I never took a survey that I gave a second thought about. That was until a few weeks ago. I received an email from my job, asking me to fill out a 2-minute survey on my plans upon contract completion. I figured it would be a no-brainer. Whatever I put isn’t set in stone. They just want to get some statistics for the next hiring season. As I made my way through the check boxes, my mind got to pondering. Damn, what the hell do I really want to do when March arrives? Stay out here? Move to Tokyo? Go home? A whole new set of worries and thoughts were slowly becoming visible. It was that crap I threw into the basement of my brain. But waiting ‘til March to do Spring cleaning just wasn’t an option. I had 11 days.
Every one of those eleven days I received an email regarding my progress on the survey. Each one a little more personal, a little more urgent. On the 11th day, I finally decided to clean up the basement. What are my next steps? What do I have to do to get there? My stream of thought went something like this:
- Is teaching in Japan something I want to do for the rest of my Life?
- Is living in Japan something I want to do for a little bit?
- Yes, 1-2 years at the very least
- Will living in Ryugasaki help me make the transition to the next journey in life?
- Teaching is definitely helping me build confidence in communication. But I’m not able to make the connections I need to be making in order to enter the next phase of the journey. When I lived in Tokyo, making connections was so easy. I found people doing what I wanted to do, or knew someone who was. I live in the country now. There aren’t much writers, artists, musicians, actors, directors, bloggers, journalists…not much of anyone doing things in the realm of media and communication. I need to be in or near a big city. I need to be back in Tokyo.
Sifting through all my thoughts, cleaning up the basement. Now there was finally some order and clarity. It only made sense that I express my interest in a transfer to the greater Tokyo area. Done. Click…survey complete. Time to enjoy the weekend.
Sometime the following week, I received a call in the evening from my branch manager. I was out at D2 (a Wal-Mart like department store), looking for a toaster oven. (Can you believe a breakfast lover like me has been going this long without toast?!?) Well, we’re talking. My manager is a great communicator. He’s personal, but still keeps his distance. He speaks to you like a friend, putting you at ease before he gets to the business of the phone call. Being a student of communication myself, whenever I speak with great, uhh speakers, I kind of let my guard down and let them run the show. (In the back of my mind I’m secretly taking notes on it all though.)
To my surprise he was calling me about the survey. I honestly had no idea he would have access to it, the department conducting the survey was separate from his.
He first asked, “Is there anything wrong out there? It seems like you’re looking for a transfer?”
I didn’t know what to say, and began that stumped, dumb stutter. I couldn’t honestly say there was something wrong. The schools like me, I enjoy teaching. There’s no real, extreme problems. At the same time, I couldn’t tell him my real intentions either. So I made up something like this, “Well, I enjoy everything out here and all. But I’m just having a hard time meeting people. All my friends live in Tokyo and I rarely get to see them. There’s just not many social things to do here for people around my age.” What a dumb response: I want to leave because I feel a tad bit lonely. He’s not gonna buy that at all. I’m not getting that transfer.
“Well Eric, I definitely understand. Many ALTs do often feel a bit isolated when they first start out. But stick with it! Trust me, you’ll start meeting people. And the schools don’t want you to leave!” My ego ate it all up, and took over by replying with a genki “OK, I’ll stay!” In addition, he later mentioned that transfers usually couldn’t be done until being with the company for a year plus. So I guess it was out of the question before our conversation even started.
Expectations. Whenever someone throws them my way I always feel obliged to fulfill them. Even in part-time jobs when similar conversations came up, I would always fall prey to those expectations. Sometimes staying at a job, or taking those overtime hours even though it was interfering with my GPA back in college. I wouldn’t say this is a negative habit. Yet trying to live up to others expectations has definitely contributed to my confused sense of Self. Am I just what I’m good at doing? Or am I what I want to be known for? Confusing right? Think of it like this: The company wants me to stay because identify me as a good teacher. When they see my name in the database, they think, “Oh, good teacher.” They probably don’t think, “Man of deep passion, writer, space enthusiast, etc.” It took a while for me to realize I’m not just what people think I’m good at. I can be that and much more.
So it seems like I might try to look for another job, or some other means for me to be in Tokyo more often than I am now. Fortunately I can write anywhere, location doesn’t affect my access to a pen and pad. Eventually though, I’ll need to start making those connections. I want to be around a community of like-minded thinkers, similar to the circles I moved through back in Philly. Time will tell, and the Journey continues. Stay Tuned.