Alex Hazlehurst’s anecdote isn’t everything. Neither is yours.
The New Zealand Herald published an article by a young Kiwi professional on Monday, detailing her struggles finding work in Britain. The article’s author, Alex Hazlehurst, was roundly criticised—belittled, even—on both mainstream and social media. The Herald published several pieces by responding authors.
This is all very dumb. Of course Ms Hazlehurst was mistaken to think she would walk into a job in London. But that was the whole point of her piece. She wrote to warn her compatriots of something that she learnt the hard way, and that, well… a lot of us already knew, or could have guessed.
None of this justifies the mocking that has come about on social media since. Perhaps she did feel entitled, perhaps her expectations were too high, and perhaps, unlike responding author Claire Nelson, she was misinformed. But a lot of people are wrong about a lot of things a lot of the time. We should cut some slack for this; the question is whether they realise they’re wrong when confronted with evidence. Ms Hazlehurst concluded that she “got a very large reality check” in her time in Britain. It seems like she’s learnt her lesson.
More concerning is the tendency for others to rebut her claims with their own anecdotes, as if they are somehow more canonical than Ms Hazlehurst’s. That’s the thing about anecdotes though: they’re not data. No anecdote, on its own, is any more valid than any other anecdote. People who self-righteously lecture Ms Hazlehurst about how they “worked hard” or “didn’t expect anything” have no higher claim on the expat story than her or anyone else.
Even if the plural of anecdote were data, statistics don’t apply to the individual. No two people face exactly the same circumstances; Ms Hazlehurst’s are no less unique. Some of her struggle was her own imperfections, to be sure, but anyone honestly reflecting on their career knows that luck plays a part.
That said, while anecdotes should be taken with a grain of salt, they offer us something data don’t: an insight into the experiences and thoughts of those who live them. For anyone thinking of moving to Britain, the perspectives of Mses Hazlehurst and Nelson, and Mark Hucke, are all worth reading. Those who come after them might experience parallels or something entirely different, or somewhere in between. One thing I’ve learnt since my undergraduate degree is that you can’t just statistics your way through career progression. For things other than aggregate market trends, anecdotes are often all you’ve got to work with. Many will contradict each other, but all will shed just a little more light on what you might do.
I don’t know what it’s like to move to Britain and start looking for work. I’ve never tried it. I’m generally happy to engage in critiques of empirical or moral assertions. Ms Hazlehurst’s article was neither: she was merely recounting her experience to date. Those with competing anecdotes—and those without!—would do well to keep that in mind. If you’re going to “offer” her any advice, at least be encouraging about it.