About a week ago, I listened to Danielle LaPorte speak during a business forum hosted by Pam Slim and Chris 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.