River in Japan. Photo by bryan... via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Becoming You: How staying true to yourself is the key to success.

By Andrea Jacques

This is a story about how I found that staying true to yourself is key to success, regardless of gender.

Something unexpected happened just as I was getting ready to leave Japan after five fulfilling years of cultivating my business and my spirit there – I was offered a job. Having been an entrepreneur since my early twenties, jobs don’t normally tempt me, but this one was different. It was a leadership role, the money was great, it was work I would enjoy, the company fit my values, and most importantly for me at that time, I would have opportunity to travel to Europe, Asia and even Australia and New Zealand. The latter was especially appealing as I knew that my inner passion scales had recently tipped from feeling more alive inside Japan to feeling more alive outside of Japan. I also knew in my heart that Canada was calling me to return and continue building my business there. Despite these misgivings, everything about the opportunity seemed to good to turn down – so I accepted the job.

Having made an uneasy truce with myself, I started the job and silently battled my growing dissatisfaction with Tokyo and my desire to return to Canada. Several months into my new job, a co-worker unknowingly provided the proverbial “last straw”. Discussing our daily commute, I was bemoaning the discomfort of a 45-minute full-body-contact ride crammed in with strangers from neck to ankle on all sides. My colleague, Mayumi, told me that I should be happy as her commute was over two hours each way. “Andrea-san,” she laughed, “you just need to become more Japanese”.

Her off-hand comment haunted me all the way home and to work on my crowded commute for several days. I knew she was right. To stay in Tokyo in this job I had to become more Japanese. It would help me to be successful, but more importantly, I knew it was critical for me to be happy. I had seen this process in other foreign friends who had stayed in Japan many years. Somewhere around the five or six year mark they all made that internal shift to become more Japanese. Those that didn’t make the shift but stayed anyways seemed miserable and stuck. I knew I could make the shift too, but the question was, did I want to?

In order to be true to my principles of not compromising my passions, I realized that this was a shift I did not want to make. While I had loved my time in Japan and in many ways already had become more Japanese, I knew that I had taken all that I was meant to take from my Japan experiences. I had to let this opportunity go. It was a good thing, but it was not my good thing. I knew in my heart that my desires to return to Canada and start my own business would keep coming back to haunt me. This was an agonizing choice as I also recognized that I was giving up a guaranteed opportunity for money, travel, status, learning and building my career for the far more difficult and uncertain option of returning to Canada to rebuild my business in a whole new city where I knew no one.

This one choice is representative of the thousands of similar choices I have had to make along my journey of discovering how to be successful without compromising the essence of who I am – as a woman and an entrepreneur. Many of these choices have involved giving up the “sure thing” option to take the longer route of finding my own way. Some people might say (and many have) that I am stubborn and am making things more difficult than they have to be. They may be right. My business might have grown faster if I had copied the models that others have used for success. While it may have taken me longer to reach certain milestones than others have, in staying true to myself along the way, I have built a stronger foundation to sustain my success than if I had done it their way.

The dreaded “mid-life crisis” that many of my clients come to me to help them through is and example of this. It is precipitated by a belief that if they just “become more Japanese” they will be successful and happy. They get into careers that their families approve of. They do what they are told. They achieve their goals. They get the promotion and the raise and the house and all the other things they are told should make them happy – but then discover that they aren’t because they have been ignoring all of those subtle signs of who they really are and what they really want to do along the way. Unfortunately, once they reconnect with their passions, they often must go back and start again to build this external success all over again.

Whether you are an entrepreneur, a CEO, a janitor or a stay-at-home- mom/dad, you can begin building a stronger foundation now by asking yourself these questions: Where am I making choices just so I can fit in? Where am I looking to others for a model of success instead of discovering my own? Where am I fighting an uphill battle trying to be something that I don’t really want to be, and will be miserable trying to become? Where might I be fooling myself into thinking that I am taking the short route by doing it someone else’s way first so that I can create the “success” I need to do it my way later

When faced with those choices that you must make each day, ask yourself if you are trying to “become more Japanese”. At the end of the day the surest route to success on your own terms – the kind of success that brings abundance not only financially, but physically, socially, and spiritually – is at once the easiest and the hardest thing to do. Become more You.

A version of this article first appeared in Make It Business magazine.

Feature photo by bryan… via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

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