Let me catch you up to speed. Back in December of 2016, I was offered a tour guide position with a company in Tokyo with a start date in early February. Eager to get the ball rolling on all the paperwork, I flew to Japan in January to submit all the documents to the immigration office in Tokyo. Rather than going through an embassy in the United States, I thought it would be quicker just to go to Tokyo, submit my papers there, and start setting up a life. Unfortunately, I was told that a February start date was impossible and that a May start date would be more likely because it takes 3 months to process the paperwork. I stuck around in Tokyo for a month hoping they told me that information just to be safe and that my visa would be issued in 3 weeks like it had the first time I came to Japan to work. Sadly, to no avail. So I flew back to America with a heavy heart and to start over yet again. Let’s start from here.
The Emotion Behind Rejection
When I look at photos on Instagram from friends or my favorite photographers living in Japan, I turn instantly gloomy. Truth be told, I’m really upset about not living in Japan anymore. It feels like all the hours I’ve put in studying the language and culture were for naught and my dreams of working at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, well, I can just forget about it. I’m grieving over the end of a chapter that came too soon.
As I’ve started to look for jobs in America again, my mind wanders back to Japan every day. My mind gets lost in this fog of how much I miss my friends and the community I started to build there and how guilty I feel for putting them through the back and forth. Is she coming back and staying for good or is she leaving again? The bottom line is that I’m scared they’ll forget me, that I won’t be important to them anymore, and that I’ll just fade into their distant memories. I’m sad that I won’t get to explore with them or even just share the everyday life and hustle with them. I won’t get to call them anymore and say hey let’s go out and shoot the city with our cameras, let’s go out for dinner, or let’s go hiking this weekend.
Maybe I wasn’t meant to live in Japan long term, and maybe that’s a lesson I still haven’t learned yet. Because when I put my hands together at my chest to pray and ask the universe whether or not I belong in Japan, I get a big fat NO. It always comes instantly, before I even finish asking the question because the universe already knows what I’m going to ask.
When I get that NO, I immediately follow up with whether or not I should give up studying Japanese, which gets me a “YOU BETTER FUCKING NOT,” and then I find myself even more lost than when I sat down to pray. A part of me feels like retiring my language learning journey just to spite the universe for not giving me what I want when I want it (a true sign of a spoiled child). That same part of me knows that eventually, I will put my Japanese studies aside because I won’t need them in America, and it’ll be replaced by other interests. While that’s okay, it’s still hard to let go of the hours I’ve put in knowing that it didn’t or won’t bear any fruit. Such defeat deters me from wanting to work hard sometimes. It makes me want to drown in pity and darkness, but that’s not what solves problems.
Lately, I spend hours on my phone scrolling through an app called HelloTalk that connects language learners and exchange partners. I’ve been interacting with a lot of people from Japan who’ve never traveled outside of their hometown or are studying things in school beyond my intelligence or are desperate to improve their English skills because they want to come to America for school or work. While I do use the app to practice my Japanese, it has been a real eye opener to how lucky I really am to have traveled the world and met amazing people, some of whom I can call close friends. For all the experiences I’ve had over the last 5 years, I am not in a position to complain. That’s not to undermine the anxiety or stress of not having a job and losing motivation to look for one, but it’s certainly not the worst problem to have.
It’s challenging to understand the lesson in all of this (give it a few years), but ultimately, I think one of the greater lessons was building an appreciation for the country I was born in. When I left America, I was convinced it wasn’t a good home for me, that for whatever reason I wasn’t meant to be living here. Living in Japan taught me that here in America I have permission to be a creative individual and speak my truth. Though those things come at a cost, I value those freedoms, and I lost them for a while when I moved overseas. I love Japan, and it will always be my favorite country on earth. It’s comfortable and familiar, but it’s not home.
Slowly, I’m learning to be grateful again. I try to remind myself to be appreciative of the life my parents gave me, the wonderful though rocky life I’ve had so far, and to be open to whatever may come. I’m sad that my dream to live in Japan again didn’t work out when I wanted it and how I wanted it but I’m grateful for all the time I have spent there. As for my friends, I know that whenever I choose to visit again, they will be there to welcome me with open arms.
Role of Travel
When I would watch videos by Youtubers who travel full time and are living the life I once wanted for myself, I’d get sucked into this notion that in order to be of value in the world, I had to live an epic life driven by fame, money, and adventure. On top of that, in order to make a difference or get people to pay attention to my story, it felt like I had to be really funny, really smart, or dumb myself down. Thankfully, after reading a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, I was given permission to be normal.
As I often do, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the last 5 years of travel have served me and what role travel will play in my life from now on. During my first round the world trip, I became addicted to travel in the way that some people become addicted to alcohol and cigarettes to forget their problems, and I wanted to find a way to make a living from it. Whether it was through travel writing or a generic freelance career that allowed me to work from anywhere in the world, I was convinced that it was the path for me. I wanted the freedom of not being chained to the same desk and to explore the world at my leisure. I wanted it bad except I didn’t.
I was only in love with the fun parts of travel like going on food tours, taking photos, sharing my story with strangers, and not having to commit to a daily routine. When it came time to write about my experiences, however, I found it difficult because what I was writing wasn’t interesting, and I had convinced myself nobody would ever read my content because of that. There was already a plethora of information on the internet about the destinations I was writing about so I saw no point in contributing to the noise. What’s more, I think the real reason I wanted to pursue travel writing was because the people around me kept telling me what a cool job it was. They became interested in what I had to say, and that felt great. I felt important, and I loved feeling like the cool kid. Those aren’t the right reasons to pursue anything, but I also realize that it is only through travel that I could’ve learned that it wasn’t the right path for me.
Travel is still a significant part of my life, but not in the way I originally intended. Previously, I always went in with the mindset of discovering shareable experiences that would get eyes on the content I was producing, and that made travel less enjoyable for me.
I love to travel because it teaches me that what I think I know isn’t always true, what works well in one country won’t always work well in others, and as frustrating as it may be at times, I love the challenge of navigating language barriers and uncertainty. I love the anonymity that travel provides, the chance to turn off my phone and explore with my camera’s eye. For me, travel is a mirror, a reality check I can use to remind myself I’m not the center of the universe. Travel is that inner wisdom that helps soften my edges, calls upon my intuition for guidance, and helps me stay humble. Travel gives me a new environment where I can source inspiration, push my creativity, and give my senses something new to feast on. It’s the classroom where I can see and experience how the world works first hand, and it gives me endless opportunities to observe and listen so that I can respond more thoughtfully.
Travel is not my employer, it’s my teacher. I am a student of travel, and now it’s time to put everything I’ve learned so far to work in the real world.
As much as I’d love to keep frivolously chasing dreams, the reality is I’m almost 30, and I’m ready to settle down. Something I knew was inevitable but continued to run away from anyway.
This isn’t intended to sound as somber as it may, but other than living and working in Japan, I don’t have any other visions for my life. My dream bank is empty but there are things I still enjoy doing and wish to improve upon without specific goals attached. I don’t dream of becoming a photographer, but I love sharing snapshots from my travels and moments from my day through visuals. I don’t dream of becoming a storyteller, I just want to be better at speaking, responding, engaging in conversation, and reaching people at an emotional level in everyday life. I no longer dream of being a travel writer, but I do feel immense joy learning about different cultures from people in different corners of the world and sharing a meal together. I don’t dream of being an interpreter, but I hope to be of service perhaps to a Japanese couple on the streets of Chicago or NYC who are lost and unsure of their ability to ask for directions in English. I want most to be human, taking the highs and lows as they come, and learning as much as possible simply because I can. And you know something? For once, perhaps it’s okay not to have any dreams because it presents great flexibility for the universe to point me in the direction of where I am needed.
I’m ready to keep my head down and work until something new inspires me. In a way, I’m putting to bed this era of the twenty-something with her head in the clouds. I’m on the market for a new chapter, a new career where I can delve deep and develop some new professional skills and devote my time, energy, and loyalty to a company making a big impact even in the smallest ways. I’m ready to have a home base, a community of friends of the same age, connect with people who are doing what I want to be doing, and all the while maintain a wide breadth of travel experiences.
So hit me. I’m open.