“Foreign Correspondence” – Advice From My Father

Not too long ago, I was at my parent’s house under the guise of a casual visit, but really there to horde some of my mom’s chicken curry. As it usually does, the conversation turned to “my future.” I was sitting on our couch, with my dad across from me, his head resting to the side, staring at our ceiling. I was going on and on about my impending graduation and my fear of not knowing what my place in the world was. My dad’s half closed eyelids and the fact that he had not said anything in well over 5 minutes, confirmed what I already knew – he wasn’t listening to anything I was saying. The more he didn’t listen, the more panicked and high-pitched I became about my problem. “I don’t just want any job. I want a job that matters, you know? But what if no one hires me? Everybody else is doing amazing things, everyone has amazing jobs and they’re making a difference. I am never going to make a difference in the world. And you’re NOT EVEN LISTENING TO ME”.

My shrill seemed to have jerked my dad out of his slumber. He lifted his head, stared at me with an all-knowing look and just walked out of the room. My dad’s sudden exit made me stop mid-sentence, and I gave a huff of indignation. I looked over at Asif who was chuckling silently, as I wondered what I had said to my dad for him to walk out of the room. A couple minutes later, my dad returned with a blue file folder named ‘Foreign Correspondence’. “Come and sit down at the kitchen table”, he said.

Asif and I both joined my dad at the table and waited for his explanation. Before opening the folder he said, “I know you think that everyone has it all together. That everyone who has the talent will land the job. But that’s simply not true. You think this way because you’re surrounded by the success stories. You go to school everyday and see your professors who are brilliant in their fields, you see all 4 of your parents doing what they love. But you never stop to question how much failure they had to face, how much rejection there is in the world.”

Before seeing what was in that folder, I had always pictured my dad coming to Canada and landing his job quite quickly. The memory is hazy since I was only 9, but it wasn’t long after our arrival that my dad found the job he has now worked at for 15 years, a job he loves and excels at. This is why the phrases “you wouldn’t understand”, or “well you already have your dream job” are so frequent in my vocabulary when we talk about my future. When I think of the hardships my dad faced, my mind immediately goes to the village in Bangladesh where he grew up in poverty, not our life here in Canada. And as it turns out, my memory was not just hazy, but wrong all together.

As my dad opened the folder, he explained its contents. “These are all of the rejection letters I have gotten in my life. I’ve kept them all; I think it’s important to keep them. They make you stronger and remind you of how far you’ve come in the face of hardship.” As I looked through the folder, containing at least 30 – 40 rejection letters, my dad’s witty title of “Foreign Correspondence” made more sense. The letters were from all over the world. They started with the Masters programs he was rejected from, the PhD programs, the job offers, the professors who were unwilling to schedule an interview, the labs who didn’t need any technicians, it went on and on. Every letter had a professional letterhead, with beautiful school crests, signatures in all different languages and apologies written a myriad of ways. “I am sorry to inform you that…” “Unfortunately at this time, we do not…” “Please check back with us at a later date”. Not only had my dad struggled to find work when he got here, he had struggled at every stage of his academic career.

My mouth was open the entire time I read the contents of this folder. I had never pictured my dad to be rejected from anything. The weight of these rejections felt very real because instead of emails, these were tangible. I was holding them in my hand. My dad had excelled academically his whole life. He turns down interviews, conferences and television spots all the time at his current position. I had never pictured a time where he wasn’t this successful. “It’s my failure CV. Until now, you’ve only seen my success CV, and everyone else’s success CVs. But don’t be fooled into thinking that all it takes to be successful is talent, that’s only one part. You also need to the drive to keep going.”

Every time I travel to an amazing destination or have a great meal, I think to myself, “I will never forget this moment”. But as time goes by, the only moments I remember are similar to the ones above. The conversations I have with those I love, where they never cease to surprise and amaze me. This story wasn’t thrilling, it may not even be interesting to some, but I decided to write about it because I know that many people out there are also struggling to find their place in the world. I have since graduated and am now looking for a job, as are many of my friends who graduated with me. Some of us have gotten great opportunities, but most haven’t. Every time I meet somebody new, they ask, “So what do you do?” My answer had always been, “Oh I’m a student”. But for the first time in a long time, I can’t take refuge in being a learner. I’m coming to terms with the fact that for just a little while, I won’t have an answer to that question, and will response with a crass, “ugh, I’m looking for jobs – it’s the worst”, and that’s okay.

My dad’s ‘Foreign Correspondence’ folder reminds me that for every success, there are multiple failures. These failures can stifle you and make you question your worth. But after hearing this advice from my father, I’m choosing to keep mine in my failure CV and grow because of them, and I hope you will too.

You can read more from Mubnii Morshed on her blog.

(Image via ShutterStock.)