It’s been four years now since my wife and I sold our business, house, car and possessions and left Japan. It also marks 17 years of living abroad for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself in those years and hopefully I’ve also grown a little as well. Many people ask me why I left Canada and then Japan more than a decade later. I’m also often asked what were the key drivers of those major life changes. I’ll try to answer those questions here.
Leaving Canada back in 1997 was easy. My latest business venture failed again and I had zero desire to work in a cubicle for a big oil company. I had nothing to lose and I just needed a big change in my life. Moving abroad was the best way to achieve that.
I bought a ticket to Japan that departed in one week and I arrived in the country without a job, without a work visa and about $1000 to my name. I always wanted to go to Japan, so I went to Japan.
In hindsight, it was a little foolish to go with so little preparations and money, but everything worked out well. I still look back on the decision to leave Canada and go to Japan as one of the best choices of my life. Sometimes everything seems to come together when you have the courage to act with 100% conviction.
The decision to leave Japan was much more difficult. I was married, had a successful business, owned a house, car and all the possessions I wanted. My wife and I were making a good income, had lots of time and freedom to travel, and basically achieved a good life. It would have been very easy to continue on that path for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years, until retirement.
That was exactly the problem. We were doing the same things over and over again. We essentially reached the end of our career at about 35 years old and would just be repeating the same year over and over and over again until we decided we had enough and retired.
We didn’t want that to be the end of our story, but we we’re afraid to change. It’s scary give up something certain for the unknown. We were worried about our financial security. We were concerned about the quality of our retirement. All those fears kept us paralyzed for several years. Our life was good, but we felt like there was more out there to do and explore.
To fill that void in our lives, we did what everyone does; we went shopping. We bought the house we wanted, upgraded our car, bought the espresso machine, built the sound room with Italian reclining chairs, drank the expensive alcohol, went out for dinner every day and travelled a lot.
Every new purchase and experience brought some fleeting excitement, but it never lasted. We always needed something new and shiny to make us happy. Unfortunately, there was never enough. We always needed something a little more or a little better to be fulfilled.
Looking back now, I can definitely say that I enjoyed all that conspicuous consumption a little too much. I say ‘I’ because my wife was always the voice of reason in my insanity.
A new TV encouraged me to watch more movies. A new car virtually eliminated all the walking and cycling that I loved. That fancy alcohol became an afterwork ritual where I was in a drunken stupor every evening.
Fat, Lazy and Stupid
All the conveniences and luxuries that I thought I needed to make me successful, were actually making me fat, lazy and stupid. I drank too much, ate too much, watched too much TV, didn’t exercise enough, didn’t read as much as I liked and didn’t spend my time doing what I most wanted to do.
My body and mind were gradually deteriorating through misuse, yet I didn’t think anything of it. I felt like I was successful despite my unhappiness and general lethargy. It took me a long time to realize that my ingrained definition of success was the problem.
Enough is Enough.
Finally, my wife and I finally had enough, and decided we didn’t want that life any longer. One day we made a one year commitment to sell everything and leave Japan. That night I wrote a blog post about it and the rest is history. That was a little over 5 years ago now.
Do we have any regrets? One, we wish we left Japan about 5 years earlier. We wish we didn’t buy the house and the new car. We certainly wouldn’t have invested so much in a risky online business that I didn’t have the time to properly manage. That 5 years, easily cost us more than $100,000. It’d be nice to have that cash in our bank account now.
Overall, we can’t really complain. There is not a day that goes by where we aren’t immensely grateful for the quality of life we now have. There is absolutely nothing that could measurably improve our lives. We are healthy and living the life of our dreams. We don’t need any specific possessions, income level, fame or success to become more fulfilled or satisfied. We are doing exactly what we want every day.
What have I learned?
Living abroad for so many years has helped me grow in many ways that I don’t think would have happened had I stayed in Canada and started a typical career path. It took me about 3 or 4 years of living in Japan to start to see how much my thinking was dominated by western society and social pressure.
I once was driven by a desire to be successful in the western sense of the word. I thought I need a big house, new car, endless material possessions and a jet-setting lifestyle to have a meaningful and fulfilling life.
I’m glad I finally grew out of that. I no longer want to live in the future by endlessly chasing goals, continually shopping for the next shiny object or crossing off items on a bucket list. Quality of life can’t be measured by consumption or selfish experiences.
By far, the most important thing I’ve learned is that the future or the past don’t exist. There is only now. I want to be living fully and mindfully now and only now. I still resort back to my childish ways of thinking, but I’m getting better.
I don’t know what the future will bring and I don’t really care. I’m throughly enjoying what I’m doing everyday. Writing this blog post, right now is the most important thing I can do now. How could I possibly improve on this moment?
(We are also leaving Thailand today for Australia, so I must confess that a new destination brings a lot of excitement as well.)
What do you think?
Do you think it’s possible to come to similar realizations without completely changing you life circumstances?
If I stayed in Canada, I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have the over-sized house in the suburbs, with two SUVs and be complaining about how bad the traffic is on my commute every day. All of those things that I can’t understand now, would’ve been my life if I hadn’t left back in 1997.