New Beginnings Part 1: KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE

By on February 15, 2017

For most foreigners living in Japan, the time to leave eventually comes.

Whether leaving out of desire or necessity, this transition can be fraught with stress. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

I’ll be in Japan this month as the keynote speaker for the After JET Conference (for English Teachers who are changing careers and/or leaving Japan), so I thought I’d use my next two articles to share some of the tips I’ll be giving to conference attendees on how to successfully navigate big career and life transitions.

One of the biggest barriers to a successful career transition is a lack of clarity on where you want to go. In rare cases, such as getting transferred overseas or being head-hunted for another job, the decision to leave Japan comes with a clear vision of what is next. In most cases, however, the decision to leave is precipitated by other factors.

For some the change is forced because their work visa is expiring, their contract has run out, or their spouse has been transferred. For others, the change is voluntary. The stress of living in a foreign country and being away from family has started to outweigh the fun, their work in Japan isn’t fulfilling, or they’re just ready to do something different. Regardless of why you’re leaving, the clearer you are on where you want to end up, the less stressful the transition process will be and the more satisfying the result.

Think of it this way: If you want to go on a vacation, you need to know if you’re going to Antarctica or Antigua before you can start packing. To start packing first would be absurd, yet this is precisely how many people approach leaving Japan. They put all their energy into the tasks of leaving, rather than the tasks of figuring out where they want to end up.

The logistics must be handled. You need to decide what to take and what to get rid of, how to get your stuff back home, where you’re going to live, and how to get a job. When leaving is forced, putting your head down and focusing on the logistics of moving is also a natural way to cope with the disappointment of leaving before you are ready. These types of tasks are tricky, however, as they will consume as much time as you give them.

You can legitimately use up a lot of time and energy on relocation details, but neglecting the critical work of designing what you want from the next phase of your life is a mistake. I’ve seen it in action. People pack up and leave thinking they can sort the details of their new life when they get home. When they get there, however, their lack of clarity regarding their ideal career and lifestyle makes every decision exhausting. Add this to the fact that they’re dealing with reverse culture shock and missing all the people and things they loved about Japan, and you have a recipe for a major slump. Of the many people I’ve seen make this transition over the last several decades, the ones who are happiest both during and after the process are the ones who took the time out of their busy schedules to create a clear vision of what they wanted to create in the next phase of their life and work.

When living in Tokyo, I worked with the expat spouses of international executives for companies such as Disney to help them identify and pursue meaningful career goals while in Japan. Despite being there because of their husbands’ work, most of these women were also accomplished professionals so they understood the old adage that “if you’re not going somewhere, you’re going nowhere”. They all experience how quickly the fun of being a full-time tourist wears off and how big the frustrations of living in a foreign country can get without meaningful goals on which to focus your time and energy.

Through our training and coaching program, these women all used their time in Japan to re-envision their careers, gain new skills and knowledge, and chart a course for greater personal and professional fulfillment both in Japan and after they returned home.

A final caution to those leaving because they’ve hit their limit with the aspects of living in Japan that can prove frustrating to foreigners. Be careful not to be so focused on what you want to get away from that you don’t figure out what you want to go towards. Why does this matter?

Picture driving away from a bunch of zombies as fast as you can while looking constantly in your rearview mirror to ensure they don’t catch you. You eventually crash into something in front of you and if the crash didn’t kill you, the zombies would.

Successful people in all walks of life emphasize that a clear vision is a must to realize your dreams, so no matter why you are leaving Japan remember that crafting your vision and learning to “keep your eye on the prize” will make the journey more fun and the results more fulfilling.

Next month in part two, I will talk about the mindsets and limiting beliefs that create stress and block flow during the transition process.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at

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