Blogtober 14: lookin’ for a mind at work

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?

8 Thoughts

  1. I fell into my work field, I’d say, but I also had had it in mind since middle school. I once did a work experience type of thing at a kindergarten, in 8th grade. Then started doing substituting at kindergartens after university after struggling to find a job. That led to scoring the job I’m currently doing, which is close to what I did back home but very different, and in Japan. I love working with children, and teaching them English for two hours a day isn’t a bad part of the job (I also get to have lunch, play with them, watch them grow as little humans for the rest of the day). And I’ve gone from “just” an English homeroom teacher to also be the head English teacher? I plan to stay, as long as they’ll have me and my contracts don’t change to absolutely crap. THAT SAID, sometimes I feel like I should do something more ~prestigious~. I had good grades, I managed to pass the N1, I went to good universities. I could do something more “important” that pays more, but you know what. I love kids. I like going home at 4pm every day. I don’t have a terrible pay. It feels like a rewarding job to me. And children ARE important.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post resonated with me a lot. I’ve been working since I was 13, so 21 (!) years now. The highest paid job I had (research assistant evaluating mental health programs) was both interesting and soul-crushing at the same time. I quite enjoyed being an English teacher back in the day but now I don’t have the passion for it.

    I fell into my current line of work through a series of strange events and while there are a lot of positives, I can’t see myself doing this when I’m 40 or so. But I have no idea what I am suited for!

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  3. I’m glad my post inspired you to write yours.

    And I agree with a lot of what you said. I started to notice that in job interviews (the few I got ha) I got a little lost at the questions regarding future development and the like. The typical “where do you see yourself in X years” questions… sometimes I wanted to tell them that “gee, I don’t even see myself tomorrow morning, needless to say the end of the week if this continues” because uh depression and desperation talking but well, I ended up not doing so lol

    People told me I “lacked ambition”. And I guess I still do. Which doesn’t mean I am happy with the status quo – but not that of my work situation but rather of myself. I am happy where I am as a whole for the most part right now. Happier than I ever thought I would be, really. But I still try to constantly improve myself, to keep learning to keep striving towards becoming a better teacher.

    Is that not ambition enough?

    It was hard to really get that through to my surroundings, especially my family. But they have come to accept it and understand it now. I think coming to my school and watching me work for half a day changed something about how my parents looked at me and my job situation. And when they saw all the good bye presents I received when I left my branch school… (I went OMFG at them during our facetime talk when I unwrapped like more than 50,000 yen worth of presents – a pass case, several brand pens with my name engraved in them…and then I cried at my mum when I read all the letters from students) It was a pleasant surprise when my dad went from “why don’t you try and get a better job, one in the field you studied at university?” to “hey, I found these interesting articles on teaching a foreign language and I’d like to hear your opinion on something I read in them”.

    Those things – along with a few other factors – are what keep me going these days. The appreciation and fun the students express towards my lessons and me. And the acceptance of my family (while I’ve gotten over ‘pleasing my parents’ and all that somewhat, a part of me will always…think about it… it’s just engraved to deeply into my soul, irreversible damage).

    Pretty good for a job I never imagined myself doing and that I only got into because I found myself backed into a corner with nowhere else to go?

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  4. Thanks for sharing the interesting and diverse jobs you’ve had! I can’t even imagine doing half those things!

    I basically fell into the 3 jobs I’ve had, Tesco at 16 cos it was the closest place and a bunch of my friends were there and my mum marched me in to follow up my application because they hadn’t got back to me, then the office job at 18 in the place my (ex) step dad worked and he bullied me into writing the application (and I was still there after uni and after he’d retired and my mum had dumped him), and then becoming self employed at 26 because it gave me lots of time with my new partner and finally got me out of the office job, and my home town and allowed me to be more independent, I’m literally the worst person to ask for work advice 😅

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  5. Wow that’s a lot of different jobs you’ve done, it’s so interesting!

    I think it doesn’t matter whether it’s a ~career~ or just a job, as long as you enjoy what you do and it gives you that sense of satisfaction and achievement. Similarly, I think if you feel that you still want to pursue having a career then it would be a waste to just “resign yourself” to be a convenience store clerk or the like, but if it’s something that you feel is good enough to still be relevant to the working society then it doesn’t matter what job you take on. Being a mother is also a role that inspires and motivates 😉

    I spend a lot of time/ energy battling between the What-I-Should-Do side vs the What-I-Want-To-Do side (Asian society and expectations) so I know it’s a lot easier said than done. I think what I really want to convey is that every role or job has its value and provides job satisfaction, depending on what your priorities and life circumstances is like.

    In any case, I think it’s definitely possible to still develop a “career” near your 40s. I recently read up a bit on Jane Fraser (new CEO of Citigroup) and her perspective about females having a career and children, where she said “You can’t have it all at the same time. You can have it all spread over decades. You need to say, ‘That’s a trade off for now I’ll get to it later’,” which I thought was very inspiring.

    As for answering your question.. I typed some things before realising that I might want to explore that a bit more in depth, so I shall dedicate a blog entry to this … sometime in the next few days lol

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  6. You’ve already achieved colossally more than I ever did and under THE most challenging of circumstances – go you!
    I “fell” into teaching having concluded that selling Pyrex casseroles and household cleaning equipment, or working in a London office were tedious in the extreme (the concept of further study at age 18 was a complete and utter non-starter for me) and having had inspirational teachers at primary school. After moving around in teaching with different schools and different subjects and different age groups, (4 to 18 years), the best jobs I had were (chronologically) one with significant pastoral responsibilities and then as a peripatetic specialist SEN role and finally the one I had in the years before I retired. I was working in a small unit, where the element of being an educational detective was key – trying to find out why a child was struggling to learn and then trying to do something about it. Slow progress sometimes but worth the wait – 12 years down the line, one of my lads has just graduated from university!
    Conclusion? Follow your interests and build on your experiences!

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