What Have You Done With Your Life?

About a week ago, I listened to Danielle LaPorte speak during a business forum hosted by Pam Slim and i_did_itChris Guillebeau. I just loved her talk, especially the part where she said “YOU ARE THE ONLY YOU”. I’ve been writing this blog about a year now, and even though I’ve gotten a lot better, I still feel much freer in writing in English than in Japanese despite the fact that English is not my first language. This is a bit of a problem as I am writing a book right now in Japanese and am about to put myself out there even further, to a much bigger audience than I’ve been until this point.

Danielle said that “Often times, people need permission to be themselves”. It might be especially true in Japanese culture. Growing up, I definitely got the messages  like “it is important to fit in”, “you might not be liked if you stand out, or talk about your own accomplishments, as you’ll be seen as bragging”. All along, people are told to put their heads down, be ordinary, don’t stand out, and fit in. You are not expected nor supposed to express how great you are. No way. Only in the 3rd or 4th year of college, people start asking questions like “what are you actually good at?” and “what have you done with your life?”, so the college students can prepare themselves for “the life after college”. That’s when people are told to come out of their shells and start taking a look at their achievements, and telling the world how they really are different from the rest. As if, it was not so before that point. I think it’s a bit of a shock to some people. It was for me, for sure. I think it’s much too late to ask them to start being a self-marketer. The traditional “be ordinary, don’t stand out, be modest and humble until the time you have to apply for your first job” part of our culture does not quite serve us.

I graduated Tokyo University, which is considered the most prestigious university in Japan. For a long time I had this ambivalent feeling about my college education. A part of me felt like I didn’t do as much as others had to do to achieve that goal. It wasn’t that I didn’t have to study really hard; I did, for a good 7 months after I came back from Germany, and a big part of that was definitely luck. Nevertheless, I always felt awkward to talk about it and when I did, I felt like apologizing, as if I wanted to make sure that people still liked me even if I was that “lucky” or “smart” or “different”, or whatever. Definitely I had that “The nail that sticks out will be hammered down” mentality. Talk about low self-esteem!

Not anymore. I want to empower Japanese people, young and old, to be proud of what they do and what they have done with their life. I want them to want to talk about it with joy, not with fear. I want us to celebrate other people’s successes, not hate them for being “better than us”. How do I do that? Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see”. I stop hiding and be my own person, and be proud of all that I have done with my life. I want you to do the same. If you have something you accomplished but felt like not telling anyone for some reason, acknowledge yourself first that you did well. Then tell someone about it! Let’s make it easier for the next generations.

One Comment on “What Have You Done With Your Life?

  1. Last week, I was researching and thinking about stage fright, writer’s block, and other situations where self-expression and vocation become stressful existential issues.

    I had two main conclusions. First, connection to society is just a HUGE deal to people who have to “put themselves out there”. The fear of rejection or misunderstanding is akin to the fear of death or non-existence.

    Everyone has to figure out “who they are” in relation to their audience or society, but artists and creative types in particular often have this contradictory mindset where they hate being judged yet feel obligated to appease those who judge them. On top of that, they have to prove they are “different”, “original”, or “rebellious” while playing the game.

    People who are conscious of a society or audience are both paralyzed and energized by that society and audience. They identify with what they are doing for their audience, so if they cannot prove that what “they are doing with their life” has value to someone, then that means that they themselves do not have value. They become practically invisible, non-existent, or virtually dead.

    The second conclusion closely follows the first. People are looking for visibility and self-worth. To put it more precisely, people are looking for a STORY of how they have brought real value to their audience or society. Once a struggling person finds this story, then they find confidence, energy, and are able to break through all kinds of judgments and barriers.

    Finding that story (aka personal mythology or personal legend) is a very personal journey. The story has to be believable at least on an emotional level.

    Btw, I have issues with my own acceptance into a prestigious college. I was accepted at the last minute from the waiting list, so even now I’m not completely sure whether I was just lucky or really “deserved” to be there.

    It was a long time ago, so I have all sorts of positive or negative stories about college that I tell to myself or others. But it would be nice to have a comprehensive narrative that would really make sense of it all for myself and others. The memories I have now are sort of makeshift and somewhat contradictory. I could probably make peace with it all if there was just one story I could really BELIEVE.