I usually try to make some kind of end of the year post, but I’ve been thinking about what I want to try to do this year. I have to admit that it’s been a crazy year. There have been struggles of all sorts, but also successes on most fronts. The global pandemic gave me some extra time where I could sit and think on a few things. It also opened up some doors for me. So instead of cryptically hinting at everything, let’s get into the bullet point style review.

  • I was fully promoted to head teacher in April (it actually began in January with a 3-month trial). This was the first time that anyone has ever trusted me to manage a team. I had to get really introspective to consider what my leadership style was. It was a very bumpy first few months, and then the next thing…
  • The pandemic began in Japan. Actually, many people at the time thought that Japan was the first place with a major outbreak (even before Wuhan was a major culprit). The massive luxury cruise ship that was forced to dock for weeks to quarantine everyone with a disease that nobody could explain. This brought some new challenges to my leadership when the entire country went on lockdown in April for two months. I had to negotiate with three different parties to make sure that there was enough work to justify keeping everyone on payroll while simultaneously making sure that the work was meaningful. Once we started working from home, I had to make sure that everyone understood how to do the work. It was a very stressful time, but looking back, it really helped shape my approach to leadership, and it gave me new opportunities.
  • This new style of working from home was great for me, because I had already had a lot of experience working remotely, but now I got to learn a new skill: Content Creation. Yep, you read that right. For a while, I was a YouTuber (well, kindof…). I was making 2-3 new videos every week that focused on different kinds of activities within our program. We started off thinking that we could do one a day, but in order to get the high quality that my school prides itself on, we quickly realized that we were going to need to spend more time per video. Overall, we made some very good videos that really helped improve the quality of our program.
  • Right about the same time as the lockdown, my company explained that they are looking into creating a new program, and it was an IT related program. They knew about my skills and asked if I could help get it started. I didn’t realize at that time what it was going to turn into. This is a robotics program, and my company is going to be the franchiser. So I will no longer be a teacher… officially. My role is going to be (has been) to develop curriculum for the program, develop a training program for teachers in the program, and to do the training and evaluate the teachers. We are looking at opening in April with 20+ franchises. Yep… I’m in way over my head. Having said that, I am going into this confident that I can get the job done.
  • At the same time that I was entrusted with two leadership roles at my company, I was also elected as the president of my Toastmasters club. I guess I’m a glutton for punishment. This was a very different experience than what was going on at work. Instead of being the only manager leading the entire group, I got a very capable group of officers whose roles were clearly defined. My biggest struggle here was to learn how to delegate (I’ve always approached difficult challenges independently). While I won’t have any real feedback about my club’s actual performance until after next July, it does seem to be going well. We are hitting most of the milestones that I set. We are growing. Everyone seems reasonably happy, and whether by my influence or not, everyone is improving. So, I’m happy with my current level of performance. It’s just important to remember not to ease up.
  • Considering the new positions, I started a new study on leadership. I delved into so many books, podcasts, etc. that try to tackle the subject, and reread some that I had already read (my current favorites being Dale Carnegie and Jocko Willink). This also led me to evaluate my own strengths and weaknesses as a person (not just a leader). This was an intense procedure. It kinda reminded me of my spiritual crisis when I was in high school. It was a good time for some introspection, joy, depression, and every kind of emotion that you could possibly feel, and led to my next point;
  • A reassessment on relationships. What is the difference between a good and bad, or rather, constructive and destructive relationship. I think I came to some conclusions on relationships that have begun to guide the way I look at people in general. Basically, I’ve decided that a relationship, from any perspective, should be a mutually beneficial venture. This has shaped my outlook in a number of areas;
    • Family – Blood is thicker than water. It’s also harder to clean up. Family deserves a chance, but they don’t get a pass just because they’re family. If a familial relationship is proving to be destructive, then it’s probably best to get out. This idea has helped me to move on from my failed marriage. I made a lot of mistakes, but ultimately, the relationship was destructive for us both, and would have (if it hadn’t already) caused lasting damage on my son as well. This conclusion helps me sleep well at night.
    • Friends – My friends are the brothers and sisters I never had, and I will always see them as such. Whether we see each other everyday or once every 5-10 years, the roots we set in the past will always connect us. As long as we are both feeling the benefits from the friendship, I’ll always be there for them. If the relationship becomes a drag, feel free to let me know. We can address the problem and take any necessary steps from there.
    • Colleagues – It’s hard to separate work and private life. I have done everything I can to do that since I started leading my team. Becoming a leader has been both a rewarding and lonely experience. Of course, both leaders and subordinates are people, with their own natural thoughts and feelings and need to connect. Having said that, having to be part of decisions which could potentially negatively affect the people you care about takes its toll…
  • Beyond the study on leadership and relationships, the coronavirus lockdown taught me something important about myself. I need an outlet. When I was back home in the states, it used to be driving. When I was in my car, I could belt out in song, talk to myself (I swear I’m not that crazy), or just quietly think to myself as the world passed me by. Being in the position that I’m in now, I was finally able to buy a car. Renewing my license was a pain. I was lucky that I am such a packrat with my data. But now, on the weekends, you can find me randomly driving around Chiba (the prefecture to the east of Tokyo, where I live… Because driving in Tokyo sucks).
  • Finally, since my separation, I’m in a position to start looking at my financial well-being. This new focus is what allowed me to buy a car (I paid cash). I’ve started investing a sizeable portion of my income each month to my retirement, and more to investments. On top of that, I’ve built up a small emergency fund that will help in case something really bad happens (like another lockdown). I’ve never been this secure in my life, and honestly, I’m not sure what to make of it.

So there you have it. My 2020 in review. Despite the continued spread of the many different variants of the coronavirus, I’m happy to finally be moving up in the world in some respects.

I hope you could also find the beautiful silver lining in what was ultimately a terribly dark year. It’s the silver lining that makes life worth living!

See you next year!

PS – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!