Purpose

My sister Jessie (left) and I, age: quite young

Personally, I’m yet to feel the effects of the global economic slowdown. I’ve not been made redundant, my salary has not been cut, overtime is still allowed.

But I can feel it’s just around the corner. Local redundancies are being announced on a daily basis, and the thinking is that it’s just going to get worse. One of my private students was telling me how her company, once reluctant to fire anyone (something that is admittedly pretty difficult to do in Japan – the common method seems to be to bully and pressure people into quitting) has just announced 2000 cuts, with more to come in due course. Whilst the nature of the client base that the English & Chinese education company I work for means that we are not suffering so much from this initial phase of the slowdown, this past week there have been some hints that next year is going to be a tough one.

I’m very much a subscriber to Robert Kiyosaki’s idea of there being four main types of people when it comes to income, who together make up the ‘Cashflow Quadrant’. They are: E – employees, S – self-employed, B – business owners and I – investors.

(For more on the Cashflow Quadrant get hold of a copy of Kiyosaki’s incredibly easy to read bestseller Rich Dad Poor Dad)

I’ve long had a gut feeling that I don’t belong in the ’employee’ quadrant, and in such economic conditions as these I find this gut feeling being exceptionally noisy. Seeing people in ‘secure’ jobs being left high and dry makes me question the sense of placing my future in the hands of an organisation that could let go of its staff at any time, for any number of reasons.

If I was working for the satisfaction that the day-to-day work brings, then it would be no big deal. Whilst I do feel real satisfaction in my day job (and before I go any further, I’d just like to state that as well as enjoying my day job a great deal, I see it as performing a very important and necessary role in my development, and I have no intention of leaving), I have a strong feeling that I’m heading towards a very different role in this world, of which I have only a vague picture at present) (this is aside from any purpose I have to become a better person in a spiritual sense, a journey that continues no matter what I do).

Whilst I am happy that I am able to make a positive impact upon the lives of my students and (to a certain extent) my colleagues, I can’t get away from the idea that ultimately, the main purpose of most companies is to provide a good return to the shareholders. These are shareholders of which I know nothing. Who knows what they might choose to invest the profits of my labour in.

Some people might think this is taking things a bit too far, but I don’t feel it is. I have a limited time on Earth this time around, and I want to make the most of it. I am happy to invest a few years in doing such things as working for my present company as I’m learning a lot, and teaching is a worthy cause, but I believe that I would feel that I had somehow wasted the precious gift of life were I to remain working for someone else for the rest of my life.

So then there’s the S quadrant – self-employed. One thing I’ve been fortunate to learn second-hand over the past few years is that being self-employed isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, there’s the fact that (for most one-man-show enterprises) if you stop working, your income stops. Then there’s the hours. I forget what the stats are, but self-employed people usually work a lot more hours than those in the E quadrant. Having said that, the chances are that the self-employed business owner will get a great deal more satisfaction out of their work than an E. Every hour of work they put in is an hour invested in their own enterprise – an idea which appeals to me a great deal. They are also more likely to be doing what they love (or they probably wouldn’t have started that business in the first place!). However, ultimately, the lack of time freedom in the S quadrant does not appeal to me.

Then we move across to the B quadrant – the business owners. These are people whose businesses continue to operate even when they are physically absent. This is where I want to be. This is where I feel I should be putting my energy …but find the ease with which I can invest in the E quadrant too seductive. Striking out is tough. It’s easier to just be told what to do.

The final quadrant – our ultimate financial goal, is the Investment quadrant, whereby the wealth we have created will continue to generate an income in perpetuity, for the causes that we choose. Being socially conditioned, I used to think that people in this quadrant had only got where they were by trampling on others. However, the more wealthy people I meet (here in Japan), the more this stereotype is revealed as being a load of crap. They are by far the most generous, caring and ‘normal’ people you could hope to meet, and don’t give a poop about keeping up appearances. They are generous with both their time and money, and in my book are worthy role models.


These past few weeks I’ve been making my way through The New Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, an updated version of the classic self-development book. It’s very good. Informative, and inspirational. Whilst there’s not much in it that you haven’t heard somewhere else, the scientific angle is refreshing and convincing.

…and it really gets you thinking – “If I could be the person I really wanted to be, would I be the person I am today?” If the answer is no (as it is with me), then there’s clearly a need for action.

It’s compelling. Real change doesn’t take months of years, it takes a split second – the split second it takes to make the decision to be that person. That person who is fit (or on the road to fitness), that person who owns their own successful business (or is in the process of setting it up), that person who has rich, loving and trusting relationships with all those around them (or is making a concerted effort to build such bonds).

I’m in an incredibly fertile environment that is brimming with opportunity. It’s called life, and it’s time I took the next step (even if it’s only a small step). I’ll write about it in due course.

night.

Japanese lesson, and cake

Been a funny day today. In some ways a little frustrating, as I spent about 4 hours trying to do the simplest bit of coding in MS Office Access, but failing. I’m hoping I have an early morning breakthrough tomorrow as I have every time I’ve run into a difficult problem with it so far.

Despite the frustration, I didn’t really feel all that frustrated. Which I was happy about. Those books work wonders :-p

The view from the office balcony: looking between the neighbours

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Last night’s sloppy blog post did cause me a bit of disappointment, disappointment with myself. However, I’ve decided to take it as one of those precious lessons, and thus something to be grateful for, not regretful of.

Work at the office is starting to pick up now, with my telephone-conversation ‘classes’ (5 minute phone calls on topics such as personal info / directions / social issues in Japan) now taking up about four hours a day. [My job is firstly: taking 5 min conversation calls and marking written essays from my 300 students. Secondly: recruiting teachers for in-company classes throughout Japan]. The lower level calls are pretty easy, allowing me a little brain rest as I go through the routine. I find the higher level students really stimulating though, especially those who have lived abroad or are non-Japanese – being exposed to other cultures makes a huge difference in terms of attitude towards life.

As the departure of my British colleague approaches so I’m being slowly trained in what will be my new job. My core role will be recruiting new teachers, which necessitates a lot of good ole’ human interaction, not just with potential employees, but also with many of my Japanese colleagues. This is something I positively look forward to – I really want to improve my Japanese, and this will provide me many opportunities for doing so.

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It will also give me the opportunity to develop a new teacher-recruitment workflow. Whilst the existing system works, it is pretty laborious, requiring far too many tedious stages that could either be automated or scrapped. I’ve started thinking how I might work this. Ideally, I’d like to be able to use my Mac to get it all sorted as Japanese Windows XP is pretty pants when it comes to automation (and more importantly it lacks the sex appeal of Leopard), but there may be some issues with data security, i.e. carrying a laptop to and from work each day. One way around that could be to keep everything on the shared server, and just use my mac as a portal. Well, we’ll see.

Tonight I had my first tandem learning session with my new (qualified) Japanese teacher, who also taught my classmate Phil and whose brother taught another classmate of mine (all ‘coincidentally’). Bloomin’ marvellous.

As mentioned in previous posts, whilst I do use Japanese at home with *Twinkle* at times, on the whole we’re using English so that she doesn’t forget what she already knows …the idea being that I use Japanese everywhere else. Which I do, but not very well. I’m too inclined to fall back on familiar grammar patterns, or simply Japonize English words. At work I tend to give up when I hit unknowns, like today when trying to explain the problem I was having with my database. Everyone speaks at least a little English, so it’s only too easy to do.

My new teacher, Nami, gives me the opportunity to take the time I need to recall the vocab I’ve already learnt (but is buried at the back of my head). She corrects my persistent errors, and explains terms that I hear often but don’t quite understand. She teaches me new vocab. Reminds me of kanji meanings. Prompts me to use polite Japanese.

Polite Japanese is possibly my weakest point. Yes, I can use it if I think about it, but I have a bad habit of slipping into casual speech. With Nami, I deliberately stick to polite / formal japanese in order to help develop that habit within me, as I’ll need it if I’m going to do business in Japan.

She also took the time to explain to me the ‘all new’ Japanese Language Proficiency test, being introduced in 2010. I won’t go into details here – my ex-classmate from Bristol has done a good job of outlining the changes a here if you’d like to know more – but basically, after 2009 it’s going to get a lot harder as previous exam papers will no longer be published.

She’ll not only be helping me learn the actual language, but will also be teaching me specific exam techniques that help one to pass JLPT.

I’m inspired by Nami (she also happens to be the first Japanese person I’ve met whose been as happy as I am to see Obama elected), and thus will be taking JLPT level 1 next July (as of next year the top two levels, 1 and 2 will be biannual). This excites me. She reminded me how much I love the Japanese language, and how much I love getting better at it. It’s vital I have a goal to work towards – this is perfect. It would be only too easy to just get by with what Japanese I’ve got. There’s nothing wrong with that as such, but it’s not what I want for me.

How stiff are your whites?


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Living with *Twinkle* continues to be absolutely bloomin fantastic. We’re both getting home pretty late most weekday nights, me with teaching and *Twinkle* with our Amway business. But we get to cuddle up together under a tonne of the warmest wooly blankets at night, and that’s nice. The honeymoon period is far from over.

Green Tea and Strawberry Cake

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I’ve started taking a more active role with our Amway business lately, and am finding it very rewarding. More than anything, it gives me the opportunity to meet a lot of like-minded (mostly young) people, all looking for an alternative to the usual diet of graduate jobs (not that there’s anything wrong with them if that’s what you want to do). It also tends to involve eating a lot of good food, or, as was the case last night, cake. We had a professional cake chef (there must be a proper name for them) come up from Wakayama and teach us how to make various kinds of real simple and quick cakes. Reminded me of home – mum’s home-made cakes are one thing I miss.

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Anyway anyway, I’d best tidy up and put the hottlebots on. It’s getting chilly, and this house has an amazing ability to amplify the outside temperature, Need to be up early too for the second jog of the week 🙂

xxx

Spanners, deadlines, and night-time inspiration

Email from the parents:

“No post for you from the embassy today either. They must be sorting out necessary changes in law for you to be made emperor”

Having had a very long day, it was a great relief to get home last night. Managed to finalise the business plan and actually submit it 6 hours before the competition deadline. It was just a shame that only thirty minutes later we had a meeting with the company responsible for developing our website in which we were informed that they had suffered a major breakdown in internal communication, and thus were unable to proceed with development under the current contract, the quote having been based upon a hopelessly optimistic timescale.

That was quite a shock, as we’d previously been informed that the coding was proceeding smoothly; this puts us two months behind schedule, two months we don’t really ‘have’. Still, ultimately this is a good thing as the project has now been transferred to another somewhat more professional team within the organisation, thus meaning we are more likely to get a robust, good-looking site (provided we can afford it!).

It’s good that we learn this lesson now with a business that we are not relying upon to put bread on the table in the immediate future. Whilst of course we very much want it to be up and running and successful as soon as possible, were that not to happen it would not put our ‘families’ under duress as we each have other income streams. A couple of years down the line the story might be different, with a delay of several months in the commencement of trading for whatever other businesses we may be running then having a huge impact our daily lives.

It reminds me once again of what a great learning experience this is: I’d urge any university student who is considering setting up their own business in the future to do so whilst at uni – there is so much support available, and ultimately if things don’t work out you can write it off as good lesson that could not have been attended in a classroom. And remember, as only one in ten businesses is ‘successful’, it’s a good idea to start up at least ten businesses in your lifetime!


I also met the deadline for applications for further CILASS funding – although I later realised that the CD that I had meticulously prepared the night before (used pretty blue pen to write the label, found a case for it in cupboard) actually contained no data! I’d postponed burning it until I’d had the OK from my department on the wording of the application. Silly boy! The judges meet next Friday – Fingers crossed.

I then submitted 12 photos to the International Office for a competition being run to help them increase their stock of publicity shots. I like the idea of contributing to this campaign, not just because I might win a digital photo frame, but also because it’s nice to give back to the uni, and especially this department as they were instrumental in bringing *Twinkle* into my life!

I submitted another 5 photos to the Photosoc (photo) competition, the deadline of which was Thursday. I’d wanted to be a lot more involved with Photosoc this year, but ultimately, it had to take a back seat due to things like CILASS (although I don’t regret that). I doubt I’ll win that as I had few striking images that could be bent to fit the available categories, and decided not to make time to shoot some specifically for the competition.

In the afternoon myself, Tom and Mark went about recording our ‘Unlocking IBL Technology session” (IBL = Inquiry Based Learning, as promoted by CILASS) . That was fun, a good chance to practice talking to the camera. It once again highlighted my tendency to sway back and forth when giving a talk, something I’ll continue to work on as I’m sure that public speaking will be one of my things in the future. …if i can just find something to talk about. (I recommend Presentation Zen for anyone else interested in how to deliver effective presentations. And no, I don’t subscribe to his blog just because he gives regular presentations at Japan’s Apple Stores!).

When I got home at 6pm it hit me. The exhaustion. I was done in. I just managed to prepare a big organic salad, before collapsing onto my bed. I could do nothing but lie their dazed, staring at the ceiling, half-listening to the latest episode of TWiP. After an hour or so I felt I wanted to do some sewing, and so got my patchwork trousers out and worked on some recent holes. For background noise I’d put on the trashy yet mildly entertaining Azumi, one of those films that requires no attention whatsoever and that you forget seconds after it’s finished.


Fast forward to 2am, and I’m now awake and alert. Been thinking about what I’m going to do after I graduate. I’ve been encouraged recently to seriously think about where my passions lie, and thus where I would be best directing my energy for maximum results. I can sense a path opening up. Hmm, there could be a future here. I get out of bed, turn my mac on, and buy 5 new domain names.

Today, I wake up and for a change, the domain names bought in the middle of the night (and the idea that they represent) still seem to hold genuine potential. This is a good sign. Usually, I check the emails from the domain registrar and wonder what on earth I was thinking.

But anyway, more on that in the future. For now, I need to get this dissertation out of the way.

Time for an all-nighter?

caw blimey gov it’s gonna be one of those loooooong nights.

It’s ten to one, but I’ve still got a tonne of stuff to do for tomorrow. What’s best: late night, or up early? The danger with going to bed now is that I won’t have time tomorrow morning to prepare for the afternoon. Hmmm.

Tomorrow sees the deadline for the CILASS IBL Awards Scheme. Myself and a classmate decided to put in an entry in recognition of the work that our tutor has put in to creating our Virtual Language Lab, and embracing technology. It’s pretty amazing: 4 years ago the most hi-tech we got was a cassette tape of basic Japanese conversations – this year we’ve had classes where everyone has been equipped with brand new Sony laptops to carry out live in-class research. Quite a change.

Anyway, quite a few of my classmates have kindly submitted ‘evidence’ saying how they have benefited, and I’ve also got some photos, a video and some other documents to back up our case. Fingers crossed!

The other deadline tomorrow is for round two of the Business Creation Competition, which has a first prize of £5000. We feel pretty positive about this, having put an awful lot of work into what is now a decent 20-page business plan (even if we do say so ourselves). After classes today I had a meeting with our business advisor who absolutely loved it. Just needs a bit of tweeking…

We also finally submitted our application for Arts Council funding. We seem to fit exactly into one of their specified categories, so feel pretty good about this as well (turns out we have a connection with the person who oversees the fund too!).

When waiting in the line at the post office to send the big package that was the application form and supporting evidence, a lady walked in and started telling everyone her happy story of how she had been saved. She blessed us all, and then proceeded to tell us that God had taught her to sing and play the guitar in 15 minutes.

It was soon pretty clear why God had only spent 15 minutes trying to teach her to sing and play the guitar. Clearly, he’d given up trying, knowing a lost cause when he saw one. Her ‘singing’ and ‘playing’ were pretty atrocious, I mean, comically so. I was half expecting there to be hidden cameras recording our reaction to the ‘noise’. As it was, she caused a few chuckles, and the lady behind the counter started to sing along. When she finished, we all clapped, grinning at one another.

She thanked us, blessed us once more and left.

Walking back to the office, an unshaven man in his 60s asked if my friend James would marry him.

I also attended a Student Ambassador meeting this morning. That was fun, if somewhat surreal with a baby googling around and my carrying next year’s SEAS ambassador Ryan around in my hands. He was on Skype, so I thought I’d try and introduce him to everyone. Unfortunately neither his mic nor webcam were working, so it was a surreal one-way conversation. He said (typed) that he felt like a baby, unable to communicate (and in fact he was happiest when my macbook was just pointing at the baby in the room!)

Japan soc election is also underway, with the votes pouring in. Last time I’ll ever have to do this (although I do enjoy it!). It will soon be time to say bye bye to that baby.

Oh, sign the contract for the website tomorrow morning as well, crumbs, I’d forgotten about that. We’ll also be negotiating a contract for future upgrades to the site – although I don’t think we’ll be accepting the offer made this morning – consultation at £1250 a DAY! (that’s the business I need to be in).

Oh crap, I forgot, we’re filming that tech presentation tomorrow too and I’ve not prepared yet. Maybe I scrap the sleep thing and just work through. Not good though.

Ho hum. It’s been a good day overall. I even had time to go to the park and photograph the beautiful cherry blossom. Oh, and listened to some of CS Lewis’ Prince Caspian – the original BBC audiobook featuring those fantastic actors that we all know and love for their inability to act convincingly. (It wouldn’t be the same if they could). I still remember when Aslan visited the Blue Peter studios and pooed all over the floor – or was that an elephant?

Ok, on with the business plan.

I’ll be mightily relived when tomorrow is over. Then it’ll just be a case of writing an entire dissertation in a week.