The famous quote by Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, “Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it…” fits the message in this article.

My simple cabinetmaker’s mind perceives from this quote that I can only access the treasure (knowledge) if I use the key (practice); the answer is to practice (doing) in order to access the knowledge, and that knowledge makes the doing effective.

My conclusion is that knowing and doing are so connected that one without the other makes them useless.

If I do more and more, without any knowledge, I will be running in circles like that dog that chases his own tail, going nowhere; and if I have the knowledge but I don’t practice it, I will frustrate myself to death wondering why, with all the things I know, I am not getting anywhere, especially when I see others with less knowledge going somewhere.

I have used this metaphor to lead into the story of a good friend of mine, who for privacy reasons we´ll call Massimo.

I met him when I served in the Italian Army, prior to becoming an immigrant. We lost contact for a while and connected again through social media about five years ago, when he told me that he wanted to immigrate to the US.

He was tired of working in Italy for 1000 Euros per month, he was well known in his town for his pizza-making skills, he was never out of work, but he felt he could make more money in another country without begging every month to be paid on time, which is kind of a cultural tradition in the south of Italy these days. He also wanted to feel more appreciated for his terrific skills.

I got really excited for him when he told me this. I shared with him about the positive transformation that the act of immigrating had allowed me to experience. I started to tell him of the huge opportunity that he was creating for himself now that he was going to be exposed to a new culture, new people, new habits; I told him that he could re-invent himself. My imagination started to go wild with him and it didn’t take me long to get his imagination going, too.

We thought about him running his own “pizzeria restaurant”, and he was enthusiastic about it.

We have stayed in touch during these past five years, and I have followed him from the exciting beginning until he gradually fell into the most common situation that many skilled immigrants encounter: they start making decent money working as an employee, then comes a mortgage, car payments, a family to support… They have lots of knowledge but they get stuck in a no-action mode, with lots of complaints but no doing!

With time, our chats have become less frequent – his monologues are all about how low the quality of food is in North America, claiming that half of the successful restaurants he knows would fail if they were operating in Italy. He goes on to say that if he was in charge of the restaurant where he works, he would have doubled the business, criticizing his employer´s ability to run it.

Massimo’s knowledge allows him to see what can be improved in the restaurant and in the industry he works in: he knows he has the information to bring his contribution to the next level, but he takes no effective actions! His “doing” is disconnected from his “knowledge”, there is a wall in between them! His bragging/criticizing behavior comes out of frustration; he doesn’t know there is this metaphoric wall, he does not know why he doesn’t take effective actions!

The last time I talked to him, I asked if he knew why he was not happy with his life as an immigrant, and his answer was quick: “I think I made a mistake, I should have gone to Canada where I would be more appreciated!” I said to myself, “Another victim of the knowing/doing wall…” What an illusion, thinking that changing countries again will make us change our results!

I need your attention now, my dear friend. I personally did not have Massimo´s “bad luck” (or “good luck”, depending on how you look at it), because I did not have any particular degree of knowledge in anything (my cabinetmaking skills were pretty average), but I have met many immigrants with tremendous technical and academic knowledge who get stuck just like Massimo, taking no meaningful actions.

I am sure that all of Massimo’s bragging, all his ideas on how the pizza industry could be improved and about the quality of the restaurants in North America, are very true and legitimate, but that’s definitely not enough!

I see many young Immigrants fresh out of the university with their degrees still very hot under their arms, coming from all over Europe and Asia. They arrive and confidently showcase their academic preparation, “apparently” superior to that of North Americans; they are not afraid of claiming that, where they come from, they had to work double that of an equivalent North American student for the same degree. I am not sure if it is true: I am not in a position to claim anything, since my university career only lasted three weeks.

What I do know, however, is that many of them go through the process of integration in their new country, find a decent job, sometimes not even in the industry related to their degree, and slowly start to behave like Massimo; the bills are getting paid, life “seems” better than “back home”, but inside them, a huge feeling of emptiness is gaining power.

So much knowledge, so much untapped potential! There is just a lot of sad shouting and criticizing (sometimes internal, and sometimes externalized) about the actions of those who are in charge, the “doing” of those who own the business; they criticize the people who have gotten where they wished to be; but no doing happens!

Why do so many of us Immigrants act like that?

As Immigrants, we have found many exterior obstacles that we need to deal with: the language, prejudice, discrimination, isolation and many others… these are all obstacles that we all need to deal with, and sooner or later, to a greater or lesser degree, we all eventually overcome them.

Where many of us really struggle is to break through that knowing/doing wall, which exists within us and not somewhere out there, outside us.

Our non-action is caused by our internal thermostat, the way we see ourselves; deep inside, we either don’t believe we can really reach that dream position or start that business, or even worse, we believe we don’t deserve that level of gratification: we think we are not good enough!

The tricky part is that these negative and untrue ideas that have been engraved on our young subconscious minds by our family and our culture don’t clearly manifest themselves for what they are, but hide dangerously behind ideas related to exterior obstacles, like: “I can never be in charge of the department because of my accent…”, “I can’t start the business if I don’t know lots of people”, or “If my brother had immigrated with me, we would have been running a successful business by now”.

We need to understand that all these exterior obstacles are not powerful enough to stop us from using the knowledge we bring with us.

Please remember, it is our distorted self-image that is the problem. We can’t see ourselves doing what we want to for two reasons:

  • We think we are not capable, despite our knowledge;
  • We don’t think we deserve it: we believe we are not worthy of success.


Look around, my fellow Immigrant; you will see many people around you with less knowledge but more self-love and confidence, doing and having what you want!

Don’t envy them, nor resent them, and don’t even copy what they are doing, because you don’t need to; what you need to do is to understand how they see themselves.

That may be the only thing you need to break through the knowing/doing wall.

Do you want to be the owner of a pizzeria like the one you work in? Act like you are… work there pretending that it is your Pizzeria; magically the knowing/doing wall will collapse, and every move you will make will be a step closer to your dream…



Stay awake,


Frank Silletti.