been given that’s shaped your life, or led to a happy anniversary? Any advice you wish you’d followed?

© 2019 Ingrid Sapona


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