What do you do when you're presented with a number of life-altering decisions and enough time to sit back and seriously consider all of them? Is it better to carefully analyze the pros and cons of each option, follow our gut instinct, or talk it over with the people around us who might be the most affected? I find myself at yet another one of these multiple-crossroads where there is not one alternative to my current life, but many; each with their advantages and disadvantages. The problem I'm running into is making the right choice.
Many years ago I wrote two articles listing ten reasons why I'd never want to work in Tokyo. A few months later I had accepted a job for a startup in that very city and moved to Kashiwa along with my wife. That experience proved to be very positive for both Reiko and I as we became much closer to each other in the new city, bought our first car, and even added Nozomi to our family. Before that I had railed against being a language instructor, yet this is what I've done not once, but twice. Even earlier than that, and perhaps my first foolish statement about what I wouldn't do for money, was my insistence that I would never have a 'Yes, Sir. No, Sir. Would you like fries with that, Sir?' kind of job. My first real job after college? Burger King.
I should really stop complaining so much.
So what options lay ahead of me at the moment? There are several of them ... and I'm really not sure which one would prove to be the most fruitful long term.
Option 1: Do Nothing, Stay Where I Am
Why spoil a good thing? I'm employed and have far more freelance work to do than time to do it. The family is finally settled and we're now accustomed to the routines involved with the work. How come good enough is never good enough?
The biggest problem I've had in life is saying thank you for the stuff that's come so easily. I was able to start with my employer several years ago despite having zero knowledge of the trade, then was able to return after a single phone call to the area manager. Why push my luck by rocking the boat?
This is the safest option.
Option 2: Move Towards a Management Role
It seems that in almost every company I've worked, I've been asked to take on some sort of management role. My current employer is no different in this regard, suggesting that I seriously think about becoming an "instructional supervisor" and learn the ropes of running a branch office. This would provide me with ample opportunity to learn a bit more about the company and take on even more responsibilities in exchange for a zero yen raise and no real added benefits. Although I already do quite a bit for the organization1, there is a lot of opposition from Tokyo when it comes to implementation of any system that might be better than the 13 year old Excel reports that we still use2.
But is this what I want? I honestly don't know if I could be a fair manager to some of my co-workers, because I know when they're less than honest about calling in sick. I believe that people should take every sick day they have available, but I wouldn't want to deal with the last minute scrambling to find instructors for lessons on the same day. Being a manager is typically not fun on the best of days, and I know I can be an absolute ass when pushed too far.
This option has a lot of potential, but may not provide the career satisfaction I'm looking for.
Option 3: Work At a Japanese Company Around Nagoya
This is what my wife is strongly suggesting, as it comes with a number of benefits such as long-term employment, raises every year, and a bonus or two. The money would certainly be nice, as would the opportunity to use 日本語 in a real manner every day, but I'm not certain this is the right path for me, anymore. Reiko has made it painfully clear that I will likely never be happy working in a technology role if there are people above me calling the shots. In order for me to truly enjoy working in such a position, I would need to be top dog immediately or within a few months of starting at the job ... and this is just not realistic.
As someone who has very strong opinions on every subject, it is very, very difficult to remain silent when a project either has no purpose or is being done in an inefficient fashion. I've worked with way too many bosses who have known absolutely zilch about coding who push hard to get things out the door despite how ready or efficient it might be. I don't want to work in that situation anymore.
This possibility, although having many benefits, may not be the best fit for me at this time.
Option 4: Work at a University
Rather than work for a private language school, another option that Reiko has suggested I consider is working at a university as a language instructor. This usually comes with a much lighter workload than I have now and a bunch of benefits. I would also have the opportunity to meet with a bunch of bright, young people who might just want to work on some tech projects with a 30-something gaijin. It's a long shot, but anything is possible.
Going this route might also give me a bit of a push to earn a masters degree in something and have a new set of skills or specialized knowledge to share with the world.
Realistic? Not sure. This isn't something that I see myself doing, but that doesn't mean I couldn't do this.
Option 5: Go 100% Into My Own Venture
I have famously said that I will always use my whole ass when embarking on a project, yet the freelancing work that I do when not at work is always playing second or, some weekends, third fiddle to other pressures. If I were to go 'all in' then I would be much more hungry for success and probably achieve the revenues that I've projected in several of my business plan simulations.
Although this is something I am quite confident about, there is zero support from family with this plan. Going this route would either alienate me, or result in a messy divorce.
Perhaps not the best of decisions at this time.
Option 6: Return to Canada
Over the last few months the topic of returning to Canada has come up roughly a dozen times. This isn't something that I would consider doing in the near future as I just received my permanent resident's visa, but it's certainly a possibility. If the wife and I were to move to Canada then there would be a greater opportunity for earning a higher salary and maybe buying a house with a decent resale value. Nothing has ever come from these discussions, and we aren't even sure which part of Canada we would move to, but it's certainly an option.
Is it likely, though? No ... I don't think so.
There are always options in front of us when it comes to careers and important life decisions. Most of the people I've spoken to have all supported the first item of doing nothing as I have everything I need, just not everything I want. As an immigrant in a foreign land where I am not fully fluent in the local language, a certain amount of hubris is required to demand things that I may not deserve.
Luckily there is still a great deal of time left to make a decision and follow through with it. One thing is clear, though: I don't want to keep job hopping in Japan. If I start somewhere else, I need to stay there for at least a decade. Obtaining a mortgage will be impossible if the banks think I am a flight risk or unable to keep employment.