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Do your interests and hobbies look like a Getty stock photo?

Do you have a trail of burnt bridges and faded dreams in your wake? Me too.

We all treat food expiration and best before dates a little differently, don’t we? There’s the classic “sniff test”; what you can’t see won’t hurt you, right? The ‘nuke’ method; just reheat until everything, even nutrients, are dead. Or the indiscriminate disposal at 0001 hours on the date prescribed. What do you do and how do you know when your life is a little stale? 

I’d been sniff testing my way through life for a while. Looming anxiety had been developing for many years after being way too hasty in the past with snap decisions and knee-jerk rejections, ultimately resulting in much regret and wondering, “maybe it was still good?” In the short-term, I’d been happy to drop everything and run for the sake of change and a new challenge. But when I continued to look back on my life, there was a recurring theme of wasted and missed opportunities. So then I tried persevering a little; sticking with the job, the house or the boyfriend, even while they sometimes got more and more toxic… Usually without me realizing. It was an unbalanced, unfulfilling cycle and I was determined to find a way to utilize my dynamic nature for a more long-term, sustainable lifestyle. And so, here I am, living in Tokyo; reigniting passions from the past.

But before all this, let’s rewind to 2010 where the seed was kind of planted. My first true overseas holiday to, you know it… Japan. A month-long whirlwind of new sights, smells and sounds. I’d fallen in love, maybe a little prematurely, but I was younger then. Japan had everything I needed and wanted. There was a near-perfect synergy of order and chaos, city and nature, past and present, as well as hilariously unhealthy junk food versus pure, wholesome sashimi. This experience became the catalyst for bigger changes and challenges. 

After 2010, I began a regular affair with Japan. As often as I could afford and despite others telling me to go somewhere different and see something else, I couldn’t stop returning. In between each holiday, I continued with my cycle of settling and uprooting at the drop of a hat, but one thing remained constant. This passion for Japan. So then I started flirting with the idea of this affair becoming something more long-term. 

My second biggest demonstration of “dynamic personal development” (as I like to call it), was in 2015 when I decided to discard all comfort and convenience for the sake of university and become a mature age student. Enter, Graphic Design. I have a distinct memory of one particular class where I was sitting down with a lecturer getting feedback on some work and I was feeling utterly defeated. I wasn’t a famous Graphic Designer after 2 years at uni and I was starting to think I was actually pretty terrible at it. The lecturer looked at me and asked what exactly I was hoping to get from the qualification and industry. I took a moment and replied that maybe I was just looking for a piece of paper to help get me to Japan one day… Funnily enough, the project I was getting feedback on was a piece about creative influence, and I chose Ikko Tanaka as my focus… I ended up getting a top score. But then, like everything in the randomly stocked fridge that seems to be my life, I got rid of my career in Graphic Design. Most of it anyway… I might’ve frozen some just in case.

By 2018, how many times had I been to Japan? Five. And how many times did I read about a JET programme or working-holiday arrangement or TOEFL course in an effort to move to Japan? Countless. Why was I not at least trying, saving and applying for things? Maybe there was more to be had in Australia… it was passing the sniff test. 

By this stage, I’d had just about enough. All of my hobbies had been turned into careers, and all my careers had failed. I was skilled in many areas but a master by no means. I had a cookie-cutter list of interests and a full-time job in some sort of generic customer-service role. However, the stability of standing still allowed for greater self-evaluation and I came to realize some things about myself and why I’d been creating tsunamis of change every few months or so. There was some peace at last. But of course, this didn’t last forever. I met someone; a fresh perspective in the form of a male, my now fiance, Alfie*. He burst on to the scene and I quickly realized I’d met someone special. He matched me in the dynamism department but was able to reign in his inhibitions for the sake of things that mattered. If the milk’s off, get rid of it, but the black bananas make a great banana bread, so to speak.

In truth, it was an opportunity that came about on his behalf that instigated the move to Tokyo. However, the timing both emotionally and financially, could not have been more perfect. The stability of Australian life started feeling like stagnation. Japan was calling both of us, so why not? I felt a sense of relief that I could finally experience a true ‘clean slate’. No possessions or expectations about what life might become in Tokyo. While it was saddening at times to think about parting with friends, in truth I felt a little relieved at that too. It was time to start work-shopping ideas for myself and to spark some focus back into my life. I know who I am, but I don’t know what I DO. It may seem strange to go on a soul-searching mission in Japan; usually, people whisk themselves away to Nepal or Africa. But personally, I can find a sense of isolation in this country that is both heart-warming and energising. There are myriad things you can take an interest in and build a life around, admittedly some things are left to be desired. Since arriving, I’ve found myself staring longingly at the punchy and sometimes quirky graphic design that decorates the streets and subways of Tokyo. That frozen lump of qualification and interest that’s been sitting in the back of my mind… It’s still good. Time to thaw it out.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog!

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Karla ENGDAHL Author
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