Raj Subrameyer: “Increase visibility”

From a young age, our families, friends, and education system force us to confine to certain rules, standards, and policies that they think define success. But, with Gen Y and Gen Z (sometimes referred to as “Millennials” and “Zoomers” respectively), we are seeing a growing trend where people are not afraid to dream big, do […]

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From a young age, our families, friends, and education system force us to confine to certain rules, standards, and policies that they think define success. But, with Gen Y and Gen Z (sometimes referred to as “Millennials” and “Zoomers” respectively), we are seeing a growing trend where people are not afraid to dream big, do incredible things, and challenge the status quo. No wonder we have more startups than ever before, which are solving complex problems we once thought could never be solved.

Seeing the new generation of entrepreneurs makes me incredibly optimistic about how we are progressing as a society.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raj Subrameyer, Owner and CEO of ChaiLatte Consulting. He is an international keynote speaker, author, and tech career coach who helps people to land their dream job and become successful leaders. He is helping countless individuals discover their zone of genius and leverage it to live a life that they love. In his spare time, he loves traveling with his family and discovering new experiences, including craft beer. You can connect with him on twitter @epsilon11, or his website www.rajsubra.com.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Raj! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the southern part of India in a conservative middle-class family. My dad grew up poor but worked hard to support not only my family but also his parents and siblings. My mom was an English teacher, and after their marriage, she took on the critical role of a homemaker, bringing my brother and me up. I am the youngest of two kids.

I am grateful that my parents did everything they could to give my brother and me the best possible life and education. I still practice the principles that my dad instilled in me — hard work, dedication, generosity, and the courage to handle any obstacles that come my way.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?

From a young age, I developed this inferiority complex that I was not good enough. This was partly because of my childhood upbringing; where my dad was insanely smart, my brother was a genius, and there I was the average kid who did not do well in academics.

I endlessly compared myself to the overachievers around me and was under pressure to emulate them. This also led to a constant feeling within me that I was dumb, I was not good enough, I did not matter, and I was never going to be successful in life. I was the average Joe, (well, in India, the average “Raj” since that’s one of the most common names) and focusing on academics was not really my thing. I had other interests and passions such as playing outdoor sports, hanging out with friends and asking questions about things I did not understand (I was never really into indoor games, including video games; yes, I am a rare exception for being a nerd). Also, where I come from in southern India, it is not popular or accepted to ask questions. You need to follow things as they are; because of pressure from family, culture, and society. You get reprimanded if you challenge the status quo.

All this constant comparison to the high performers around me and getting rebuked for asking questions made me feel like an outcast. I developed social anxiety, fear of rejection, and shut myself out from other people. Outside, I acted as if everything was normal, but inside, I was engulfed with frustration, anger, sadness, and confusion about my life and identity. I was going through low self-esteem, high self-doubt, and severe body image issues. I used food as a coping mechanism for social pressures and was ridiculed for my weight and appearance throughout my life.

The trigger event happened during my second year of my undergraduate. I still remember this vividly; I was in my room and reflecting on my life. My chest was pounding as if I was getting a heart attack. I was tired of living within a shell, and my body and mind were struggling to break free. Then it happened — 20 years of living a life in false identity, killing myself internally to please others around me, yearning for validation from others that I was good enough, not being able to be myself and do things which I felt was right for me; all these feelings that had bottled up within me exploded. I cried for two hours straight, wondering what I needed to do next. I wanted to do something that would give me purpose and meaning in life, and I aspired to find my true passion and identity. This was when I decided that I am good enough; I matter; I can strive for greatness, and I can carve my own identity. I declared power over my life.

There were two things I wanted to change about myself: 1) Get rid of my anxiety and fear of rejection when speaking to people, and 2) Pursue my true passion and career path (after finding out what it was, of course). To tackle my first obstacle, I started participating in cultural events, making new friends, and inserting myself into awkward conversations with family and friends. This forced me to get out of my comfort zone. Also, I started doing part-time jobs to meet new people, learn life skills, and interact with people. I took this new mindset with me throughout the rest of my undergraduate years and entered the corporate environment in 2006. In the next four years, I worked my butt off to learn everything I could and said yes to every opportunity that came my way. I kept an open mind and found mentors and coaches to help me grow and discover my passion. This was when I realized that I love collaborating with people and finding solutions to help others.

After graduating, I took up a job in a field called software testing (a field dedicated to investigating and providing feedback about the quality of a software product or service). It was a new “hot” field back then but did not pay much. I had no idea what the job was about but knew it was in the IT space, which was the field I wanted to get into.

Since there weren’t that many successful software testers at my company at that time, I took it as an opportunity to excel at my job. I was open to every opportunity that came my way and even volunteered to do jobs other people did not want to do just to get introduced to more people in the company. All this effort paid off when I was rated a star performer in many of the following years that I worked at that first company. This role also helped me figure out that I wanted to do specialization and join a master’s program, and eventually led to my relocation to the United States in 2008 to pursue my Master’s in Software Engineering.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

Coming to the United States was definitely an adjustment for me, both from a cultural and career standpoint.

In fact, here is a funny incident that happened to me to highlight my first culture shock I experienced when I arrived in the United States. I land at JFK airport in New York City. I get out of the gate, and a guy passes me and asks, “How is it going?”. I reply saying, “I am doing good. I just landed from India….” but before I could continue, he continued on his way without acknowledging me. I keep walking toward the baggage claim, and another woman passes me and says, “How is it going?”. This time I say, “I am good; I just landed from India…” and once again, this woman keeps going without saying a word or acknowledging me. Finally, I get out of the airport and another woman, about 30 years of age, passes me and says, “How is it going?”. This time, I really wanted to let her know how it really was going (since I’ve already started twice and been ignored). So, I started, “I am doing good. My name is Raj. I just landed. I came here to do my Masters…..” and kept walking with her while talking. Then, she turned to me with a frown on her face and said, “Weirdo”. That was my first experience in the United States. Only later did I discover that no one actually cares when they say, “How is it going?” in the United States. Apparently, it is a cultural thing, and many people use that phrase just to acknowledge your existence and as a quick greeting. Yup, it was a culture shock to me. I had many similar experiences throughout my life in the USA.

But the biggest highlight that happened to me, that changed the trajectory of my life was when I started looking for jobs. I came to the United States on August 31st, 2008. Then on September 9th, 2008, Lehman Brothers — one of the largest financial firms — had its shares plunge by 45%, and in a couple of days, they filed for bankruptcy. This was the largest bankruptcy filing in US history, as the company held about $600 billion in assets. The incident officially marked the start of the 2008 recession, and companies quickly followed in its footsteps. I had come to the United States with big dreams, and within a week those dreams were crushed with the recession. Getting jobs was going to prove to be really hard, especially for non-US citizens who did not have work permits, like me. I came to the USA on a student visa, and I would need a company to sponsor my work permit to legally work in the USA. Unfortunately, none of the companies had the money or time to sponsor work permits, and even US citizens were finding it hard to get jobs.

I had come to study first, then work. So, I decided to continue my master’s program and figure things out as the days passed by (or, using a new-to-me American idiom, I’d cross that bridge when I got there). In 2009, I started wondering — what would my life look like after I graduated? If I wanted to stay in the United States, I had to figure out a way to get a job at a company willing to sponsor my work visa. Was this just a far-fetched dream? Or did I have what it takes to ride the wave? All these thoughts were going through my mind; meanwhile, I was still taking my courses and trying to ace them.

By mid-2009, half of my class, who were international students, decided to head back home after graduation. It all came down to two choices- 1) Go home and find a job in my native country, or 2) Do whatever it takes to try to get a job and stay in the United States. I chose the second option.

I started applying for work in large numbers. When I say, “large numbers,” I mean I applied to 1,293 positions from mid-2009 until the beginning of 2010. Guess how many callbacks I received after applying for that many jobs? The correct answer is FOUR — 0.3%! Yes, I said that right, I got callbacks from four companies who were willing to talk to me. Out of those four calls, guess how many I converted? I got ONE job offer, and it was an internship, NOT a full-time position. During this time, you could do an internship on a student visa and extend your stay in the US for the duration of the internship. Since I could not think of any other option to continue my stay, I took up the internship. Then I worked my butt off and attended different campus recruitment events in parallel. Finally, another company was interested in my experience, one thing led to another and I landed a full-time job after six months at the internship.

That one decision I made of riding the wave and doing whatever it took to get a job finally paid off, and it significantly changed my life. Fast-forwarding to 2020, I am an international keynote speaker and have my tech career coaching and speaking business. I have transformed countless people’s personal lives and careers through my experiences, coaching, speaking, and writing.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

There are so many kind and generous people who played an important role in my success and well-being in the United States. It is hard to name everyone in this interview.

But one-person worth mentioning here who changed my life is my wife Carlene Subrameyer. I met her in 2011 at a Salsa dance school when I lived in Cleveland, Ohio. We had similar interests — food, beer, traveling, and exploring new cultures. Once we started dating, I was open to learning about different idiosyncrasies from her as she is a well-traveled person. At my request, she helped me Americanize my accent, which helped polish the way I pronounce words (which is important as I speak for a living), taught me different nuances about the US culture, and helped me adapt to the environment and make me feel at home.

There is a saying, “When in Rome do as the Romans do” which is attributed to — Saint Augustine. I firmly believe adopting this policy helps to make things more manageable. It also helps to make you adapt quickly to any environment.

So how are things going today?

The one thing I learned from my experience in 2008 looking for jobs is, “Fortune favors the bold,” as Virgil once said; you may not be able to control the circumstances around you, but fear and scarcity can help you find opportunities that you may otherwise not discover if you are living a cushy and comfortable life.

Over the past 15 years, I learned different strategies that have transformed my life from having an entry-level job to building a six-figure business. In 2009, I applied for 1293 jobs to get one job. In 2011, I spent $3000 of my own money to go to a software conference, this is where the seed to become a speaker was planted. In 2013, I gave my first conference session after practicing for 7 months and doing 23 trials runs of my talk. In 2016, I lost 50 pounds in 6 months (and have kept it off since). In a 4-month stretch in 2017, I read over 50 books and listened to 150 podcasts which led to a transformational experience. Also, in 2017, I decided to start my own business. In 2020, I am publishing my first book on career advancement.

I have transformed my life from a shy introverted kid into an international keynote speaker, writer and coach. This goes to show that opportunities here in the US are endless. We need to put in the effort, show up every day, and be consistent.

Today, I continue to work on my career coaching, speaking, and writing business, through which I am impacting as many people as possible. I currently coach VP’s, CEO’s, CTO’s, Directors, Managers and Leads who are looking to advance their career in leadership roles.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My mission is to impact as many people as possible to help them lead better lives through my speaking, writing, coaching, and experiences. To stay true to that mission, I help to impact the world through the following ways:

  1. As part of my daily job, I help people who are stuck in their careers, navigating a difficult time in their life, afraid to take a leap due to the fear of the unknown, and/or are lacking any combination of confidence, time, clarity, and motivation. I help to shift their mindset and lead them to start believing in themselves through various approaches. This helps to transform their lives and those of the people around them
  2. I share a variety of motivational content in social media to inspire other people to help lead better lives, and contribute to society
  3. Finally, I volunteer and donate a considerable portion of my time and money to help other people in need.

You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?

I can definitely speak to this as I have been through a variety of different immigration paths. First, I came to the US as a student on an F-1 visa, and then later had to transition into multiple other visas to work here legally. After becoming eligible, I was able to apply for my permanent residency card (Green Card), and finally passed the naturalization process and exam to become a US citizen in 2019. The entirety of my experience with immigration has been a cumbersome, confusing, and expensive process, to say the least.

I will readily admit that I am not an expert in immigration policies or have studied law, but the following are my suggestions from my experiences, especially since there is a huge potential for change in the US immigration system.

There are three things I would like to change to improve the current immigration system and they are as follows:

1. Increase visibility

There should be a way to have more visibility into this entire process. Currently, once you apply for a work permit, green card, or anything related to the immigration system, the process seems to be a big black box. You get only basic updates such as applications submitted, in review, reviewed, processed, and completed. But no one knows why when you submit two similar kinds of applications, one could finish processing in three months or the other could take five years. The only thing we can do during these times is: wait.

If your application is rejected, there is often no clear information on why that happened, and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening next time. For example — I know people who had all the credentials, experiences, and who clearly met the requirements to get H1-B visas (work permits), and their application was rejected. So, everything seems to be a little random currently, and it would be great if there is a set process in place, and the government increases visibility into the process to help people.

2. A revamped Green Card processing system

One of the dreams of any immigrant coming to the US is to get a Green Card so that they can live the American Dream without any restrictions in life (such as being able to stay in the US for 10 years at a time; not requiring sponsorship from employers). But getting to this point is a tedious process. This is especially true if you are from a country with a large applicant pool, such as China or India. There are more green card requests from these countries than any other, and more people are immigrating into the US for pursuing higher studies, and legally work here from these places. Currently, there is a huge backlog for getting the Green Card if you are from either of these two countries. So, most people I know from these countries are waiting for 15 years or more to get their green card based on what category they apply for.

This is not the same case for people from other countries, where fewer people are applying for green cards, and they get it at a much faster rate — sometimes within a year.

Something that could help is to come up with a system where certain people do not have to wait too long to get a green card just because there are a lot of people applying for them from a particular country. Maybe, just have one common pool and process the Green Card on a first-come-first-serve basis? Provided they meet all the requirements.

3. Change our mindset about immigrants

Some people think immigrants are stealing other people’s jobs or do not deserve equal rights as others because they weren’t born here. We forget that immigrants founded the United States. Some of our founding fathers were immigrants who wrote the Constitution. Some of the best inventions in our everyday life were from immigrants, and some of the most successful people we know in various industries are immigrants. They help to boost our economy by creating more jobs and also giving back to the community.

So, instead of coming up with sanctions preventing them from living a decent life here, we need to encourage and welcome them. This starts by changing our mindset about immigrants and accepting them for who they are. Part of that is also knowing the complexity of the immigration system, and understanding the many different paths, processes and subprocesses which take place to be here. Anecdotally, my wife and her extended family (all American-born US citizens) did not know very much about the immigration system until they met me, and were shocked by the amount of time, effort and money it took for me to go through each step of the process.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

There are always opportunities

Douglas MacArthur once said, “There is no security on this earth; there is only opportunity.”. If there is one thing COVID-19, the 2008 recession, September 11th, and other tragic incidents and circumstances have taught us is, there is no security on this earth. There is always going to be a curveball that is going to hit you hard, knock you to the ground, and make you start all over again. But there are so many opportunities in the US, especially if you’re willing to work hard and get out of your comfort zone, that you can get back up and march forward.

This is what we have done as a society time and again, although we do not realize it. We have great technology; support systems; mentors and coaches; and advancement programs that can help anyone get a second, third, or more chance. So, remember that this land is filled with opportunities, and it is waiting for us to grab them.

Find your purpose

Everyone has a gift. We are put on this Earth for a reason. It is our responsibility to explore these gifts and figure out what makes us who we are. Discover what helps to make an impact on your and other people’s lives. You will fail, but don’t let that stop you, instead learn from that experience and pivot. Find what gives you meaning in life.

Carve your own identity

Society is going to tell you “do this thing,” “do that thing,” “this is what you are capable of,” and much more. Don’t let that form your identity. You know what is best for you. It is tangled in your mind. You have to unravel it gradually and find your own identity.

Be a giver

In the book Give and Take, Adam Grant discussed how the most successful people we know were givers and not takers. A giver is a person who helps others without expecting anything in return. They put others’ interests ahead of their own. A taker will help you out in return for a favor. They have to take care of themselves first before helping others.

I was a taker when I initially started in the IT industry. Whenever I helped people, I expected something in return. If they did not reciprocate my help, I used to get hurt, develop anger towards them, and sometimes be vindictive. Only after a few years did I realize how helping others is the only way to progress through work and life. I felt ashamed for my previous actions and decided to make a change shortly after. Since that shift, I have gone out of my way to help others in need, not because I will get something in return, but because we are human. Gratitude, generosity, and compassion are what makes us move forward.

“If you’re not making someone else’s life better, then you’re wasting your time. Your life will become better by making other lives better.” — Will Smith

I reframed my mindset, deciding that I wanted to impact and help people. Once I started using this focus in my work, I got a lot more satisfaction from my job, since I saw other people thrive because of my impact. Any recognition I earned were happy byproducts of my work, but not the focus.

It is never too late to make a change

I had developed a false image of myself throughout my childhood, thinking I was not enough; I did not matter; I was dumb; and I will always be a shy, introverted kid with no ambitions. Once I decided to take control of my life, purpose, mission, and vision, my life drastically changed. It all started with small gradual changes; luckily, I realized, it is never too late to make this shift.

Remember “We all have two lives, the 2nd one starts when we realize we have only one” — Confucius.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

  1. Advancement in Technology

Almost every day, we hear about some start-up company coming up with a disruptive technology that could impact our lives positively. All this advancement in technology will help us lead better lives and help accelerate our growth.

2. Community

If there is one positive take away from all the violence and injustice happening in the US, it is the power of community. It is amazing to see people from different races, cultures, and religions, joining together to fight for a common cause. They are not forced to do anything but do it anyway to show that we stand for something bigger than ourselves and encourage us to co-exist in a diverse environment.

3. More entrepreneurs

From a young age, our families, friends, and education system force us to confine to certain rules, standards, and policies that they think define success. But, with Gen Y and Gen Z (sometimes referred to as “Millennials” and “Zoomers” respectively), we are seeing a growing trend where people are not afraid to dream big, do incredible things, and challenge the status quo. No wonder we have more startups than ever before, which are solving complex problems we once thought could never be solved.

Seeing the new generation of entrepreneurs makes me incredibly optimistic about how we are progressing as a society.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

One of the biggest influences in life is Steve Jobs. His story, vision, creativity, and the effort he committed to his strive for greatness, has inspired me. Of those I can meet today, my inspiration in life is Lewis Howes (a lifestyle entrepreneur who is most well-known for his podcast “The School of Greatness”).

I respect and admire his humility, mission to impact people, and openness to learning from other great leaders and influencers worldwide. His podcast played a major influence in my entrepreneurial life, and his yearly summit is a fantastic community experience, which is hard to put in words. It is an experience that you can feel only when you are there. He is an unbelievable human, and someday I would like to have influence like him, being able to make an impact by helping people.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My hangout spot is LinkedIn (@rajsubra) and Twitter (@epsilon11). All my life’s work can be found on my website — www.rajsubra.com.

I love connecting with people, so hit me up!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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