One of Kira’s recent posts made me think about work, and what we look for in employment.
The expectation in Japan long seems to have been that you join a company as soon as/before you graduate (be that from high school or university), with the expectation that you will a) be a part of that company until retirement and b) make a career of that job, becoming a senior member/end up in management as you get older as a matter of course. It is still pretty hard to fire people (unless it’s for something really drastic), so once you get in you’re pretty much set. These days it is far less unusual to change companies (my husband did, as did several of our friends), but while you may not be with just one company until you die, the overall mentality hasn’t changed an awful lot. Career changes in your mid-30s onwards almost inevitably come with a pay cut, further reducing people’s motivation to leave the company at which they already work. I know that the gig economy is on the rise – or was, before covid – but freelance workers are still in the minority. (Please bear in mind, this is all from my observations/conversations with others. If your understanding or experience is different, by all means drop a comment!)
Anyway the thing is, I’ve never really been much of a “Career!” person. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never fallen into a job that really calls to me, I don’t know. During high school I worked at a supermarket, and once I prematurely left school I got a few more shifts there and considered going full time, before I became homeless/unable to live locally and had to sort of unceremoniously quit. After that, while (inadequately) recovering from some trauma, I volunteered at the CAB with my dad, doing admin and writing guides on how to use the computers for all of the technologically-illiterate people working there. Then, paid employment as a Christmas temp worker in the cosmetics section at a department store. Those were the days when you could still just walk in off the High Street and ask the manager if there were any jobs going! I only ended up in Cosmetics because that’s the first department I asked at, and the manager more or less hired me on the spot. She ended up really liking me and offered me a full time position once my contract ended, but I turned her down because I wanted to finish my A-levels.
Then what… after A-levels and an abortive attempt at uni, I was a volunteer teaching assistant at a primary school in a specialist speech and language unit. Once again, the volunteer position was a(n insufficient) “recovery period” thing, and a few months later I got full-time employment working in a pharmacy.
…Except, these “volunteer while recovering and then do something else” jobs were really only a sticking plaster over the PTSD and mental health issues that followed me around, and in hindsight I should have had therapy and professional help much earlier rather than attempt to distract myself with work! So, at some point in 2007 I had a full-on breakdown and ended up hospitalised, becoming a Disability Living Allowance recipient (back in the days when it was possible to get DLA without having to be basically already dead).
And then my dad got sick, as you will know from reading other posts. And after that (and another Christmas period temp job in a greeting-card store) I thought, well, I cared for my dad while he was sick, why not care for other people too? So while living with my parents, I got a job in a care home. Except, as most of you can probably relate, living with your parents when you are already an adult (especially after already having lived independently) is excruciating for all parties, and I eventually escaped to Southampton. There, I got another care work job as I’d quite enjoyed it, only… the company was pretty awful, and my manager was inexperienced and kept waking me up in the middle of the day to ask me to work more and more and more night shifts. I ended up regularly working 70-hour weeks and collapsing from exhaustion a couple of times (thankfully not at work), and eventually decided that I really needed to get a university degree so I could be qualified for less-tiring employment.
And then I ended up in Japan! I remember laughing in the interview when the recruiter said it would be a hard job. Compared to 6 or 7 days a week of 11-hour night shifts with nobody else to talk to, teaching English conversation to motivated students was a walk in the park. After four years though, I got pretty tired of always getting sick from the smaller humans and once my husband and I moved to Osaka I switched to teaching “corporate” – that is, going to other companies to teach their employees on-site. I continued this work once we moved back to Kanto too, and only stopped when the baby came to play.
Now? Now, I do proofreading/some minor translations of papers and bits and pieces for a couple of Japanese university professors, only both the pandemic and the baby have sort of put that work on hold. I did get accepted for a full-time proofreading/translating job as soon as I got pregnant, but when I was upfront with them about my pregnancy they rescinded the offer. 🙃
But like… I’ve done so many things, and none of them are really “career” jobs. Nor did any of them – with the exception of the eikaiwa work – specifically require any kind of higher education. They’re all low-wage. None of them really sing out to me, “This is your vocation!” but I haven’t hated any of them, either. I was perfectly content working on the shop floor, in the care home, in the pharmacy, and then coming home again to my own life at the end of the day. I really love using my brain to fix the scientific papers at the moment, but don’t imagine I’ll ever be lucky enough to make a living fixing English from home. And because I was freelance as a corporate eikaiwa teacher, I both a) did not qualify for maternity leave and b) do not qualify for daycare as I am currently considered to be a stay-at-home mother. I am jobless.
Is this my lot? Am I destined to be a convenience store clerk once the baby starts going to school? I feel as though, as a feminist, as an ~*Independent Woman*~, I should be career-minded and want to get a job that motivates and inspires…!! But I don’t think I have enough self-confidence to even visualise myself in that kind of situation, much less make it happen.
Besides, right now there’s the baby to think about.
So help me, if you will: what is it that got you into your line of work? Was it something you’d planned for, or did you fall into it? When did you feel like ah yes, this is something I can see myself doing for a long time? And do you think it’s possible to develop ~a new career~ when you’re nearing your 40s?