“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”
The Big City Mentality, as I like to call it, has been brainwashed into me since my high school days. Probably even before then. Every movie I’ve seen, every sitcom, and even many books have (for the most part) been set in or around the two big cities: New York and Los Angeles. Many icons I admire, from the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson to the almost perfect Will Smith, have all made their big career advances within one of these two cities. It’s hard for me to tell what came first; the thriving metropolis or the mentality which inspires diverse minds to flock to these places. Nevertheless, I feel myself slowly being drawn to the city that really never sleeps. Not for the parties that end at 9:00AM. Or for the fashion forward atmosphere. But for the potential, the possibilities, opportunities…
For the past year, I’ve been checking up periodically on The Japan Guy. It is a site that deals with all things Japan, including the author’s personal experiences here. Recently, I came across a post he wrote a while back . He had quit his job as a teacher in Tsukuba (ironically working for the same company as I) and made the big move to Tokyo. Outside of the average rate of pay, he didn’t have any major complaints about the company. But he knew in his heart that the opportunities just weren’t there in Tsukuba. Right work-life balance, wrong environment. Last thing I read about him: he was currently renting a room in a share house in Tokyo, living off a conbini food diet to save whatever money he had.
My life is comfortable out here. I can pay the rent, the bills, student loans. I go out on the weekends. I may not eat super healthy every single day in order to save money, but I’m not at all starving. I also have balance. My life isn’t controlled by work. Being comfortable was something I felt would happen soon. For the past four years, I haven’t lived in the same place for more than twelve months. I didn’t want to admit it to myself but I so wanted to settle down somewhere for more than a year at least. When I read that the Japan Guy was back on the struggle bus upon moving to Tokyo, the comfort zone I currently live in felt so much more cozy. Maybe I didn’t have to be in the big city to get my goals accomplished. Many of my passions simply need a pen, pad, and an Internet connection in order to be pursued. I could make it all happen from my desk at home, right?
Lately, teachers have been asking me if I plan on renewing my contract in March. My elementary school kids are getting excited for junior high, because they know I’ll be their basketball coach. I can go to the bars alone, knowing I’ll run into a friend that will invite me to their table. Just this week, I was invited by a teacher to play in my city’s adult basketball league. In March, I most likely will be going to another sensei’s wedding. Slowly but surely, I really have become a part of this community. Which makes it harder to depart from it. I feel like I have an obligation to the basketball kids, the teachers, students, and to a certain extent, my company. It’s those expectations again. I had just about decided to stay longer in Ibaraki after last Friday’s events:
My junior high school had a freshman orientation that day. The incoming freshman class had the opportunity to tour the school, meet teachers and students. One of my elementary schools has a lot of students coming here next year. Although I wasn’t scheduled to have any interactions with the students, whenever my students noticed me they would go way out of their way to get my attention. Sometimes even yelling from 50 feet away. They we’re so happy to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar environment. Even my shyest kids opened up to me that day. I felt a genuine bond had been established.
When I arrived home I received a call from the main branch in Tokyo. They were calling to check up on me, but more importantly to give me a progress report. Since my company can’t check up on every one of us 1500+ ALTs, they rely on the feedback from the teachers and principals to determine how well we’re doing. I was hoping for some ego shattering criticism, something to convince me enough to leave and move to Tokyo. What I got was the exact opposite. The teachers love me, the principals are happy to have me. After that conversation and freshman orientation, I could not get this blank word document to turn into a cover letter. No job applications tonight, I fixed up a quick dinner and hopped on the last train into Tokyo.
I admire my friends in living in the big cities, who have went on, despite the cost of living and various other factors, to pursue their dreams. We all hear stories about people doing awesome things with their lives, but it’s so much more inspiring when someone you know personally is making things happen for themselves. While in Tokyo my friend Aron and I talked about my current situation. He reminded me of something I had forgotten:
I didn’t come back to Japan just to live somewhere I didn’t want to live, working just for an ok paycheck. I came back here to enjoy myself, to continue living the life I lived in Tokyo. Every time I visit Tokyo, I always run into like-minded people, who are following their passions. When I’m in Ibaraki it’s static. Everyone I know is just working for the weekend. Aron reminded me of why I had to be back in the city, surroundings can make or break you. And in my case, they almost broke me. It’s time for me to return. While I hope my transition isn’t as bumpy as the Japan Guy’s was, I am ready to accept any sacrifices. As Eric Thomas said, “Pain is temporary.”
The day afterwards on Saturday night, I had a dream which I can only describe best as a positive “death” dream. All I remember clearly was vibrant bluish-green lights, and a feeling of transcendence. Usually death in a dream can feel really terrifying to the dreamer. It did to me, so much that I googled dreams of death once I woke up. All my findings pointed to death in the dream world as an interpretation for a new beginning in the physical world. A time of great change and clarity. Then I remembered, I had dreams like this before. Once specifically leading up to my move back to Japan back in September. Seems like a change is coming soon.
The clean-shaven, suit + tie job hunt begins.