Love What You Do: The Life Coach

An Interview with Andrea Jacques on the After JET Podcast

By Andrea Jacques

Listen to an interview with Andrea Jacques featured on the After Jet Podcast. Below, see a rough, abridged transcription:

David Reiling:  …today we join my guest, Andrea Jacques, who participated in After Jet conferences as a career coach. We talk about work-life balance, handling stress, and figuring out what a fulfilling job — and therefore life — actually means.

My name is Andrea Jacques and I am the founder of Kyosei Consulting. For those of you have been in Japan, you might know that Kyosei literally means symbiosis. But it has become popular to translate the word to “living and working together for the common good.” My passion with Kyosei and my business is to work with individuals and organizations to create a world where everyone wins.

So what does that mean? There are a couple of sides to my business. One is to create great places to work. I’m working with leaders and entrepreneurs to build businesses that are not only successful but socially responsible… to really help people live up to their potential and bring them alive, rather than making them feel like the walking dead. And the other part of the business is doing coaching, training and support on the personal side to help people figure out what they really want to do with their lives and find their purpose using a framework that I call the Life-Work Integrity® Model.


DR:  Just to be clear, you weren’t yourself a participant in the JET program.

I wasn’t a participant in the JET program but I actually was a speaker at many of the JET events over the five years I lived in Japan, so I did a lot of training and workshops for JET participants. I spoke at the annual Renewer’s Conference several times on the topic of career transition as well as on finding passionate work and inspiring passion in the workplace. I remember speaking at the Renewer’s Conference to the ALTs and I remember that was one of the first times that I heard this comment. I had two different people come up to me at the end — I’ve seen this at my work, but this was 16, 18 years ago — one of them was more in a manager role and one was a teacher. The teacher said, “I love what you said about bringing our passions to work and talking about our values, but I just don’t think my manager would be open to that.” Then the manager came up to me and said, “I really love what you’re talking about and want to do more of it but I don’t think the employees would be into it.”

It was kind of funny, because that’s a thing that I’ve heard for many years now. It’s changing, because this whole concept of employee engagement and finding work that you’re passionate about with purpose-driven organizations is much more popular. But back then it was this dirty secret, you know, “Well I want this, but it’s too touchy-feely so I’m not supposed to talk about it.”

So yes, I spoke at conferences. I did a lot of workshops on finding your purpose and passion for many ALTs all over Japan. I also did some work with the CIRs on training them to use coaching skills with the teachers they were responsible for supporting.



DR: What were the common questions that people in your workshops asked about?

I think when people are searching for what to do after JET, it certainly depends on what kind of experience they had before. For some people, they knew what they wanted to do but they thought they would come and just do this as a fun year or two off and maybe they’re heading back home. That’s a different situation than somebody who came because they didn’t really know what they wanted to do. They’ve been here for 5 years and they’re not super keen on going home, but it feels like it’s time. There’s that 5-year mark that is a turning point for many people.

I made it about 5 years. There’s a story in my book — Wabi Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life called “How to Know When It’s Time To Go.” It’s about knowing it’s time to go, but having a tempting offer to stay and how I navigated that. It’s very hard to navigate that transition when you don’t know what you’re going to. For me, it was easy. I was coming back to start on my business. I knew I wanted to be in Vancouver. I was very clear on why it was time to leave Japan. For some people, they don’t know what they’re going to but they know they can’t take Japan any more. You get to that point where you’ve just had enough of some things Japanese. It’s more of a reaction.

That’s one piece, aside from the self-discovery piece of it, it’s just being conscious of the motivations for leaving. Leaving to get away from something or that stress, even if you’re experience has been good, there’s a certain level of stress from not being who you are naturally every day and dealing with a different culture. But if you’re reacting by running away from it without having something to go to, the re-entry experience is much more difficult.



DR: At the end of five years in Japan, how do you figure out what to do?

There are two ways to answer that question. One is, for lack of a better word, the “old-fashioned” way. I started in career development two decades ago. Back then, I was working in the University of Alberta career placement centre and running the resource centre, doing training with volunteers and that kind of thing. Back then, we didn’t talk about what you wanted to do with your life; we talked about what job are you were going to get. We talked about transferable skills and education and experience — it was more about skills and knowledge (and a teeny bit of values). But we didn’t talk at all about purpose or authenticity or passion. It was much more transactional.

I think, in terms of what we want to do next, there was a focus in the After JET support events, on transferable skills. We learned creative thinking and communication skills and how to transfer those to many other jobs, which you can. We learned how to write a resume to communicate the skills and competencies that you have as a result of living and working in Japan.

So that’s one way to do it, and just go out and apply for any job that tickles your fancy and try to write a resumé and cover letter that fits. That’s doable. I’ve written thousands of resumés for people. I could talk forever on the types of transferable skills and the value of living and working in Japan.

But probably the deeper way — where you’re going to get a more lasting and sustainable answer to the question “what should I do with my life?” — is where my business is now. One of the reasons I left Canada and went to Japan was that I just felt like something was missing.  This whole focus on skills and knowledge and cover letters — it just felt like keeping people stuck in the past. What you’d done dictated your future. It didn’t feel at all like my career had gone that way. And I looked at people who I knew were successful and fulfilled, and I realized that they weren’t necessarily resumé building or career building. They were doing something different.

After 6 months in Japan, I wasn’t loving teaching English and I’d had this question “what should I do with my life” asked of me about a hundred times. I thought now was the opportunity. I was going to develop my own thing.

I started researching what these successful and fulfilled people had done. So that’s when I came up with what I called “The Life Path Workshop.” And that’s what many ALTs went through… some of whom are still clients! That’s where I developed this other approach. The more important questions are: What are you passionate about? What kind of life do you want to build for yourself. We do some deeper work on values than what was done back then. I talk about 4 core passions that you need to know to really understand not only what you want to do with your life in terms of work but to create this thing I call Life Work IntegrityTM, which is a state of alignment between who you are and what you do in all areas of your life, not just your work.

Your Passion for Being is about your values and principles. Who you want to be and what you stand for.

Your Passion for Doing and Knowing is about your strengths and talents. What do you love doing? What fills your tank? What kind of work can you do that won’t suck the life out of you?

Your Passion for Giving is about your purpose and understanding the kind of contribution you want to make and how you want to have an impact on the world, and how you do have an impact on the world just by being who you are.

Your Passion for Achieving or Creating is about a concrete legacy you want to leave. Something you want to achieve in the world.



DR: I think the barrier to making change is often the fear of change and failure.

Absolutely. It’s huge. And there are different fears for everybody. Everybody has different doubts. There is the not-good-enough fear. The fear of not doing it perfect. Some people don’t even start on this journey because they have these core beliefs that they’re not going to be able to do it, or make money, or that guys can’t do that or people won’t like me. There are so many different fears.

It’s even just the capacity to dream. When I was in Japan, I did a few similar training sessions with Japanese audiences. When I was working with this audience to come up with what might be a big dream for them, it was a challenge for them to come up with what might be a big dream for them, a vision for their life.

One woman said “I would like to have a foreign home-stay student. That would be a big dream for me.” This would have seemed pretty small for the non-Japanese participants in my other workshops, but for her, it was really hard to conceptualize how that small goals was possible, and how she could make that happen.



DR: You said you came to Japan originally to teach English. Is that right?

I came to Japan as part of a very young mid-life crisis. With the work I was doing in Canada, before I went to Japan, I felt like something was missing. It was primarily with the Worker’s Compensation Board and the government to get people who had been injured back to work. I had a mandate to get people back to work in a certain amount of time. After awhile I felt torn. I couldn’t be in integrity with the real human being in front of me who wanted to make positive changes in their life and their career because I had to get them back to work within 4-6 weeks.

I was also engaged to be married and was doing some soul searching on whether I should do this. I’d always dreamed of backpacking around Asia and felt it wouldn’t be the same to do after I got married even though my fiancé was in to doing it too. So all of these things came together at once. I decided to call off the wedding, wind down my business, and put all my stuff in storage. I met up with my friend who was on the JET program to backpack for 6 months.

I got tired of travelling, but I wasn’t quite ready to go home. I thought, okay, I’m going to go to Japan to teach for 6 months or so. I ended up in a tiny gaijin house in Kyoto and ultimately spent 3 years in Kyoto and 2 years in Tokyo.



DR: Did you start your life coaching career in Japan?

Yes. I was doing my career coaching already in Canada. And I was also doing what was then called “job satisfaction training” — now more popularly called “employee engagement training” — before I left Japan. While I was in Japan, I thought “I’m going to start my own system here,” something different than the norm back then. So I started up while I was still teaching English by night. I had all day free and after a while, well, I’d seen lots of temples and I wasn’t that passionate about learning Japanese.



DR: How did you get started with your first workshops?

Well, my first workshops were with foreigners. A friend of mine was doing Swedish massage and I was studying it with her. I guess I was going through my own little “What do I want to do with my life?” phase when I was in Japan, so one of the things I explored was massage. Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage. I got involved in different musical groups. I took up cycle touring. I even took a course on learning how to read past lives! At one point, I was on an ikebana (japanese flower arranging) student visa. I was just really thinkingwhat do I want to do? At one point I went to Sado Island for the Kodo Earth Celebration because I loved the taiko drums. That weekend, I was all about “I am going to join the Kodo drumming group and live in the commune and tour the world doing taiko drums.”

But I kept getting called back to this idea of helping people figure out what they want to do with their lives. People were asking me about it and I just kept feeling drawn to it. I was actually studying sustainable business and economic development through the International University in Kyoto because that was an area I was very fascinated by. I also was becoming aware that this whole idea of figuring out your purpose and aligning with your purpose was the core to not only business sustainability but also personal sustainability.

So when I was having this massage with my Swedish massage friend, I said, I really want to create a workshop on this. He said “Great, when do you think you can do it?” I said, “Probably three months.” So she said “Let’s have a look at the calendar. Bring me your poster next time you come for a massage and I’ll put it up.”

You have to understand. This was 1993. It was low-tech. I still wrote letters to people back home. So, I can’t remember what program I used, maybe Word, to make a poster and put it up around Kyoto where all the gaijin hang out.

Three months later, I was in a little room with tatami mats and about 15 people there for the first Life Path Workshop. It was only a day, but I had about three days of material. Eventually, they became weekend-long events.

The Japanese groups came around, through connections who said they wanted a Japanese version of the Life Path Workshop and who connected me up with translators.



DR: So why now? Why did you decide to write the book?

Talking about fear, really, this book was the epitome of facing my fear and putting something out and being okay with it being good enough, not perfect. Wabi sabi is all about the beauty in imperfections. On January 5th 2016, I was out to dinner with a friend who was also working on a book about her experiences. She mentioned that a lot of friends had said “I’ll help you, I’ll edit your book for you,” and she’d turn them down. I asked her why and she said “Because, it’s my experience, it’s my words, it’s my grammar mistakes. This is who I am and this is how I talk and I’m good with it.”

And I said to her, “Lori-Ann, I really need to finish my book.” She agreed it was “about damn time” and asked my how long it would take me. I said I could get it done by the end of the month. You know, come to think of it, it’s not that dissimilar from when I did my first workshop.

The funny thing is, though, of the six books I had in progress, Wabi Sabi Wisdom was not one of them. I sent the drafts of two of my other books off to two friends to read for feedback and asked for them back by Friday so I could go back and edit them. But I couldn’t sit around for 5 days and wait. Then I had this idea.

I’ve been writing for Tokyo Families Magazine for about eight years, and always thought it would be fun to do a book that had a kanji and a Japanese word for a theme for each chapter. So I compiled all of the articles I had written and said, well, these are pretty good. Not perfect, but… well, the title jumped into my head. Wabi Sabi Wisdom. I just knew this was it, and I could visualize what I wanted the chapters to look like. So I pulled them together in the program I use to write, Scrivener. I had over 90000 words, so I focused on just the personal-oriented ones.

I think we published the e-book on January 26th, so it was about 21 days. And the print version is on Amazon now, too. That took us another couple of months because of the graphic design and all of that. It really was an exercise in just saying “All right, enough of being scared to put yourself out.” And still, I look at it and think, “Aw, missed that grammar mistake. And that ending could have been better.” But, you know, it was time to walk my talk and just get out there.


DR: I don’t know if we covered this, but how did you face your fears?

You know, that’s a really tough one. One of the things that I’ve always said to my clients is “Go in the direction of your greatest fear.” So really I’ve been working on writing books. And writing books… I can do that. But to actually publish a book, you know, putting yourself out there and being at risk for people to not like it or look at it and be embarrassed myself. Really, though, I just know that if something really scares me, which that did, the best approach is to just rip off the Band Aid and just do it.

One of the ways that I’ve always gotten over my fears is that I set these crazy unrealistic deadlines for myself. Not impossible, but ambitious. Like putting my first workshop together in 3 months. In fact, with a lot of the speaking I did and training I did, I would always be last minute-ing it. Because I was getting over that fear. Accountability is a big thing for getting over fear. When I made that big declaration to her, that was about getting over fear.


DR: There was always someone who held you to your promise. What about for people who do not know anyone else who is a doer in their group?

At the risk of sounding too promotional, that’s why coaching is on the rise. There’s an abundance of books and online courses that can help you tap into that. But the reality is, you still need to tap into your own motivation to take those courses. And some people can, but the scarier something is, the more you need a structure. That structure might be a support person like a coach. It might be enrolling in a university program. It might be enrolling in a course where there is some sort of accountability mechanism like a buddy system.

I have to be honest that my spouse and I making promises to each other that we’re going to do things is not that effective. It’s kind of like making promises to yourself.

People feel bad because they think they don’t have the willpower to keep the promises they make to themselves. But for anyone who’s done anything amazing, it was because they had somebody there holding them accountable. Yes, there are a few stories of people who were completely self-directed, but that’s not usually the real case.

If I’m working with a client and some new challenge comes up, I can promise them a new tool. If I make those promises, I can always deliver. Now, some people make too many promises. This is another reason why people don’t overcome their fears. They allow themselves to get distracted.

The only way I was able to write and publish a book in 21 days was that I looked at myself and said, “I need to make some different choices here. The things that I’ve allowed, well, I’ll need to make some different choices. ” So my family ate a lot of pizza that month. I didn’t work out very much and my house got kind of dirty.

It’s a close-your-eyes-and-jump approach to dealing with fear. How do you get over fear? Well, you do it.

I’m dealing with it with my son right now. He’s got this thing where he’s afraid of going down water slides. And he’s eight. I was talking to him and just trying to explain that all he needs to do is do it once and he’ll realize it’s not as hard or scary as he thinks. And it’s a lot of fun.

Here’s another thing. Sometimes you also need to back up on stuff. So, no regrets. Up until now, it wasn’t the time. But I look back and say, “Wabi Sabi Wisdom was a perfect first book.” Will it be a blockbuster best-seller? Probably not. But now I’ve got all these ideas for follow up books for the series and another I’m working on that is more about the Life Work IntegrityTM program. So it’s unleashed a flood of creativity.

My son still hasn’t gotten over his fear of water slides. One day we really thought he was going to take the leap, rip the Band Aid off and go down the waterslide. But the more we pushed him to do it, the more scared he got. So I said “whenever you decide to do it, you do it.” The weekend after that, we went to the lake we go to every August long weekend. After we set up camp, he wanted to go to the beach and go swimming. I said it was too late, but he said “No mommy. I promised myself that I would jump off the dock on my first day.” And he jumped off the dock and swam in the water, which would normally be something he’d be so scared of. So I know when he decides to do waterslides, he’ll do them.

I think part of it is really deciding instead of just saying “I should”. Because the fear is present when you’re trying to motivate yourself, but you can’t motivate yourself. All you can do is make the decision.



DR: And I think there’s a pressure with the timeline. Like, I’m getting to this age and everyone is doing it.

I guess you know when it’s time. It happens. Another kid example — and I apologize to those who don’t have kids out there — was potty training with my son. So, he’s two and we’re over-achievers, bribing him with smarties and all of this. It was a struggle. Eventually, we just backed off. And one day, we were at my dad’s 70th birthday and he saw his little cousin go on the toilet, and he thought “that’s cool!” and he trained himself in a day and a half.

One of the questions I constantly ask myself (and encourage my clients to ask) when feeling stuck is, “What’s wanting to happen and what’s not wanting to happen?”



DR: Any last words or thoughts?

If you want more tools to start connecting with what you want to do with your life you can go to my website. There are a couple of tools there to support people who want to follow this path of purpose driven life and purpose driven work and conscious careers and more information on our coaching programs.

I’ll just leave you with this: spend the time. I think one of the things people do is put off the self-awareness piece and they stay busy dealing with crises or having fun. Set aside the time in your week to write in a journal or something and start to be aware of what you love, what’s wanting to happen, what’s stealing your energy, what’s giving you energy. Let the awareness be there. And when the awareness is there, that’s 90% of change. Sometimes the awareness needs to trickle through you for years before the action comes. But if you keep focusing on the awareness the action will finally come.

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