Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Going for It

Before I flew over to Tokyo in the fall of 2009 (it seems ages and ages ago), I was all about playing it safe. It was winter, about half a year before I would graduate from UC Berkeley with a degree in cognitive science, one year earlier than the usual four years. I was googling companies and feverishly browsing my school's career website, bookmarking any promising entries that mentioned "Tokyo, Japan". By some crazy luck, I found a position as an English instructor with a Tokyo-based company and jumped on a flight from SFO to Narita in September.

I wanted to do music, but I had to be safe - I was prepared to work full time to support myself while squeezing in my passions on the side. Coming to Japan was already a huge departure from everyone else and everything I knew, so I couldn't risk more. That is what I told myself.

And so the first two years in Tokyo, I worked full weekdays and dedicated myself to music on evenings and weekends. Teaching was tough, but sometimes I found it very rewarding. Other times, I wanted desperately to quit. My purpose at the time, music, made me push on - until things gradually fell apart. I was exhausted, burned out, and lacking in faith for the music industry I once thought I just had to enter. I thought I knew what I had been doing all of that for, but somehow, it turned out to be an empty dream, a shell.

 Slightly numb, I retreated. Anyhow, I was still in Japan, and I still had to make a living. I quit the English teaching job and found an office work position within a Japanese company. Working until or past 8 pm every night beat me down, so I moved to yet another office position. Having somewhere to belong each day, teammates to work with, a predictable income and company health insurance were comforting things. Knowing that as long as I stayed there, I could pay my rent, the bills, and buy food were comforting. Why should I have thought to complained? From other perspectives, I was so free, actually. I had been free to come to Japan, to try doing what I loved, find work and support myself in this city. I cannot say that the last two years of office work were all bad, because they may have provided the change of pace I needed, and the peace of mind I needed, to reignite my creativity - to think about music without pressure, and to dive into a new and terribly strong passion: photography.

It felt so different, starting all over. Unlike with music, I felt as though photography - and this blog - were nearly entirely for me, and my camera simply an extension of my eyes and mind. Therefore, I could afford to slowly feel my way toward what was right for myself. At first, I didn't know for sure where it was going. But in the past year, and especially recent months, a feeling began to strengthen, warming up more and more. It wrapped around that need for security I had been grasping for years, and slipped between my fingers, loosening them. "You can let go," the feeling whispered.

The final resolve came from within myself. But I couldn't have done it without some wonderful support I was lucky to receive. Spurred on by this confidence, I first talked to my co-worker. Then I handed in my resignation letter, heart pounding loudly in my chest. But to my surprise, no one got angry. I wasn't blamed. They were all so positive, and they wished me luck. I felt relieved, freed after months of carrying these thoughts in my head.

So many times, I had found myself at my desk in the office, longing to be outside in the fresh air and sunlight, to be creating something beautiful.
But hours spent working on photos at my desk at home felt like mere moments.

Those days, the crowded morning train rides to the office, already draining the energy out of me.
Yet I found myself popping up at 6:00 AM voluntarily for an early photoshoot job, feeling happy to see the soft morning light.

The signs were everywhere. I simply had to give myself permission to go for it.

Now, it is just the beginning -  to a future still filled with uncertainties, but already so much more optimistic than before. I've removed all the safety bars for the first time. Now I'll have to work harder than ever, but when it comes to what I love, I'm fine with that. I feel so lucky to have done some shoots with wonderful people recently. And I'm very grateful to be doing photography work.

As Jeremy Cowart said: "My worst day working for myself was still better than my best day working for someone else."