From an interview with Vivek Duggal
Vivek Duggal is a seasoned marketing communications professional—a consummate ad guy, with over 18 years agency experience in India and Dubai, including leading a team of 25 at one of India’s largest agencies. When he decided to come to Canada just over three years ago, he imagined himself carrying on in the same kind of role as a senior client services person on the agency side. His journey was one of discovery and reinvention. Vivek discusses the differences, challenges, and opportunities he encountered in Canada and how advice from mentors and a military mantra of perseverance helped him land successfully in a place he didn’t expect.
I came to Canada because I wanted a change of landscape and to start a new life. It was a leap of faith and I’m glad I took the plunge. I’ve always wanted to experience life here. Part of it is the physical distance from India, and the difference in life that it would present. While I considered the U.S., Canada was more feasible. Canada is more open in many ways. That’s what my perception was and I’m glad to say that in this case: perception absolutely mirrors reality.
I filed my application through Express Entry, expecting to get in through the Federal Skilled Workers stream. But I was turned down because I did not have enough points. I was really sad when that happened, but then I got an invitation through the Ontario Immigration Nominee Program – pure fluke! I knew that most of the advertising industry is centred in Toronto, and so I felt very fortunate. I remember thinking, “Somebody up there likes me.”
I had a permanent resident (PR) card, but that’s all I had when I landed here. From there, life begins. The process is really about finding your place and settling down in life, which of course, is the first hurdle you face—general disorientation. Everything is brand new. My wife and I are both widely-travelled people. She was a flight attendant with the national airline back home and has seen the world; I’d lived in Dubai for a couple of years and traveled a lot for work. So, I felt like moving to this new place would not be such a big deal and that we could do it.
Once we got here, we realized it’s actually a process of getting your bearings: from where to work to where to get your groceries, to where to live, to figuring out what to wear to the office and to how people relate to each other. Everything is different.
The first six months can be a struggle
I had this notion that I would apply to relevant roles, try really hard to connect with people and that would make the difference. People would tell me, “You have to apply to 10 organizations a day.” But that didn’t happen. There weren’t 10 marketing-comms jobs every single day. I remember sitting in my building’s party room applying for jobs. I tweaked my resume to fit every job posting—nearly 400 job applications.
The lack of responses, the rejections, and so many interviews, including a couple of instances where I seemed to go through five or six rounds and then the prospective employers would simply disappear. It would get me mad and I started feeling bad about Canada.
Luckily, I had mentors, newcomers, and people born and raised here who advised me, “You have to keep going on, because this is not a unique experience. This is not about you. This is not the country conspiring against you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve submitted 400 applications. Nobody responded? No problem. Figure out what’s wrong with your applications, how you can network, who you can speak with. Something is going to work out.”
Reinventing yourself is the biggest challenge
Each stage feels like the biggest challenge, but once you get past them, you realize that reinventing yourself is actually the biggest challenge. Without reinventing yourself, you’re not going to be able to find a job in your preferred field. Because I had made this move at the age of nearly 40, I knew I had to work in advertising or communications. I didn’t really have the time to pick up a sustenance job.
Reinvention could mean short-term education, not just to recalibrate your learning, but also to understand the culture and build your network. When you’re part of a classroom, you attend for four weeks, eight weeks or six months, whatever. Not only are you learning and picking up skills, but you’re also learning social skills. You’re understanding how people relate to each other, and making connections. This is all part of reinvention. And the only way you can allow it to happen, is to turn up. You’ve got to keep turning up every single day, get up, dress up, turn up, and then the rest of it will eventually work out.
I used to keep saying, “I have 18 years of solid experience, and it’s been six months and I haven’t got a job.” Then I realized that those 18 years got me to this point, but maybe something different is needed to carry me forward from here. Maybe I need to take a few steps back and treat this as a run up before the long jump.
Bash on regardless
My first professional experience was when I entered the Indian Military as a 19 year old. I remember my instructors would always say, “Bash on, regardless.” It seems like such a cliche, but when things get really tough, when the fight is really intense, and you know it’s about to come to an end, if you give up at that point, you’re going to lose. So we lived by those words. We bashed on.
And I’m glad that the mentors and military voices from my past kept playing in my head at the right time. “Bash on, regardless” is what I would tell any newcomer for the simple reason that you’ve journeyed here across thousands of miles for a particular reason. You haven’t just come here to struggle for a few months and then run away from it. Things are going to fall in place, if you allow them to.
From part-time gig to full-time role to a brand new career
My first job here was a part-time consulting gig with an agency in downtown Toronto. I was going in a couple of days a week for a few months, and it was a great start! Then a full-time opportunity presented itself. I was hesitant because the agency didn’t work with the kind of brands I was passionate about. But my partner told me, “Nothing doing, you’re getting a full-time gig. It’s in advertising and you’re not starting all over again as an account executive. It’s a good job.”
I had a foot in the door and she helped push me through it. And I’m so glad she did. I worked at the agency for a little over a year and learned a great deal about the Canadian work culture. It helped me settle into professional life here and understand how people treat one another. People are respectful of your personal space and I sensed a better work life balance, overall. I owe them for giving me my first gig and first full-time job in Canada.
From there, I got an awesome break and landed my current role as MarComm (Marketing Communications) Manager. I’m still in the business of advertising and marketing, assessing business needs and crafting communication packages to support them. In doing so, I get to work with a host of different advertising agencies, only now I am the client. I’ve worked on some excellent campaigns with some great colleagues and creative people and I’m really enjoying it.
What do I find surprising about Canada?
I love answering this question because it forces me to appreciate how much I’ve got here. The one thing which really struck me was the very palpable community spirit. Whether it is about just extending a helping hand to others, or even helping community businesses and entrepreneurs around us, there is that sense of community.
If you live in a certain neighbourhood, you’re a part of it. It may just be because you happen to live in that neighborhood, but you belong. You’re part of the community. Of course, it’s not as if everybody’s a great friend of yours, but there is a real community spirit which is amazing.
Also, I don’t know whether it’s the size of the place, but it just feels like Canada is a land of abundance. There is just so much here for everybody, which is a big nod to the giving spirit of Canadians and how open they are to people who are new to the country. I think it’s wonderful.
Enjoy the journey
I don’t know where my path will take me. I have no idea. But the past three and a half years have been an amazing journey. I am not a person who has defined goals like buying a car and then buying a house. I don’t have these boxes to check, or a specific timeline to follow. But I can say that I’m enjoying the ride.
I am so happy that my family is happy here, especially my daughter—she loves it! She and her mom are visiting India now for a couple of months, and they’re already missing Canada. So I think something’s working.