What do you need to do to switch out of English teaching jobs, and become a freelancer or start your own business in Japan?
These different worlds have their own flavour, but the main thing that you need to do is change your mindset and how you think.
Do you see money as scarce? Don’t, it isn’t.
Are you afraid of failure? Don’t be, failure in small doses helps you change.
In this article I’m going to show you what has helped me change from a full-time eikaiwa teacher to a part-time international school teacher, part time freelancer and entrepreneur in Tokyo. You can do the same, you just need to change the way you think.
man creative is an island.”
I was teaching at kindergartens full-time from 2014 to the beginning of 2016, and I was surrounded by childcare professionals and teachers. Thankfully most of them were incredibly passionate about education and how to do the best for their students, but some of them were not. My shift into defining my own career path differently partially stemmed from a desire not to be like some of the people at my workplace, as well as a desire to become a better professional. Since then I have become a totally different person (ask any of my friends who knew me prior to 2015). I work smarter than I have ever worked before while enjoying the process. I have more focus and am able to command more money for my work. Let me tell you how you can do the same.
All creatives, linchpins and leaders have people around them who push them to be their best.
Those around you can, in many ways, define your path. It sounds harsh as we all have connections and relationships who are important parts of our lives, but some of them might be holding us back from being who we would like to be. That friend who always puts you down when you talk about starting your own thing, the parent who tells you that you should just get a safe (read: boring and demotivating) job, or the coworker who drags you into their drama at work that is a distraction from doing the job well.
You Have To Change Your Mindset
Changing the way you think is a long and difficult process, one that most people are not willing to entertain or think about. If you aren’t looking to change your mindset, to wake up inspired and capable of pushing yourself to your limit so you can learn and grow, then this article isn’t for you.
I’m also definitely not saying that teaching isn’t a worthwhile career or job. That would be crazy as I am still teaching part-time at a private school, and I strongly believe that teaching is not only one of the most important jobs you can do, but also a big part of who I am.
What I am saying is that if you want to make a change in your life, it starts with you. Nobody is going to give you your dream job, a perfect freelancing gig or the reins to a company and say “here you go, and here’s a big fat salary to go with it.” You could blame your friends, your work, your bills or your education or background. That’s the easy step and lets you off the hook for choosing the quality of your life. But when you take responsibility for your place in the world, and decide to make a step towards your goals, the universe will conspire to help you do that.
Baby Steps – Change your Information Diet
Read this and tell me if it sounds familiar.
You get home after a long day and just switch on the TV or YouTube on autoplay and watch a bunch of videos back to back. After an hour or so, you’ve forgotten what the first two videos were, and your eyes are starting to glaze over.
You quit going to the gym years ago and haven’t gone back since. You figure, “I am a teacher so standing up in the classroom is enough exercise to keep me from getting fat, right?”
You haven’t read a book to learn anything since you were in university. The last book you read might have been Harry Potter, but you haven’t got much patience for reading.
On Saturday you wake up and don’t get out of bed for more than an hour. The sun hurts your eyes as it comes in through the window.
You don’t cook, you walk to the ramen place around the corner from your apartment to eat, all the while scrolling through your infinite-scroller feed of choice (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit).
This was me just a few years ago.
After a conversation with a very inspiring friend, I realised that if I continued on like this I would find myself in my 40s or 50s looking back on an unremarkable career. I knew I wanted to have a bigger impact than that. I was hanging out with jaded teachers who would brag about wasting time playing hangman instead of being proud of their students results. I was going home and playing videogames instead of finding my muse and chasing it. A lot of my guy friends only wanted to go out and pick up girls, not focus their skills and become a better man. I had to change.
Changing your Work
In Japan you are slightly limited by your visa, but that is no excuse to not do something that you are passionate about. If you want to start graphic designing on the side, you can – you just need to get the “special Permission to Engage in Other Activities” stamp in your working visa. It sounds hard, but all you really have to do is make a flyer, preferably in Japanese (hiring translators on fiverr is cheap) with the location you will do your work on, and use that as the evidence for your application. This is how I got permission to do my web design work that pushed me into freelancing, and you’ll need to file a tax form too (more info about freelancing is in our article here).
Once you start, you’ll learn how to research, how to find out what you can or can’t do. You’ll talk to lawyers who will help you start your business, or to other entrepreneurs about how to save hundreds of thousands of yen on incorporating a K.K. or getting office space. I don’t have all the answers, and often there aren’t any answers, you just have to go out and start your thing.
As the motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said: “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.” If you spend more time reading, listening to and being around people who inspire you to do better things, you’ll start to see big changes. Six months ago I wasn’t the man I am today, and six months from now I will be better as well. I have some really great friends who are also interested in doing amazing work, most of whom I met at meetups and events. Get out to meetups, find people who inspire you and emulate them. If someone else can do it then you can do it, you just need to stop waiting and do the work.
I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve started spending time with (figuratively speaking) that you could spend time with too. All you have to do is read or listen, and then go out and put it into practice in your own freelancing career or business.
Influences on my Entrepreneurial Journey
Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week – I started reading this book three months before I built Live Work Play Japan with Martin. This book isn’t actually about only working four hours per week (though it would be easy to assume this from the title), but rather it is about front-loading the work and setting up systems to make you into an owner rather than an employee at your own company. You can take yourself out of the equation, hire other people and take a holiday or a mini-retirement, or maybe just work four hours a week while the business runs itself. The goal is to actually live your life rather than wait till you turn sixty-five and it’s too late to do all the things you wanted to when you were young!
What a message, and one that we often forget in the daily grind of a 9-to-5 job (or in Japan, make that 8-to-7). Since reading this book I’ve changed my whole life, haven’t worked a full-time job since, and put a whole lot of work into Live Work Play Japan, my web design business, coaching and teaching. This book is a must read for all entrepreneurs, and Tim has an odd connection to Japan, having come here to study and learn Judo.
Seth Godin’s The Marketing Seminar – Very few things have changed the way I think more than the Marketing Seminar. It’s an incredible course, packed with value and a cohort of people who will all push you to be clearer, better and more invested in the impact you want to have in your work. A truly inspiring and empowering experience that I would recommend to every entrepreneur, as nobody will care as much as you do about your business, so knowing how to turn that into words that reach people is just about the best investment you can possibly make in your business. I’ve met amazing friends like Arthur Zetes (featured in this podcast we did about building a 6-figure online business in Japan) and Arline Lyons (who runs a Japanese translation business from Zurich, Switzerland) all through the Marketing Seminar. What an experience!
His podcast Akimbo is also a great source of weekly inspiration for me. Don’t just listen to what he says, but realise that you’re listening to an incredibly powerful and authoritative speaker, and realise that you can become one too. All you have to do is prioritise the work you are doing and the people you are serving over the likes, the comments, the fame and the money.
Travis Wilson, My Coach – Everyone should have a coach. Seriously! Nothing has been more empowering for me than to have a mentor and a friend in my corner, who questions me and pushes me to be the best I can be. When I met Travis I was unsure of myself and scared of both failure and the responsibility of success, and through regular coaching sessions I have become the most driven and positive about my skills and my future that I have ever been in my life. I can’t even begin to explain how valuable this is for anybody who wants to make an impact on the world. He has inspired me to also start my own coaching practice here in Tokyo for people who are sick of not living up to their potential and are looking to make a difference.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art – What an amazing book. This is all about overcoming Resistance (that which stops you from doing your work) and it has really helped me to stop procrastinating. Resistance can take many forms, from distractions like TV and games, to making up reasons why you can’t do something you have been dreaming about doing. This book helps you recognise the fear and when you are giving in to resistance. By naming the fear you can push through it, go around it or ignore it, and do the work you were meant to do.
Guy Raz on NPR’s How I Built This – Listening to other entrepreneurs who built famous brands and interesting companies is really it’s own reward. I have learned a lot from listening to each one, and some of them can be incredibly powerful emotional messages about doing what you believe in. It’s funny but a friend of mine pointed out that I completely ripped off the intro structure of this podcast, and I did so without shame. The editing and direction of this podcast is brilliant and Guy does a great job of letting his guests tell their stories.
The main message I have taken away from this podcast is that entrepreneurs often have no idea what they are doing when they start out, but they either learn fast or manage people who do know what they are doing. In other words, don’t be afraid to start just because you don’t have a PhD in whatever you’re trying to do. Be brave and just try it – you’ll learn from the experience.
John Lee Dumas’s Entrepreneur on Fire – In 2016 on the advice of Live Work Play Japan co-founder Martin, I started taking podcast walks in the mornings. At this time I was working about 15 hours per week in a few schools and making almost as much as I was when I was working 50 hours per week full-time. Three days per week I had mornings to work on whatever I wanted, and I started exercising more in the mornings to improve my health, my fitness and my mental focus. Entrepreneur on Fire has a new episode almost every day, and I honestly can’t believe how he does it – he must have a whole team behind him doing the editing, lining up guests and prepping show notes pages, because it’s all I can do to even keep up a weekly podcast with the inspiring teacher, freelancers and entrepreneurs I know in Japan.
Budgeting for my “Education“ – Lifelong learning is a habit, and choosing to not continue education after graduation is a choice. I budget as much as 10% of my income to learning, and I can easily save the money by putting aside up to ¥30,000 per month to save for a course, or put towards books. Most of the time when it comes to books I just buy it if I want to read it. Having a Kindle makes that very easy as most books are less than the equivalent of ¥1000 on the UK store. I often spend ¥6000 or more on books every month, and I take at least 2 online or offline learning courses per year regardless of whether they have any certification. This summer I got a qualification so that my coaching clients can find their purpose and do the work they were born to do. In October I’m doing Seth Godin’s altMBA, a month long intensive business seminar.
Invest in yourself, because if you won’t then nobody else will.
Amazon Kindle – This little box is magic in so many ways. I found that after I bought my kindle, not only did I not have to deal with the astronomical prices of paperback books in Japan, but I could get them immediately in a small form factor that I can easily read at any time. English language books are always more expensive in Japan, put your kindle on the US or UK store for a much bigger library for a much cheaper price. I was hesitant to buy one because I like the feel of paper books, writing in the margins, and lending books I like to friends, but the low price of books and great library lets me basically buy any book I want.
Cal Newport’s Deep Work – Being able to focus and complete your work is critical for any entrepreneur. This book explains why your constant distractions, checking your phone and talking with your co-workers actually stops you from being able to do your best work. Deep Work is a pivotal book that changed how I set out to do my work each day. Now I can concentrate on what I have to offer and build, and ignore things like
Jordan Peterson 12 Rules for Life – Aside from this book being #1 on Amazon (very uncommon for a non-fiction book) and an instant bestseller, I really like a lot of what JBP has to say. I glossed over the religious interpretations a bit, but the most powerful and important rule for me was Rule #1 – Stand up straight with your shoulders back. It’s not a point about posture (though my yoga instructor would say that this is important too), but the real meaning is to be proud of yourself and don’t be afraid to show your light. It’s very easy to lose faith in yourself, but when you start acting with confidence and believing in yourself, it’s remarkable how many people will start to see you as capable and competent. Before long you might even find yourself really believing that you are those things. Probably the most important book of 2018 for me, but not an easy read. Ignore the political miasma around this book and just read it to learn.