Japan in Review: Different Ain’t So Bad

Imagine walking around Times Square in New York City.  A family of Japanese tourists approaches and asks you for the name of the block you’re standing on.

You explain that you are on 47th, between Broadway and 8th.

The Japanese family looks at you with bewilderment and repeats the question, “what is the name of the block?”

A little confused, you clarify, “we are on 47th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue.”

Street map of Times Sqaure.
Street map of Times Square.

Unfortunately, you have not helped the Japanese family and they move on in search of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. still lost and confused.

Now, imagine you are in Tokyo.  You are a bit lost and ask someone, “what street are we on?”

The person looks a little confused, points across the street and says, “that is block 24 and we are on block 25.”

You probably hang your head to the side as you try to make sense of this answer.  Going for it one more time, you ask, “what is the name of this street?”

The Japanese local responds, “that is block 24 and we are on block 25.  Streets do not have names, blocks have names.  Streets are the empty spaces between the blocks.”

Street map of the ward Shibuya in Tokyo.
Street map of the ward Shibuya in Tokyo.

All of a sudden, that run in with the Japanese family in Times Square starts to make sense.

The Japanese not only label their blocks as opposed to streets (some major streets have names, but not most), the house numbers do not go in order based on location, they are numbered based on when they were built.

When I was in Japan, I couldn’t wrap my head around how they managed to navigate with such a backwards address system.  I couldn’t understand how anyone knew where they were going.  Yet, this system works just fine in Japan.

Addresses were not the only thing that appear backwards and upside down in Japan to a foreigner (or Gaijin in Japanese).  When I told my friends and family I was traveling to Japan, they all said I was in for a major culture shock. 

After spending 6 weeks in Japan, with a trip to South Korea mixed in, I realize my friends and family were right.  However, the differences are not as extreme as you may think; a little weird for sure, but sometimes things that are different and a little weird aren’t necessarily so bad.

When I arrived, I felt like a child.  I pointed at menus to order food.  I relied on seven words of Japanese and Tarzan-like English to communicate.  I smiled and nodded a lot in an attempt to not offend anyone (I probably offended some people anyway, but at least I tried).

I’d have a rush of excitement when I got the hang of something or learned a new word.  The same type of excitement you experienced when you were able to ride your bike down the street without training wheels and not fall off.  I wasn’t accomplishing anything spectacular.  I was getting used to walking on the left side of the sidewalk, receiving change with two hands or walking up the right side of an escalator as opposed to the left.  It was all about the little victories.

There is a lot to get used to. 

Everything in Japan opens late.  There are a few exceptions, but most stores and restaurants don’t open until 10-11AM, even on the weekends!  Imagine if we did that in the States.  There would be a mass hysteria if us millennials couldn’t roll out of bed and get a bottomless Bloody Mary with our Eggs Benedict for brunch.

Once things are open, Tokyo is an amazing city.  Having spent most of my life in New York and Washington D.C., one of the most glaring differences is the quality of public transportation.

Being better than the Washington D.C. Metro is not much of an accomplishment.  However, in Japan, trains are always on time, run every 5 minutes, connect to every corner of the city, are wonderfully air-conditioned and are – drum roll please – clean.

When I say clean, I do not mean simply free of visible debris, I mean spic and span.  In contrast, when I hopped on the D.C. metro upon arriving back in the States, I had to avoid an empty “Big Bite” 7-11 container, covered in mustard, on the only open seat.

During my first few trips to the train station in Japan, I noticed there were all these yellow paths with little ridges leading everywhere.  Given how concerned the Japanese are about safety, I was shocked they would have such a blatant tripping hazard all over the place.  I felt like skipping along and singing “follow the yellow brick road,” until I was informed that they are there to help blind people navigate the train station safely.

Guides for the blind. Luckily they are used to walking on the left side of the walkways.
Guides for the blind. Luckily they are used to walking on the left side of the walkways.

The subway system is not the only place that is clean, the whole city is pristine!  It is common to see city workers and store owners, cleaning the sidewalks and the exteriors of buildings every day.

There is virtually no trash on the ground, not even cigarette butts.  On it’s own, this is not groundbreaking, but it is impressive when you realize there are virtually no public trash cans on the street.  I am not exaggerating, you would often walk blocks and blocks before running into some small receptacles outside a convenience store.  Each bin is labeled for burnables, glass or plastic. 

Furthermore, these few trash cans are never overflowing like you would see at a park or neighborhood with a vibrant nightlife on the weekends in the U.S..  The Japanese are very careful with their trash situation and you don’t see many people carrying Orange Mocha Frappaccino to-go cups on the street.  Japan puts even the most progressive college campuses to shame that think they are reducing their carbon footprint.

This is not to say everything is perfect.  Most public restrooms are often not equipped with soap or paper towels.  You know you are in a fancy shmancy area when the bathroom has paper towels.  Most locals carry lots of hand sanitizer and follow the BYOT rule (Bring Your Own Towel).

Once you get past those short comings, the bathroom situation is actually quite lovely.  Unless you find yourself stuck with a squatty potty, every toilet is complete with a bidet and heated seat.  Talk about a big variation, either a hole in the ground to squat over, or a luxury spa for your bottom.  I was skeptical of the bidet at first, but once I got used to it, a little rinse before reaching for the toilet paper is a massive upgrade.  Japan is the land of the cleanest streets and the cleanest buttholes, just bring your own soap.

The dreaded squatty potty.
The dreaded squatty potty.

The bathroom feature that blew me away had nothing to do with cleanliness.  Toilets in restaurants and nice areas have noise makers that produce the sounds of a toilet flushing or birds chirping.  Imagine, you never have to be embarrassed about the plippity ploppity and splashy noises you make when nature calls.

Another big difference in Japan is related to crime: there is none!  Every English-speaking bartender and local says that if you miss the last train home, you could pass out on the street with your wallet in your hand and wake up with it in your pocket.

I did not test this theory out myself, however, the way people behaved made you feel like crime is less of an issue as it is in major cities in the States.  It was common to see people asleep outside the train station after a night of drinking.  People did not lock up their bikes.  Business folks would go to the bathroom at coffee shops and leave their laptops on the table.  Stores had large displays of goods outside without anyone making sure anything walked away.

I realized how conditioned I am to think that some degree of crime is normal.  When I first arrived, I thought these store owners were crazy and these people were stupid to leave their bikes and belongings unattended.  By the end of my trip, I realized they weren’t the silly ones for being so trustworthy, I was for being so speculative.

I am sure you have seen the ads on trains in the U.S. that warn you to keep your phone and bags close by so they are not easily grabbed by thieves leaving the train.  There are no such ads to be found in Tokyo.  There are, however, signs reminding you to give up your seat for the elderly, a pregnant woman or someone with a disability.  Different for sure, but that really highlights the priorities and concerns of the community in Japan.

Not all signs or ads are quite so noble.  A few examples include: cautioning drunk people to be careful by the tracks, warning you not to use a selfie stick near the tracks to avoid being electrocuted, and my favorite, a sign by the escalator warning men not to take pictures up women’s skirts (for real).

Anti-Pervert Warnings.
Anti-Pervert Warnings.

Maybe some folks are a tad perverted in Japan, but at least they are taking measures to curb such behavior.  This sign is not the only precaution for creepers.  All Japanese cell phones have a security feature that ensures the phone makes the “click” noise when you take a picture.  This way, no one can take a picture of you without everyone around knowing.  Luckily, phones in the States can be set to silent, which helped me take this picture of some dude passed out on the train one morning…

Catching a snooze on the morning train.
Catching a snooze on the morning train.

Moving on to food.  There are definitely some interesting features and practices in the world of Japanese food.

First, the Japanese love vending machines.  They are everywhere.  You can’t walk more than a block without running into a machine selling water, soda, alcohol (yes alcohol, no open container law!) or hot coffee.  The hot coffee brand “Premium Boss,” oddly uses Tommy Lee Jones and a stoic Japanese dude in sunglasses as their spokesmen.

Tommy Lee Jones: The Premium Boss
Tommy Lee Jones: The Premium Boss

Vending machines are not limited to soft drinks and Tommy Lee Jones sponsored caffeinated beverages.  A lot of restaurants use vending machines for you to place your order.  You put in your money, pick your meal, a ticket prints and you hand it over as you walk in.

Ramen vending machine.
Ramen vending machine.

With my experience in the restaurant business, I am skeptical about how this would fly in the States.  The Japanese are not big on substitutions, while most Americans read a menu as a list of suggested ingredients that can be interchanged at will.

The Japanese don’t allow such requests just to be a pain.  They want you to order items as is to ensure a quality product.  There is nothing more frustrating in the restaurant business, than a person who would create their own dish only to be disappointed that it isn’t as good as they expected (that’s why it isn’t on the menu!).  I actually respect the Japanese for sticking to their product and not allowing for variation they do not control.

A lot of friends asked me if I ate sushi for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Surprisingly, I ate less sushi than I would have expected.  The sushi I did partake in is leaps and bounds better, fresher and cut in vastly larger pieces than any sushi spot in the US.  If your idea of sushi is the roll variety, covered in spicy mayo and crunchy toppings (sorry Dad), you are in for disappointment.  I do not believe there is any spicy mayo in the entire country.  This was exclusively sashimi and nigiri land, and it was glorious.

The one time I did have sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was as good as it looks.
The one time I did have sushi for breakfast at the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was as good as it looks.

There are a lot of great things to eat away from raw fish.  Yakitori, grilled meat on a stick, was very popular and a delicious meal or snack.  Dumplings were pervasive and amazing.  The Japanese take their noodles very seriously; udon (thick noodles), soba (buckwheat noodles) and my favorite, ramen (not instant), is available on every block.  Ramen also doubles as a late night snack spot.  I am fairly certain ramen is some type of ancient hang over remedy.

My favorite ramen spot. This style is called Tongotsu (Pork Bone) ramen.
My favorite ramen spot. This style is called Tonkotsu (Pork Bone) ramen.

Most restaurants in Japan encourage reservations and are skeptical of accepting walk-ins.  There were several instances when a restaurant would be reluctant to seat a party of 2 at 6:00PM because they were holding that specific table for an 8:30PM reservation.  The restaurant manager in me wanted to shake them by the collar and explain to them how much money they were losing with this practice.  Upon reflection, I began to respect these establishments for running their businesses the way they want to and avoiding anything that might diminish the experience for their customers.

The music played in restaurants and bars is pretty spectacular.  One afternoon, I went to a restaurant that did not have an English menu.  After a five-minute ordering process with the one lady who kinda spoke English, I sat down and took in my surroundings.  I realized they were playing “Endless Love” on the radio.  Don’t get me wrong, this soulful ballad by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross should be appreciated by different cultures, but I was definitely the only customer who understood the words.

One night at a bar, there was an eclectic Funk band performing.  Until you see a Japanese man sing “She’s a Brick House,” you simply have not lived.

Besides all the institutional and cultural differences, I had some experiences during my time in Japan (and South Korea) that I would never have done in the States. 

I rode a go-cart, dressed as Luigi from Mario Kart, in the streets of Tokyo. 

Classic Asian tourist picture driving a go cart.
Classic Asian tourist picture driving a go-cart.

I went to a baseball game where the there is no middle-aged man screaming, “ICE COLD BEER HERE!”  Instead, there are petite Japanese women running around with back packs filled with kegs.  Oh, and the team’s name is the Tokyo Yakult “Swallows” (referring to the bird, get your head out of the gutter). 

Draught beer on the go!
Draught beer on the go!

I went to a Robot Show, which consisted of four acts that can only be described as some sort of live anime with monsters, robots and people.  They were playing drums, and then fighting, and then dancing to Michael Jackson music, and then fighting some more.  I am pretty sure there was supposed to be a story line, but the volume of neon lights, smoke and debauchery made it hard to follow.  Luckily, they serve beer.  If given the opportunity, go to the Robot Show and prepare to get weird, really weird.

One of the music scene's from the Robot Show.
One of the music scene’s from the Robot Show.

I bathed naked at a natural hot spring spa called an Onsen. (For obvious reasons, there are no pictures to accompany this experience)

I went to the Demilitarized Zone between South and North Korea.  I was close enough that I could hear the propaganda North Korea blasts through speakers to entice the South Korean’s to defect over the border.  In retaliation, the South Korean’s play Korean Pop music back at North Korea (can’t say they don’t have a sense of humor).

Spying on Kim Jung Un.
Spying on Kim Jong-Un.

I went to the official “Cup O’ Noodles” museum and made my own “Cup O’ Noodle.”

I have the artistic skill and sense of humor of a 10 year old.
I have the artistic skill and sense of humor of a 10-year-old.

I went to an Owl Cafe, which did not live up to the Harry Potter like expectations I had.  PETA would have disapproved, but how often do you get to hold an owl?!

We are ready for our close up!
We are ready for our close up!

While there was plenty of weird by American standards, there was also plenty of normal.  Lots of beautiful parks, fascinating museums, cultural festivals, delicious food and impressive temples, shrines and architecture.

At the end of the day, I have learned from the people in Japan that the world is a lot less daunting than we often make it out to be.  Yes, things are different.  Yes, things can be a little weird, but my experience in Japan has led me to believe that weird and different isn’t necessarily as bad as we anticipate.  Often, our fears and lack of understanding paralyze us from doing something that can turn out to be amazing and unforgettable. 

It is easy to watch the news these days and think that the world is a dangerous and scary place.  However, walking the streets of Tokyo felt just as safe, if not safer, than the streets of D.C. or New York.  Do you need to use some common sense and avoid some sketchy areas?  Of course you do.  Are there still some bad people out there?  Absolutely.  But, it seems like the world is generally filled with a lot of good, decent, friendly and hospitable people.

One of many that wanted to take pictures with me while riding go carts.
One of many that wanted to take pictures with me while riding go carts.

This extended time out of the country has been one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.  I always dreamed of having an experience like this and until now, I had always had an excuse to avoid taking the plunge.  If I learned nothing else, I learned this: If you want to take a trip or experience something new, don’t wait for all the traffic lights of life to turn green (because they won’t) and don’t let fear get in your way.  Be like Nike and “Just Do It.”

Now that I am back in the States, I am not thinking about if I will take another trip like this, I am thinking about when and where.

Yeah, I Went to Japan and Meditated

Several months ago, a friend from work started practicing transcendental meditation.  He told me he was relaxed, less stressed, more in tune with his thoughts and even cursed less.

I thought to myself, “fuck that.”

To be honest, I thought the idea of meditation was a bit of a quack.  Who needs to sit quietly, focusing on their breath or a sound to relax?  I kept thinking about the scenes in Bad Boys II where Martin Lawrence and Joe Pantoliano rub their ear lobes and say “woo-sah” when they begin to lose their temper.

This summer, I began listening to “The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast.  Tim Ferriss, author of “The Four Hour Workweek (Chef & Body),” does long form interviews with world-class performers in various fields: acting, music, investing, athletics, writing, medicine, start-ups, technology, academia, military, and more.  Besides finding these interviews very inspirational and educational, I realized almost every one of these “world-class” performers had some kind of meditative practice.

I finally heard enough about meditation and decided I would give it a try while I am in Japan.  Now, there are many different types of meditation, and if any of this interests you, there are lots of resources online for beginners.  I tried two apps that provide guided meditation to get started.  I have done the free trials for Headspace and Calm, I will give my opinion of the different approaches at the end of the blog if you want to get into the weeds.

When I began, I really didn’t know squat about meditation.  I envisioned sitting with my legs crossed on the floor and like Peter Gibbons in Office Space, “just you know, space out for a while.”

I quickly realized that meditation is just the opposite of spacing out.  It is much more about finding space for clarity while your mind has the urge to jump around and worry about anything and everything.

Both apps walk you through 10 minute sessions, you focus on breathing, noises around you and how your body feels.  It was quite shocking to realize how infrequently I ever just sat still and focused on such simple things.  My “unwind time” usually involved tv, music, movies, Facebook, surfing the internet, and beer.  While relaxing, those activities made me feel mindless, not mindful.

Quite often in these 10 minute sessions, my mind wandered all over the place, from memories of the past to worries or excitement about the future.

Luckily, these guided meditation apps know this whole “mindfulness” business is not easy at first.  Both apps frequently reminded me to bring my focus back to my breathing or body or whatever part of the session I was on.  It is amazing how much my mind gravitates towards “autopilot.”  It reminded me of how many things I do on “autopilot” in my daily life.

I don’t know about you, but when I learn something new, I get immersed in the task or topic and think about every aspect.  However, once I get comfortable, it becomes easy to go through that same task without thinking about all the details I focused on when I was a novice.

Remember when you learned to drive?   You had to think about how much to press on the gas, how much to turn the steering wheel and how hard to hit the breaks.  After you got the hang of it, how often do you really think about the finer details when you get behind the wheel?  It comes naturally, you just drive, right?

Life is complicated, and it is normal to learn to automate tasks so we can focus on all the complexities the world throws at us as we grow.  This ability to drive and do various mechanical tasks without thinking too hard is a good thing for the most part.  But, how many times have you been in a meeting or a conversation and realize that you completely zoned out and have no idea what was just said to you? 

The mind likes to wander and jump around.  If we never practice being mindful and being present, we often miss out on the beauty of what is around us.

This is where I have found meditation to be the most helpful.  I have learned that the idea is not so much to control my thoughts, but to feel comfortable letting thoughts come and go, not allowing them to control me and create undue stress in my life.  We don’t need to judge what we are thinking.  How often do you look back on something you did and think, “seemed like a good idea at the time.”  Sometimes ideas and thoughts come to us when we least expect them.

It is important to be aware of how we feel and not be afraid to ask why.  The key is awareness.  Awareness of what makes me feel good.  Awareness of why I feel good.  If I am in touch with that awareness, I can try and create more of that good in my life.  On the flip side, if I allow myself to obsess over negative thoughts, or to let them stress me out, not only am I dealing with the negative thoughts, but the added stress of worrying about those thoughts.  It can feel like an endless cycle, a cycle that inhibits the action I need to take to deal with those negative thoughts. 

The more I dig, the more I realize these negative thoughts are a product of what I am afraid of.  I am not pretending dealing with my fears is easy, but wallowing in the quicksand of negative thoughts won’t get me anywhere either.  Tim Ferriss writes, “what we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

Now, with a bunch of meditation sessions under my belt, I am not going to shave my head, sport a robe, and move into a monastery with some monks.  We usually feel like we need to make BIG changes in our lives to improve ourselves.  Sometimes, all we need is a small change to produce large and impactful results.  Merely taking 10 minutes in the morning has really helped me focus on how I am feeling that day and not let the stress of having quit my job and other stresses we all face control my thoughts and life.

They use this metaphor in Headspace about a clear, blue sky.  That blue sky represents the clarity of mind I have been talking about.  It is often easy to forget that the blue sky is present when the clouds, storms and distractions of life get in the way.  The goal of meditation is not to create clarity, but remember that the blue sky is always there above the clouds.  We should not aim to have everyday be beautiful and sunny because we have as little control of the weather as we do our thoughts.  We should practice cutting through the clouds in our lives and remember that clarity is always there for us, no matter how hard it is to remember when times are gloomy and tough.

If you have read this far and still think meditating is not for you, I get it.  It took me a long time and I had to hear about it from a lot of sources before giving it a shot myself.  Even if you don’t want to just sit down and meditate, I would encourage you to try and create some space in your day to get in touch with your thoughts. 

Next time you go for a walk, take off the headphones and just appreciate the world around you.  Instead of ordering pizza, go to the grocery store and cook yourself a meal.  I never realized before, but cooking puts me in a similar mental space as meditation.  You have to focus on what you are doing since there are sharp objects and repetitive tasks.  Try and find something that lets you get in that zone, I am sure it is different for everyone.  If you have a tactic or activity for creating mindful moments in your life, I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.

If you have read this far and think you want to give this a try, you may feel that you don’t have the time.  But, as Russell Simmons says, “if you don’t have 20 minutes to delve into your self through meditation, then that really means you need 2 hours.”

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Looking meditative.

Headspace VS Calm:  Both apps cover a lot of the same practices.  They are both focused on mindfulness and do emphasize focus on your breath and body.  This is different from transcendental meditation, which focuses on a sound or repeated mantra.

Headspace has a free 10 day program to teach you the basics.  The sessions are led by the founder, Andy.  Andy does a great job of going through a similar routine everyday (focus on breathing, scan of the body, let the mind be free and back to the breathing), but gets you to focus deeper each day.  I liked Headspace because Andy really does not let you stray too much, and for a beginner like me, I needed a lot of reminding to stay present. 

Calm has a 7 day free trial that takes a stepby step approach to the the same style of meditation.  The lady who leads the meditation starts day 1 by only focusing on the breath and adds steps as the days go on.  I did Headspace first, so I found this style to be refreshing since each day focused on one task at a time and put the pieces together into a seamless routine by the end.  If I could go back in time, I would have done Calm first.  The only thing I did not like about Calm was that they would go longer periods of time without refocusing your attention on the task at hand.  As I mentioned, as a beginner, I really appreciated the reminders Headspace provided in these early stages.

I recommend committing to the trial program and really try to practice every day, around the same time.  The first couple days might not feel like much, but after doing it almost everyday for a week or so, I really began to feel a level of natural relaxation and calmness I had not felt in a while.

 

Quitting Manifesto

Five weeks ago, I gave notice at my job as a restaurant manager.  I started working there part time while I was in school and it was my first full-time job after college.  I started full-time two weeks after graduation.  Last Monday was my last day.

When I first started in the restaurant industry, I loved working all hours of the day and night, I loved the rush of having a restaurant packed on a Friday night and being able to help lead the staff through the service.  I particularly loved helping people, even the guest who sent back their burger three times because they do not agree with our definition of “medium-well.”  I would love sitting down at the bar after my shift with my co-workers and talk about the shift, have some laughs and go home with just enough time to get a little sleep and do it again the next day.

Over the last year or so, I slowly felt myself falling out of love with it.  The hours started to weigh on me.  Working every night, every holiday, every weekend; the job was taking its toll. 

More so than the hours, I started to have doubts about whether or not I wanted to work in the restaurant industry for my entire life.  I have loved it, it has been good to me, I am pretty good at it; but will I be satisfied if I never do any other type of work or lead any other type of life?

Even as these thoughts began swirling in my head, the prospect of quitting seemed daunting.  The restaurant industry was all I had known professionally.  The restaurant was a big part of my life as I became an adult and it was hard to imagine life without it.

Had these thoughts and fantasies of finding another path fizzled after a few weeks or a month, I would probably not be writing this story now.  This idea was tugging at me for over a year and those fantasies started seeming like a real possibility.  I began to realize that I needed to make a change.

With that realization in mind I struggled for a long time with a feeling of guilt about quitting; I found myself thinking about how this company took a chance on a 22-year-old manager, how they had promoted me and how they made me feel like I had a promising future with the company.

To be honest, more so than feeling guilty, I was scared to quit.  I was scared of giving up a steady paycheck.  I was scared of getting out of the routine that I had developed over the last 5 years.  I was scared of leaving the relationships, both personal and professional, I spent time forging.   I was scared to let people down who expected me to grow with the company.  I was scared to leave a job I was good at.

I found myself slightly overwhelmed, I knew I wanted to change, but what type of change?  I read countless articles and books about changing careers, starting online businesses, blogging, freelancing and just about everything in between.  Reading about the stories of others was inspiring.  Learning that I was not alone in feeling that maybe there is another way was a relief.  Yet, after all that reading and research, I had not read or heard of one job or path that really called out to me.

Two things ended up being the tipping point for me: a trip and a book.

First, the trip.  I went on a two-week vacation to Japan with some friends of mine.  This was my first time overseas and I quickly realized that I did not want it to be my last.  Being on the other side of the world, experiencing a different culture and yet, seeing how people 6,000 miles away are not as different as I thought they would be, opened my eyes.  I was realizing how much can be missed when you are stuck in the office or restaurant all day everyday.

Second thing, the book.  I read “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Chris Guillebeau, which chronicled a variety of “quests” that people from all different walks of life embarked on.  Some were small; there was a family that decided to make a meal from every country in the world over 193 weeks.  Some quests were large; the author actually went to all 193 countries over 2 decades.

When I finished the book, I found myself thinking about my trip, my job, my life and what kind of quest I wanted to embark on.  Growing up in the suburbs of Long Island, New York, I was programmed at a young age to follow this all too common script: College, job, family, work your way up whatever professional ladder you are climbing, sprinkle in a vacation when you can, pick up golf and retire (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).  Of course there are millions of ways that script can play out, but I was not sure that was the way I wanted the story of my life to go. 

The biggest epiphany I had after that trip and book was that I am not going to find that path of happiness grinding it out at the restaurant night in and night out.  I also realized that the feelings of guilt I had been having were not fair to me and I realized I was way more frightened of looking back on my life and wondering “what if” than I was of taking a leap of faith.

Since I put in my notice, the most popular question I have received is, “what are you going to do next?”  Like most people, I have always enjoyed knowing the next step in my life, always liked having a plan.  For the first time, I am really excited to take a leap of faith and take a step without knowing where my other foot is going to land.

So what is my plan?  I saved up some money (not that much) and am going to take a “mini-retirement” for a few months.  I am going back to Japan which inspired my thirst for travel and have a ticket booked to see South Korea while I am here.  I am going to write about my adventure, I am going to experience different cultures, I am going to eat all the strange things, I am going to drink all of the local favorites, I am going to decompress and reflect.

Even when I write that down, it sounds like a pipe dream.  But it is no longer a dream.  Now, it is my new reality.

When I thought about how I would explain this “plan” to my friends and family, I figured I would get a lot of comments to the extent of, “what are you crazy?”  The reality caught me by surprise.  The overwhelming response has been positive, supportive and even a bit envious.  My fear of letting people down ended up being a pretty baseless fear after all.

I realize that this undertaking will consist of ups and downs, great days and some where the free time and lack of structure could be a challenge, however, I am endlessly excited about taking control of my life and more importantly, taking control of the one thing we all have a finite amount of, time. 

My Grandmother always told me, “more things happen by chance than by choice.”  I am hopeful that a fresh perspective and this time to expose myself to more chance encounters will lead to opportunities and options that I cannot fathom at this point.

My goal here is to share my experience of my travels, stepping out of my comfort zone, doing things I did not think I was capable of and taking back control of my time and my life.  There may be a smattering of stories reflecting on my time as a manager; thoughts on leadership and human nature (Warning: there may be a sports or Seinfeld reference or two).  I hope you find it useful and maybe help give you the confidence to make changes, both big and small, to improve yourself and your life whether you work in a restaurant, office, farm, brothel or don’t work at all.  On the flip side, if this experiment is a complete crash and burn, it will be a good reference when you try to convince your friend not to quit his job and travel the world with no back up plan.  Either way, it should be a memorable journey.