A personal note – week 115

October 25, 2016

Life is a journey – and as trivial as it may sound it is simply true. Since we came to Japan I have been on a special journey: A journey to myself. To find out what I really like, what really motivates me, what I am devoted to. And step by step I come a bit closer to it. Every day. This trip has no terminus.

It started already before we took the decision to move the family to Japan. I already knew months before that I needed some change in my life. So the idea to give up my job and to move countries (again) was more than welcome. But this time it would be different. I would be an expat spouse to begin with. On a nice expat package. It would give me the freedom to explore.

And explore I did.

Over the past two years I constantly was lucky enough to meet many interesting people who would then connect me to their network, who would share their ideas with me, who would inspire me, trust me and laugh with me.

To start with, we were lucky that Anne Good was assigned to give us a two day intercultural training upon arrival in Japan. She not only invited me to join the Women Start Up Club in November 2014 when I was thinking about setting up my own business. As a coach, she also supported me in getting everything done from website and business plan to templates and proposal drafts. It was a very intense time from March to mid-June 2015, but I enjoyed so much working on my own project. Anne was also the one to get me into contact with Canning Professional where I applied for a trainer job and got it in June 2015. It is a great place to work. It offers flexibility, a reasonable trainer fee and the possibility to develop my skills through their internal STAR programme. But most importantly, I learn every single time I teach my Japanese participants. They come to improve their presentation skills, meeting skills or negotiation skills and when they leave they have allowed me to take a very close look at the Japanese approach to work and life. Their questions during the training or their behaviour in role plays are sometimes mind-blowing to me as some of it is so far off anything that I can imagine. Every training I deliver equips me with new knowledge and a new set of questions to ask my next participants. We laugh a lot while we share our moments of astonishment or incapacity to react appropriately in cross-cultural encounters.

Joining the Women Start Up Club made me curious to join the monthly meetings of the umbrella organisation FEW (For Empowering Women). A true treasure box of incredible women from all around the world who are curious to learn and generous to share. What amazes me every time is that in this circle we do not only share success stories or the current challenges we are facing, it is also a safe place to share failure. Since January 2015, FEW has been my monthly fixed date I was looking forward to from one meeting to the next. In October 2015 I was very lucky to win a 12 week Dale Carnegie training course “Effective Communications & Human Relations – The 5 Drivers of Success”. I won this class in a lucky draw at a FEW meeting as sponsors offer monthly give-aways to support the members. Usually it’s a Yoga session, a book or a product voucher. I won a training worth 200,000 Yen! Unfortunately it meant missing out on some FEW meetings as dates overlapped.

Around that time I had also decided to take the next step in making my trainer existence more professional. Even though only a minority of the trainings I deliver are intercultural trainings, my focus and my passion is on intercultural work. Even before moving away from Germany in 2006, I used to work in multi-national teams and / or in national teams as part of an international project with all the intercultural challenges you face working across cultures.
My subsequent experiences in Belgium and Switzerland have taught me a great deal about dealing with cultural differences on a personal and professional level. I felt I had gained enough experience to share and to prepare Japanese employees to face those intercultural challenges in their daily lives. On the other hand, as I already said before, it enables me to constantly keep learning and to fill a very large box with examples and experiences to share in the future.
In January 2016, I took a two week train-the-trainer course in Bangkok to become a certified intercultural trainer. Beginning of October I finally had my exam here in Tokyo!

Most of the above aimed at my professional development. The Dale Carnegie course was a bit in between. Even though the course’s title is quite cheesy, sounding like a cheap guidebook to success (and what does success mean?), the training touches your core. It is all about who you are, how you relate to others. About vulnerability and how to appreciate others. It was a very good step for me into the right direction. I had to rethink my relationship building skills and what really mattered to me. I needed to revise my condescending prejudgement of people who do not think the same way I do. I needed to understand that the professional me may have a lot to be admired, but only little that gives my life a true meaning or heartfelt connections with others.

Gankaen Ryokan

The next step I took in April when my friend Sarah Furuya recommended the Shine programme to me. A three day programme focussing on empowerment, leadership and personal transformation, it helped me to really focus on what is important to me. I could build on my learnings from the Dale Carnegie training and experience an extra ordinary and very intense three days filled with passion, enlightenment and joy. It made me question all the labels that I used to decorate myself with: working mother, entrepreneur, business woman, wife, friend, daughter, sister etc and made me ask myself who I am without those labels.

Drawing in the garden

Loosing all the labels continued in 2016 with wonderful Sarah Furuya and Divya Marie Kato and their idea to gather women in their Rise programme. “Breaking Bread” was an invitation to a delicious dinner with Divya, Sarah and four women who did not know each other. No labels allowed all evening. No talking about “I am [professional title] or “I used to work as …” We were getting right into a meaningful conversation about what is important to us. A very interesting experience, just try to tell your life to a friend without mentioning a single job or company!
Just a few weeks ago I spent two days with Sarah and Divya and nine women in a Rise retreat in the Japanese countryside. The Ryokan we stayed at was a fantastic place with a history of 300 years, a beautiful garden, excellent food run by a mother and daughter. We spent two days drawing, talking and again loosing all the labels. A circle of women creates a very special power to me. Over those two days I was overwhelmed by the openness, the strength, the kindness and the generosity I felt among those women. Many eye-opening moments for me and many outbursts of joyful laughter or cleansing tears within the group made these two days a very special experience.

And the journey goes on!

And in a more physical sense we are off to China tomorrow to explore Beijing!

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