What an Olympic athlete who defected to Russia can teach us about how opportunity is now global.
I watched Vic Wild win two gold metals for Russia in parallel slalom snowboarding. The Russians in the audience were going wild, no pun intended. Their cheers were louder and crazier than normal, even for a Russian winning a gold in Russia’s Olympics. This was probably because the champion was not born in Russia, he chose Russia.
Wild is an American who married a Russian snowboarder then got fast tracked into Russian citizenship so he could compete on their national team. He’s essentially a defector. But that’s not what’s interesting in and of itself — who cares if someone would rather live in Russia with his wife than the USA? What’s interesting is that the reason he claimed to have jumped ship was because Russia backs his sport, whereas the USA doesn’t, and could provide him with a better opportunity for success and a better lifestyle along the way.
“Russia is a country that made it possible for me to win,” he said, “Had I stayed in the US, I’d probably be still sitting at home, doing some ordinary job, doing something banal, and not interesting.”
The US dissolved it’s alpine snowboarding program in 2010, after the last Winter Olympics. So rather than struggling to fund himself and his training — possibly through sleeping out of a Toyota Tundra living off of donations like US Olympian snowboarder, Justin Reiter — Vic split. Russia provided him with an opportunity he otherwise wouldn’t have had — a stark reversal of the way athletic defectors historically flow.
Though this goes far beyond athletics, it’s a trend that will define the world in this era: skilled professionals from all over the world are fleeing their countries in droves for better opportunities abroad. China is full of “defectors” — professionals from other countries who come here for better jobs and a higher standard of living. The country is packed with foreign engineers, architects, journalists, professors, supply chain managers, pilots, administrators, researchers, restaurateurs, merchandisers, office grunts, import/ export traders, consultants, and an army of miscellaneously educated individuals toiling as English teachers for lack of a better opportunity at home. The same is true of the other BRICS countries and many more lesser known developing countries around the world.
“We all come here for the same reason,” a Brazilian airline pilot said to me the other day, “the opportunity.”
Why work in a lower position for less money in your home country when you can go abroad and get a job worthy of your expertise, make more money, and ultimately live better?
I recently listened to a twenty something American guy trying to convince a group of Chinese people that there wasn’t any opportunities anymore in the USA. It was the typical “Obama’s shipping all our jobs abroad” crap that people tend to say no matter who the president is. They said the same about Bush, they said the same about Clinton, and they will say the same about the next guy that takes over. This isn’t a movement devised by any particular administration of any particular country, it’s the way it is everywhere. But this guy continued moaning on about how he has all the creds but couldn’t find a job as a teacher, and how nobody can get anywhere these days in America. He was a loafing drunk. I wouldn’t have hired the guy to teach kids based on his personality alone, and my people standards are fairly low.
I heard the same line from another young American guy about how couldn’t find a teaching job in NYC, but he had apparently rendered himself so dumb from habitual drug use that he couldn’t string together a coherent sentence, he kept repeating himself, and seriously asked me my name three times during our five minute conversation. He complained about his job teaching kindergarten in Shanghai, but it was my take that he should have been thankful that he could have even of gotten hired there.
A much sadder case was a young guy teaching English in China who had severe spectrum disorder or some other kind of psychological ailment. Although he had a masters degree in teaching but couldn’t find a job in his home country, but this probably had less to do with his creds than the way he engaged people.
All three of these guys were virtually unhireable in schools in the USA.
Though all three of these guys didn’t sit around lamenting their fates in the USA, they didn’t sit around moaning and groaning and working at Starbucks, they had the fortitude and insight to pack their bags and get out. They went overseas to where the jobs are. They came to China. One works as a biology teacher and the others teach English. They all receive decent paychecks and have the chance to “pad their resumes” for the next time they take a shot at the job market in their home country.
Just because someone is not successful doesn’t mean that they didn’t have the opportunity for success. A chance to get an education and training in a profession is no a guarantee that it will actually transpire. These three guys were able to get educations at US universities which enabled them to seek employment abroad and increase their chances for success. In a word, they were provided with opportunity.
What these guys did isn’t particularly difficult. I point out them out in particular because they didn’t seem to have any inherent traits or backgrounds that provided them with a leg up, so to speak. If I began telling the stories of the all the traders and tech specialists and business owners who have made a success of going abroad then it may seem as if they have something you don’t. These three guys I outline here are examples to say anybody can do this.
My sister got a masters degree to be a school psychologist, an occupation that each school district generally only hires one of. Upon graduating, her odds of finding a job in New York state, where she’s from, were nil. She sent out a few resumes, got called in to be a filler interviewee a couple of times, but it soon became clear that it just wasn’t going to happen. She didn’t mope around complaining about how the system failed her and how there wasn’t any opportunity. She didn’t give up and don the green apron. No, she extended her borders and began looking for work nationwide. She ended up selling her house and moving with her three kids to Montana, and now makes a good wage doing exactly what she spent years studying to do.
These stories are no longer those of exceptional people who pushed themselves to any exceptional lengths or the tales of travelers, but are the narratives of an increasing number of ordinary stiffs who must shift cities, states, and countries to build their professions. This is the world we now live in, and it’s far easier to change our paradigms than it is to change our reality.
And this is the moral of the story:
If you’re not prepared to pack your bags and go out and see what opportunity there is available for you then I have no idea how you can claim there isn’t any. That’s like doing an Easter egg hunt from a lawn chair. Sure, maybe there’s a golden egg sitting right under you, but I doubt it
The land of opportunity no longer begins or ends at the border of any political entity. “Opportunity” is global. The system isn’t broken, it’s just different. Mexicans, Chinese people, Indians, and Brazilians are going to the USA to seize opportunity, and Americans are going to Mexico, China, India, and Brazil for the same. What’s truly interesting here is that the flow of opportunity isn’t going into any single geographic node, it’s scattered worldwide. We now need to be ready to move, travel across the country, go across the planet to the places where our particular expertise is needed. Opportunity is out there, we just need to go to Xiamen, Dili, Bishkek, Astana, Whitefish, and Baku. The backwaters of yesterday are defining our world today, and these are the places that need talent.
Vic Wild didn’t quit because the USA couldn’t provide for him, he didn’t sit around moaning about how the Olympic committee cut his sport and how his dream was stricken from him. No, the guy just went to a country where he could do what he wanted. He won two gold metals, my sister makes a good living doing what she wants, and a mass of educated westerners are engaging in professions around the world that they never could have found at home.
Yes, it’s true, jobs are being shipped abroad but there is nothing that says that you can’t abroad too. Opportunity rarely just comes to anybody, we have to go out and find it — and the hunt will take many of us around the world.
If you find yourself in a rut, over-educated and underemployed, just leave, jut go. There is a whole world of opportunity out here.
Next post: The Myth of China’s Big and Crowded Cities
Previous post: Check Out These New Chinese Desks To Reduce Near-Sightedness