Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The master plan (part 2)

I should be studying for my big placement test at school this Thursday, but my blog doesn't write itself, so here we go again. Part 2 of the master plan.

We're still in March 2013, I wasn't really busy at work and used my spare time to browse the web in search of jobs or other options in Japan. Since my job hunt from a distance wasn't very successful so far, I thought about coming to Japan for a couple of months for on-site job hunt, maybe attending a language school to bring my Japanese up to speed again. After all I already had my flight booked and all that.

Forcing myself to use LinkedIn more I found a group called Internship Japan, run by a German lady in Tokyo who happened to work at a Japanese language named Tokyo Riverside School. I contacted her and she not only provided me with some useful information, she planted the seed of another thought in my head: becoming a student again, learning Japanese and doing internships before I start with a real job. It was a tempting idea. I thought, yeah why not? A couple of months wouldn't hurt and the school seemed quite cheap affordable to me. We exchanged a couple of emails and she even hooked me up with an IT contact and possible internship. This guy wasn't very cooperative thought because my original plan of doing an internship for only a couple of months wasn't very much to his liking.

While my head was spinning with the idea of becoming a student again, I took care of the biggest issue; the money. I'm not an Excel hero, but I'm quite good in setting up convenient and effictive Excel sheets to get what I want and save me the hassle of calculating everything by hand. I work as a salesman but numbers still confuse me and I don't really like money (there, I said it!).

I needed some reliable numbers for my plan, something that I could change on the way and updated with my incomings and expenditures. A look into the future to decide now if this is even possible from a money perspective.

It took me a couple of days but the result was a pretty one.

Blurred version from October 2013. Until September 2013 it was even more complicated.
What I basically did was to sum up my income and expenditures for each month, current bank balance (credit card, savings, everything), estimated salary, etc. and put them in a column for each month way into 2014. I did some wild guessing on my expenditures until I leave Germany and what I would spend living in Japan. I was very generous in my assumptions, allowing me to eat well and spend a lot on travelling. After asking lots of different people in Japan about rent and salaries, I put in these numbers in as well. So in the end, there was only one important number that I was interested in. The number at the end of September 2014.

It was deep red...and negative.

You should be aware that I was actually thinking about sub-letting my flat during my time in Japan. I met a nice couple (Japanese guy, Germany girl) who wanted to relocate to Berlin just around the same time I was thinking about moving to Tokyo, so we kinda made a deal that we would help each other. However, I had to charge them the minimum amount of rent and used that for my calculations. They were a really nice and friendly couple, we thought this actually might work out. I could even save some money by letting the flat to them. A quick calculation showed that giving up my flat wasn't really making me any more money and I wanted to have an emergency retreat in case things go bad in Japan.

I was more and more into the idea of becoming a language student so I could focus on my Japanese while taking my time to adjust to Japan and find a good job in Tokyo. But I had to enroll for 1 full year in order to get a student visa that even allowed me to work for 28 hours per week. Altogether that was around 5.000€ at that time (the Yen was a bit stronger then). I didn't have 5.000€ in my pocket. I could have raped my credit line and paid it, but in the long run it was a really bad idea and gave me headaches. The deep red negative number in my Excel sheet gave me baaaaad headaches.

No matter how I juggled the numbers, what income in Japan I assumed or how I cut down on spending money in Germany or Japan, it wasn't enough to pay the school and live in Japan.

I can dream, right?
 In my past I had to struggle with money a lot. I took me around 10 years to become debt-free. These debts weren't even mine but I still had to pay them and that's all I want to say about it. But I managed that and learned how to handle money perfectly in this hardest of all life lessons. I borrowed money from the bank three times in my life and paid back everything, so my credit score was actually perfect now, despite the 10 years of debts I had to go through. So I was thinking about taking another loan for Japan. Some people go crazy just by the idea of owing the bank money, but for me it was one of the most convenient and logical things to do. With deflation and low credit interests these days, the banks were almost throwing the money at you. But the tricky part was, with what money should I pay it back? I didn't have a job or an income in Japan yet. Even with a paid internship I would be hardly getting enough money to pay rent, food and a credit rate.

I needed help. I needed the worst help I can imagine; help in form of a friend's money.

There was only one person I could ask who had the financial security and more important the biggest heart I know. But I hesitated. I tried everything I could to tweak the numbers a bit so somehow in the end this whole endeavour seemed affordable. So I had to try and ask my best friend Anja, who was living in Vienna, Austria and who I was only seeing a couple of times per year. She still was my best friend however, having shared the best and the worst times together over the years. I hoped she would be able to help me financially but I was absolutely sure that she could at least help me with her advice and business skills. I needed someone to check on my Excel sheet and calculations, a sparring partner. She would be perfect for it but asking her for money was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do.

I decided to ask her in person. We already planned my visit for Easter in April, so that was well-timed. My Excel sheet was ready to be presented.

....to be continued.

In part 3 I will write about the final decision and how it felt giving up a flat, a life and loved ones.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The master plan (part 1)

If you know me, you know I'm a planner. I like to make plans in detail and organize everything in advance. I do this for various reasons, but mainly to feel safe and secure with the things ahead of me and make decisions based on informations not emotions. It took me years to realize and admit that I'm actually super emotional and spontaneous with my decisions, but I still favor a good plan rather than jumping head over heels into the unknown. My current life in Japan is the fruit of my labor so to say and so far everything works according to plan (it just takes bloody longer than expected).

Soon after I returned to Germany after New Year in Japan, I felt a little sad and questioned my current life (and love) situation. In some way, I had it all. I had a well-paid job with a future, a cool car, a spacious and cheap appartment, a nice TV, I was debt-free and had good friends in Berlin and all over the world. Well, I had no girlfriend or partner and occasionally felt alone and my recent love encounters all ended in me being heart-broken more or less, but honestly I couldn't say I was unhappy. I was happy. Kind of.

I wasn't fully happy. I wanted more. Or to be precise, I wanted something else. I wanted a challenge. I wanted a change.

On my last trip to Japan I met incredible people again, each of them with their own story about why they wanted to come to Japan. Most of them had less work experience, less Japanese language skills, less money, less of everything compared to me actually, but they had a lot more of Japan compared to me. They lived here and I was just visiting. So I figured, if they can do it, why can't I? The answer came quick; because I didn't even try yet.

So back home, I thought: if I want change, I have to start changing. I have to put myself out there, go to Japan and really do some stuff, not the half-hearted attempts and fun tourist visits in the past, I really have to be in Japan. Of course I wanted family, more sooner than later. But because that wasn't working out so well, why not try it somewhere else? I might be some years too late for it, but I'm not old enough to do it now. Now or never.

I went public on FB, like I always do.
So my first idea was to find work in Tokyo from Germany. Or something similar, like working for a German company here and living in Tokyo. I was open to anything actually. With all the people I knew already, all the contacts from and related to Japan, I thought there must be a way for me to land a job there. That's what I thought at least. I thought about taking my time for the job search and leave home around summer or autumn 2013. Being loyal as I am, I didn't want to leave my co-workers alone and give them enough time to find a replacement instead. I was still unsure on when exactly I would drop the bomb on my boss, but it happened shortly after during a car ride back from a business trip.

I could hear the dissapointment in his voice, but he took it like the good boss he is. I made it very clear, that this was my sincere intention but until I haven't made a detailed plan with reliable results, there's no need to hand in my notice.

My first steps then were to contact my friends in and from Japan. One of them even used to work in HR. Lina provided me with a lot of email addresses and valuable advice. What I did then was to update my CV. I think I only updated my CV twice in my whole life, simply because I only needed it twice so far. Every interview I did in the past got me the job, so I definitely had to put in some work into updating. More important, I needed an English version of it. Lina suggested a Japanese version too, but I was neither fluent enough to write one nor did I focus on the Japanese (speaking) companies at that time.

It took some weeks to finalize a flashy CV with all the things I wanted to be in it. Next step was to send it out, with a neat and convincing cover letter. I gathered 24 email addresses to send it to, but 10 of them bounced back and guess what, maybe one or two of the remaining 14 ever replied...

But there were other options of course. I searched the internet, following suggestions from friends and put the bigger, English speaking companies into focus. I sent an online application to Rakuten, who supposedly changed their internal communication language fully to English. They were also hiring on general qualifications at that time, not necessarily for certain positions. I also tried VMware and HP, mainly for full-time consulting jobs, even when they were requiring a higher level of Japanese than mine. None of them worked out. Some sent me an automated negative reply, some didn't even care to reply.

We're now in March 2013. My intention was still strong, but I was wondering how I can really achieve what I wanted to. So I decided to increase the level of difficulty. I booked a flight to Tokyo for mid August, one-way ticket. I was pretty excited at this time and my friends and family all encouraged me in my plans. I don't think ther was one single person who doubted me or expressed their concern of possible failure. All of them believed that I can make it, even my boss. It was the best compliment ever, but also put so much pressure on me because I knew that failure would not be an option, neither to myself nor to the expectation of the others.

Funny enough, after posting about my booked flight to Tokyo, most people thought I already had found a job and began to congratulate me. So I had to tell them to be patient, but again it was a huge compliment and kept me going.

Some days before I booked my flight I have had a phone interview with Patrick, an American recruiter/headhunter in Tokyo. He was a friend of Daniel, the half American, half Japanese guy from Kobara senseis dojo in Kisarazu. Hooking me up with Patrick alone was proof to me that it's all about the contacts and connections in this world. The talk was pretty good but I was literally running out of breath because I was talking fast and walking about the flat during the phone call. But it was a promising phone interview and kept my spirits up.

The second phone interview I had was with a German recruiter working at another company in Tokyo. He was around my age and we had a nice chat about my plans and experiences. He assured me that my approach is quite legit and that he was around the same age when he did the same. He ended up as a recruiter though, which I heard many foreigners do apart from teaching. It seemed to me that he wasn't fully happy with his job, but money doesn't stink, right? The many compliments he made made me raise my eyebrow a little. Was he simply trying to sweet-talk me or was I really such a promising candidate?

I began to re-activate my account at LinkedIn, now that I had an English CV. Putting in all the information in English, especially my 13+ years of work experience was quite annoying, but it had to be done. Also, LinkedIn has a horrible site navigation and layout. That's why I wasn't really interested in using it, but with all the English speaking contacts and companies there, I simply had to start using it.

It soon proved to be a wise decision. I will tell you why in the 2nd part of my "master plan" :)