Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by Dave Blum
Back in 1987, I was in the process of wrapping up a two-year stint in Shimonoseki, Japan as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher when my path took me up to the big city– Tokyo. For the last few months, I’d been in a bit of a dark place–frustrated by my struggles with Japanese culture and my ongoing status as a “gaijin” (foreigner). When I finally sat down to jaw with my buddy, Tim, a jazz musician and old-Japan hand (his father was the American Ambassador to Japan!), I recall the conversation going something like this:
Me: “Boy, am I glad I’m getting out of here soon! I’m so tired of the darned formality in this country…the lack of spontaneity.”
Tim: “Well, yeah, the mindset is certainly different here in Japan.”
Me: “I’ll say. And why is it that whenever I go into a restaurant, they bring me a knife and fork? I’ve been here for nearly two years; you’d think they’d acknowledge that a foreigner can, indeed, use chopsticks!
Tim: “Maybe they’re just trying to be helpful.”
Me: “Yeah, right. I think it’s insulting. Everything will be soooo much better when I get out of here. I’ve got a whole trip planned…Hong Kong to Bali, then Malaysia, Thailand and beyond. That’s when I’ll start living again.”
…..and so on.
Taking it all in–all my negativity–Tim suddenly went quiet and still. Noticing the change, I stopped my rant and, with some concern, asked Tim what was the matter. Here’s what he responded:
“Dave, you are you wherever you go. Whether you’re living and working here in Japan or climbing the Himalayas in Nepal, your mind and your attitude goes with you. The change in scenery won’t change where your head is at.”
I’ve thought a lot about Tim’s wise words over the years. How often do we tell ourselves that a change in situation or location will “make us happy”…and then we move and discover that we’re still unhappy. Especially in these challenging economic times, I think it’s important to remember that our happiness derives not from our external conditions but from our internal attitude. This crazy economy will end…hopefully someday soon…but we can’t wait until then to start living again. What we can control–right now–is our negativity. We can try looking at the things that are going well in our lives, whether it’s our health, our living situation, our friends, our family, our relationships… Sure, it’s no fun being strapped for cash and worrying about finances. But escapish fantasies won’t help things.
You are you wherever you go…so try some optimism, right here, right now.