I’m going to start this one with the signature sanitized praise you have come to expect when I comment on the current state of my beloved homeland. I promise, I will shift toward an emotional take on a momentous occasion.
I was 15 years old, talking to aunts, uncles, cousins, a grandmother, and other relatives, when my beloved great uncle noticed a toe or two protruding through the sole of my left shoe. He told me in his typical (appreciated) bluntness, “You need new shoes, kiddo.”
I replied, “I guess.”
He came back with, “Get some new shoes,” to which I replied, “I don’t have any money.”
Well, I’m not sure if mi padre also noticed my podiatric predicament independent of my grandmother’s brother, or if one gave the other some instructions, but when I got home after a car ride during which I bitched relentlessly about the state of The States, my dad gave me 60 big ones. He told me to buy myself some new shoes. I stubbornly said, “I have better uses for 60 bucks. I’m not going to use this for shoes.” I was talking about my credit card bill and car payment.
Oh yeah, I lied. This happened when I was 29.
Yes. I know. I got too much car, but at the time I entered the lease, I was cash rich and assumed I would land at least an OK gig.
But you see, as the American market pays you exactly what you’re worth, my clearly disqualifying ineptitude and debilitating laziness had me making under one thousand dollars a month. I could have sought more work, but I also went to school full time for a year in hopes of becoming a history teacher and relied on my savings to sort of… wait for something better. I mean something better than under a thousand dollars a month, not something better than being a teacher because I can’t think of anything that really is.
Just a quick aside, I’m pretty sure an episode in which I earned some of the points that would eventually add up to me being selected as one of three Captains of my high school football team was when I told my coach I was ready to practice (everyone hated practice) a day after suffering a deep thigh contusion (kneecap straight to the femur; black and blue as far as the eye could see) and upon being told, “You need to be cleared by a doctor,” I replied, “Do I have to wait until after practice? Can I go get cleared now then come back and suit up for whatever time is left?”
Anybody who knows me will tell you there are two things I lack: work ethic and energy. Yeah man, I’m a miserable waste. I deserved those ratty shoes.
I must mention that I realize this is a long complaint about how tough I had it, and I was extremely fortunate to benefit from the mercy of family and all kinds of privilege. I absolutely chose to use those privileges to slowly but surely set myself up for better things. But god, did it take some patience.
Then I got a quote for treatment of a bad toothache that added up to a month’s pay. Then I fainted and hit my head while walking to the table for Mothers Day brunch and told an ambulance driver to fuck off because I wasn’t paying a few thousand dollars for a five mile ride and a saline drip.
My complaint here is not that America didn’t value me (she didn’t, though) or that I got a raw deal (I did not, just a pinch of mild adversity). I just wanted to get my fucking tooth looked at and not have to do a cost benefit analysis of continuing to pursue my teaching certification.
Anyway, it was about then (perhaps summer) in 2014 that I finally came to the conclusion that, “Fuck this shit,” I should just go back to Japan.
I started drawing up a scheme. I came up with a five year plan to be executed over the subsequent six years. Here it is.
2015 Summer: Get back to Japan via the exchange program I used from 2009 to 2012, except as a government office worker rather than an English teaching assistant.
2017 Summer: Move to Tokyo to run that same exchange program for the national government.
2020 Summer: Parlay those two experiences into — if I’m lucky — a decent job with some kind of foreign company in Japan.
The first step was not quite a long shot, but it was far from guaranteed. I needed to improve my Japanese language abilities and wrestle with what is often seen as a competitive yet arbitrary application process.
Not only did I get into the program, but I was sent to the exact office in which I wanted to work: the Miyagi Prefecture International Affairs Division in Sendai. Check.
While there, I worked harder than an outside critic might acknowledge. Even today, some friends think I’m still teaching English on a sort of Japanese holiday, but from 2015 to 2017 I was working for the weekend as a civil servant, executing almost all tasks in my second language.
I got way out ahead of the application process to run the program (my goal for 2017). I even worked directly with the organization in charge on various projects to get on their radar. In a still much more competitive application process for a much more prestigious and highly-paying job, I somehow stood out enough to get the call, right on schedule. Check.
I was limited to three years of service, so, always on a ticking clock (not in the sense that we’re all on a ticking clock, but subject to a literal contractual limit) I worked in the most professionally rewarding and personally challenging job of my life, again primarily in my second language. Also again, I worked harder than an outside critic might acknowledge.
Then out of nowhere, I got a great job offer that effectively meant the conclusion (achievement) of my five year plan exactly five years after it began, a full year ahead of schedule.
As of Monday I will be in uncharted waters. Tomorrow is the last day of my five year plan.
I did it.