Fundamentally, I am against mediocrity because I know Finns are smart and more of them can become world leaders should the system support and reward ambition–Read: In Praise of Ambition, Entrepreneurship and Vision for Finland. This system is the current troubling Finnish macroeconomic and political environment; prevailing risk averse attitude in Finland–“The fear of success, and fear of failure”; and unnecessary bureaucracy when it comes to entrepreneurship in Finland.
I know however, that it is presumptuous–not to mention disrespectful–to assume that everybody is for change. Helsingin Sanomat ran a neutral commentary on this post, even though the said reporter published the article without first asking me for permission and also mis-spelt my name. I don’t think that is respectful at all.
All that being said– Why are YOU so affected by this post? Is the truth that unpleasant for you?
And guess what: due to austerity measures and planned cuts to Finnish university funding, Helsinki Sanomat reports that more and more ambitious Finnish academics are choosing to leave the country too.
UPDATE 19 May 2016: Read– “Finland can be for the ambitious: The 3 things I’d learnt from my interview with Peter Vesterbacka “.
Hey guys! Today I am going to blog an opinion piece on why ambitious foreigners/Finns should just leave Finland if they feel unhappy. This is as opposed to the alternative of trying to stay on to “fight for change”. You are hearing from a foreigner who heard many, many stories of other ambitious foreigners who fought, fought and fought but failed every single time, due to injustice or otherwise. I fought too, far less battles, but got really tired eventually.
Let’s start with a question: Have you ever seen any ambitious foreigner or Finn who are doing their own thing in Finland, and are wildly successful? Of course there are! But can these people be considered the norm, or the exception? And as exceptions, are these people constantly recycled as poster ambassadors to sell the concept, to both Finns and foreigners, of “Oh look, we are so international as One Finland?”
In fact, I’m currently of the opinion that if you are ambitious, you should just not even come to Finland. Go to some other countries that treat the ambitious better, such as Sweden, America, Singapore or Hong Kong. And as a relatively ambitious person, I’d take my own advice at this point in my life because I’m convinced that fighting for change in Finland is a waste of my time and youth.
So YES! When I finally graduate from Aalto University in 4 months I’d be going back to Singapore to work, to push for changes, to execute tons and tons of stuffs. A lot of my classmates don’t even turn up for school, having decided that they have better things to do, which I totally understand! Life is so much more than grades, especially when you are staying in such a beautiful country as Finland. As I am typing this, autumn leaves are falling zen-ly in the forest outside my house.
If I had learnt this sort of thinking earlier, I would also skip school to watch the pretty leaves fall with a cup of Juhla Mokka in my hands.
Don’t get me wrong– I’m grateful for the European experience while I am based in Finland: To be able to travel to countries with rich legacies Sweden, Norway, Italy, etc. I LOVE Norwegians! I stayed in Norway for 2weeks+. I love the fact that most Norwegians I’d met are pretty open-minded and kind hearted folks. I am grateful for the European worldview I now have, on top of my life experiences in Japan and Korea, that no amount of money can buy.
Also, I’m grateful for the chance to stay in Finland for 1+ years, to have met so many smart people in Finland, to witness for myself how some Finns live their lives, and to learn Finnish philosophy, history, arts and culture. Language, not so much, because I’m not that linguistically-inclined.
However, Aalto University did make me take an English test–in fact, it made ALL Asians take English tests while all EU folks are exempted, so that really made me feel that Asians are being slighted here.
I wrote in four times to tell the higher folks at Aalto how Asians in some previous British-colonies countries like Singapore/ India/ The Philippines are native English speakers, and they were like “Oh we didn’t know”. So it really did make me wonder if anything would be done about this issue, because nobody did explain to me why this rule was so.
This is an example of what I view as institutionalized discrimination. And also a strong example of how things in Finland make me feel that things never really change. To me, this is a simple rule related to language, and if such a simple rule never ever changes, it’s a probable indicator that bigger issues concerning foreigners is unlikely to change, too. I’m curious to see if this rule will ever be changed.
So I did grow up! Until I’m convinced that the Finnish system will change in the near future, I will urge ambitious folks to consider other options. For example, there is a viable alternative of bringing your business to Estonia, with their e-residency initiative.
I deviate. Let’s get back to the topic. By “ambitious’ I mean foreigners who want to:
- Dream big, execute big, and accomplish things in their career/ businesses;
- Want to compete based on meritocracy.
With that definition cleared, let’s begin!
In Finland, you got to go with the flow.
In general, in Finland there is a huge fear of failure. But what is usually counter-intuitive is this: there is a huge fear of success too.
Why? Because most Finns are nice people and they believe in equality.
Sure, you have the occasional crazy Finnish person who is refugee-hating and dresses up like KKK, but if Finns don’t believe in being equal, they will not be compassionate towards refugees. Finns can always delay the registration of refugees, or do some other tricks to make the refugees leave on their own accord, if they do hate refugees. But no, Finland is estimated to be taking 50,000 refugees this year alone. This shows that Finns have good hearts.
And let me just say that it is perfectly sound to fear success and failure simultaneously. This is because a Finn will then have incentive to do everything correctly. Which is gold for any business owners, and gold for a functioning society! Imagine this utopia where everything is done perfectly and everybody just does things according to their job scope: Nothing more, nothing less. You can just get off work on time, have a great work-life balance, live a slack life and watch leaves fall from trees.
I think it’s a really ideal life to have!
So–why on earth does the government even want to change this system? The reason is that the Finnish government is running out of money, and on debt. Fiscal debt is however, not necessarily always bad–it’s okay to borrow money to spend on education. It’s only bad when the government borrows money and spends on unemployed people who have no intention of work.
In short, long-term unemployment, and people who are eternally out of the workforce because they are not even looking for work, are a real problem to the Finnish economy.
So you see, the Finnish government already sensed that bad things are coming up because some people don’t really want to work, and faced with an aging population, they have to do something. However, if–as a local, you are used to a relaxed life all your life, why would you listen to the government, or even want to compete with foreigners who are more hardworking and vocal?
Look: If I were the Finn, I’d be feeling angry and intimidated by the ambitious foreigner.
And why would I as a Finn give priority to the foreigner even if the latter is more capable? It just doesn’t feel right–remember, it’s the foreigner who spoils “work-life balance”, who is more vocal and hungry. Who is to say that the foreigner won’t overtake me in future? And how about respect? If I were to promote the foreigner, what would other patriotic Finns think?
The war history doesn’t make it easier for Finns either–Why should you trust any capable and suspicious foreigner?! On the flipside, it’s a FACT that if you stay as a foreigner and get a job, you are indeed snatching the job away from a Finn, because jobs are already limited in the first place due to the prolonged recession.
Actually, is this phenomenon unique to Finland? I would say: Not! What is happening in Finland is happening in Japan too. It is extremely rare to have a foreigner on the board of directors on any Finnish/Japanese MNCs. This is normal and even logical. It is the responsibility of the government to attract foreigners, because obviously hardworking foreigners are good for the Finnish society.
You need to over-promise to attract foreigners into your country, to sell foreigners the dream of a Utopian city that is “equal”, and to market to them the delusion that they can eventually carve a fulfilling and exceptional career in Finland. The goal is to get ambitious foreigners into Finland, with them thinking that they can eventually enjoy fruits of their labour so that they work really hard, but the reality is that foreigners will always be treated as second-class residents in Finland.
Again, this is only logical. It is definitely not the responsibility of the government to ensure equal career progression of foreigners as compared to locals. In fact, governments and local firms should always put locals first, no matter how “equal” they claim to be.
“Equality” does not mean meritocracy. In the Finnish context, it means mediocrity.
So I’d say, if any foreigners want to just stay in Finland, it’s best to just live a slack life, enjoy the leaves, and make some coffee. Taking life easy IS a prerequisite to staying in Finland long-term as a foreigner. Maybe even for a Finn, too.
So if you’re an ambitious foreigner like me–just leave. Don’t fight, nobody appreciates it, and you’re just wasting your own life. Keep your sanity, bring your talent elsewhere, live a good life, and keep a good relationship with Finns! 🙂
If the average Finn wants to think that globalization is a choice instead of the inevitable, so be it. Always remember–behind every successful ambitious person is an entire eco-system which supports ambition. Most likely, you won’t be able to find this system in Finland. The system in Finland encourages mediocrity, not ambition. But mediocrity is okay, it can value-add society as well! There is no point imposing your views on the Finnish society because if even the Finns are OK with this, who are you as a foreigner to say otherwise?
Move on, do well, and keep strong ties with Suomi!