Changing Lanes

It’s tough being a migrant, says Alida Raubenheimer-Coetzer, who describes immigration as a multi-faceted assault on a person’s emotions, body, intellect and finances.

Age has always been just a number. An historic time-line of a life lived. It does not indicate the level of living or the extend of the successes or failures in that life. It’s merely a measuring tool for human stories that unfold across years, months, minutes and sometimes seconds.

When you change lanes or shift gears for a complete life and career restart at 46, it’s the actual number that suddenly impacts your thinking. In truth today in my world, it seems extremely old. Surrounded by millennials running the world, it’s hard to figure out how to fuel new dreams. A taxing challenge when everything around you is suddenly foreign.

Changing lanes started out as an adventure to spend quality time with my family. Have a little more opportunity to impact and direct the lives of my teenage boys. A bid to try and be present in the now.

So, we planned, we dreamed and we packed up and bade Africa farewell. The journey to our new foothold in the land of the Long White Cloud took just short of two days. Across my heartland and the continent of my forefathers into the Middle East, with a fleeting stop in Bangkok, through Sydney and into a new world of smiles and time and warmhearted people. (Note – the time-warp flying into the future, meant missing Christmas Day 2016 in its entirety.)

Setting foot onto this island of opportunity and dreams was a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation, challenge and a serious need for grit.

Not taking away who I am at heart, the process however managed to squash me into an uncomfortable new box labelled immigrant.

Ask anyone sharing my box, it’s tough. Really tough. Immigration is a multi-faceted assault on a person’s emotions, body, intellect and finances and I have to agree with the humanitarian activist, Dan Palotta’s statement that in the frenzy of reaching our dreams we are sometimes so fixated on the future, that it destroys our ability to be present for our lives right now.

Starting at zero, 2017 has been the catapult for a new career and the foundation for building support networks. The first reality check came in the realisation that my 25-year background in broadcast media and journalism now only enhances who I am, it does not enable my possibilities or my career opportunities.

My CV has been called too boastful, my demeanour is apparently limited to a so-called Tall Poppy and my work experience worthless without Kiwi knowhow and insight.

To add fuel to the fire of frustration – doing online job applications meant ticking the work visa box which is, I have since found out, the very first criteria to buffer and stop the application process.

It was several months and many versions of my CV later that, thanks to an advertising glitch and a bit of luck a temp agency opened the door to start my chance at a Kiwi-work-life.

They contracted me for a variety of different office jobs across Auckland, from the weather service to a French wine maker, a stint at a renowned accounting firm, two days at the ports authority and currently a position in adult learning and education with IMNZ. Nothing however resembling the industries I am familiar with. A humbling new beginning with more personal growth in nine months, than I could possibly have expected.

Along with a new career path came the challenge of understanding the millennials and Kiwi English which seems to have had a total metamorphosis. The extravagant grandeur of this new, very spectacular new vernacular seems to be the breeding ground for a buzz-word driven 21st-century.

These are a comfort to the young, but an uncertain crevasse that continuously trips me up. Words such as bae, EQ, AI and woke are the new heartbeats of everyday work-life survival.

How did I not notice the coming-of-age of applications that now by-pass everything I used to be capable of effectively doing manually? What about the software that seems to be so much more hands-on than I will ever be again? After some months in this new career lane, what have I learned?

  • That people and relationships are the most important building blocks in life.
  • That you don’t need to know everything to be able to learn new things.
  • That I am so much more resilient than what I gave myself credit for.
  • That a new culture and a new work ethic are amazing frontiers for selfdiscovery.
  • No matter the country or the job, the common denominator is always me.
  • Never lose your sense of humour or your passion for humanity.
  • It is never too late.

The bottom-line, apart from becoming the best-damned Kiwi I can, is to future-proof the start-over-bebetter me. That, however, is definitely not embedded in a so-called work-life-balance. That in itself is, in my opinion, an archaic way of trying to proactively live, suffer and be happy at the same time. It’s also not built into a job title or an identity box.

If I am to believe entrepreneurs like Jim Rohn, we are no more than the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Sadly, that’s rarely family, friends or loved ones. It’s mostly our colleagues and clients who we end up spending most of our waking hours with.

The diversity in the IMNZ team, due to both age and ethnicity, has created conversations, perceptive responsiveness and inspiration to empower my understanding of myself.

As much as diverse cultures can be intimidating, they tend to forge a new-found curiosity and fascination with possibility that can establish a platform to experience and learn.

Writing this article has been a reminder that, like the acute need for business to embrace change and become crisis-prepared to survive and thrive in the modern age, I too have to be ready.

The way forward is to build on my new expertise and to utilise the tools I have access to, to ensure the sustainability of my own self-management and continued resilience.

“Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself,” said Thomas J. Watson Sr.

Introspection is a new friend that I use to measure all my yesterdays. It even sits in contemplation of a long list of regrets. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton once asked: “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?”

New Zealand has established so much more of me. I am, without a doubt no one in particular, but everything in my own world.


Alida Raubenheimer-Coetzer is business support coordinator at IMNZ (aka director of first impressions) and has more than 22 years experience in broadcasting. She describes herself as South African with a Kiwi-heart.

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