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More Indeciseveness

Posted on 2005/08/24 06:57:21 (August 2005).

[Tuesday 23rd August]
Pretty much the same as the previous day - didn't really leave the house all day except for a brief trip out to do a spot of shopping. Spoke to my potential future employer over the phone in the afternoon, but found the exchange pretty unfulfilling, and was left afterwards more or less as unsure as before about whether or not I wanted to take the job.

Again, my mood changed hour by hour - at one point I would think it'll be exciting and different, and a short while later I would find myself drafting a letter in my head, trying to think of the right way to say I was turning the offer down. In Japan it seems people just don't turn job offers down - the fact that it is called an "offer" is something of a misnomer. They just assume you will take it as is, without negotiation, and that's that. This I find pretty bloody frustrating, when interview processes can be so long and laborious, and "little details" like salary are not revealed to you until right at the last minute, and then are not subject to negotiation. Apparently some Japanese workers are not actually told their salary until after they start work!

I had a conversation recently about what psychiatrists sometimes refer to "emotional crutches". We all have something we don't like about ourselves, sometimes it is physical (like being overweight or having bad skin or hair) and sometimes it is more to do with your opinion of yourself as a person - that you're not outgoing enough, or not clever enough or whatever. We come to rely on these things as a bizarre form of security blanket - we think to ourselves that we're basically a great person, and the only thing holding us back is XYZ... If it wasn't for the fact that I was overweight or bad at making new friends or whatever, then my life would be perfect and I'd be totally happy.

Often it can actually be quite dangerous to remove these crutches, as typically the individual discovers it wasn't just that which was making them unhappy, and the problem is wider, or perhaps less obvious, or maybe just simply insolvable. It can be far more distressing to not know how to make your life better, as opposed to deluding yourself into thinking you know, but just never getting round to doing anything about it.

I think I am a lot more neurotic than most(!) so I probably have a number of these crutches, but one overriding thing over the last few years had been my PhD. It has been hanging over my head constantly and making me pretty bloody miserable at times. So I often thought if only I got that out of the way I could be happy and go and have a wonderfully succesful career etc, and everything would be just dandy. It wasn't a total anti-climax, graduation day and everything felt great, and yes it is a load off my mind... but still I find myself feeling unfulfilled. Finishing my PhD wasn't, it turns out, the answer to all of life's woes.

What I really need now is for an employer to tell me "WOW! You've got a PhD?!?! That's exactly what we want, come and work for us and you can choose your own salary!" Whereas in reality I have been fed some irritating waffle about how my potential future employer "values performance over qualifications and seniority". So what they're saying is that everything I've done up until now was a waste of time. Interestingly, when I queried how my new salary was calculated, they said "You're 28 are you? Well that sounds about right then." So nice to see they value performance over seniority then. I wish I'd just sat on my arse for the last seven years now, as I would still have achieved the all important qualification of being 28, without all the hassle of having to get a PhD and relevant work experience.

If I was in a different frame of mind, perhaps it wouldn't get to me... but I'm in a very indecided point of my life now, and I really need to feel wanted by a company, I don't need to be just another mindless slave building the pyramid.

Comment 1

I wouldn't bother coming back to Blighty if I were you. You will continue to be taxed to death with very little reward. The government here has quite openly stuck both fingers up at the under 30s. Having said that, I am well aware of the problems that gaijin face in Japan. Maybe Canada, Australia, New Zealand would provide more enticing options?

Posted by amb at 2005/08/24 14:56:40.

Comment 2

Poppycock! Balderdash!

Giving Up
Give up? What is all this shit about giving up? Come on, mate, you're living in a foreign country, it's going to be tough but the ability to sample another country is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You may never get another chance to do that. Don't even think about giving up until you've bloody well given it a decent try. This is not a decent try. You've come to the end of the holiday period and now you're back to life. That would be EXACTLY the same as it would be in Blighty. You didn't give up on your PhD and this is so much more exciting! So, no more of that giving up shit. The fat lady is not even in the theatre - she's gagged and bound at the bottom of my basement. If I get my way, I'll slit the bitch's throat and she'll never sing at all.

PhD + Job
I know EXACTLY what you mean by you PhD feeling like it counts for nothing. I was exactly the same when starting at Moodys. They knew it was important but I couldn't name my own salary. They took 3 months to interview me. And were very non-commital. I was overqualified for a few other jobs too. But then, that's not why you did a PhD. You didn't do it to be super-employable you didn't it QUOD NOS POSSOMUS! Because you can. Because it was a hard thing to do and that makes it worth while. And you bloody did it, good on you.

A PhD, like a degree offers you the ability to do things that other workers cannot. You can't see what it is that gives you and you won't get a chance to prove it but there is this spark. After 13 months at Moody's, I handed them the design for their next generation of software of my own bat. They liked it. I named my salary. Now I am coding it. It's called the Flexible Assessment Engine. In another life, it was called Rob's Artificial Intelligence Harness. It was my knowledge from my PhD that allowed me to talk in a qualified manner.

You don't get a chance to do that without working from within the company. Give it a shot. Show them what you've got. Show them how fucking clever you are. Give it a damn chance. It's (a well known company), for god's sake. What have you got to lose? A year of your life? A great year if you get to live with the woman you love in a beautiful country.

Companies may not want you but they certainly need you. They don't know what the bloody hell a PhD is because they see so few. Go and give them hell. If they don't like your work ethic, try and get them to change (I play Counterstrike with others twice a week at lunchtimes here now). Give it a shot.

Bottom part of the pyramid
Don't make work your life - do something else! I gave a Neural nets lecture to a Symposium at the Natural History Museum in my own time. Get some hobbies and make those you life work. Photostudio is great. Make something more. Make it better. Make it online. Move forward but do it for you!

I think the real meaning of life is about your kids. I don't know why yet but I think that's the way it is. You'll only find out when you produce your own sprog, I suppose.

Perhaps the best thing for you to do is set up your own company. Get someone who can do accounts. Get someone who markets well. Get a salesperson. Write some damn software and make a mint. Just do it, you've got it in you. However, I would recommend getting some more experience first. I wouldn't count Softel as enough.

And then, when the kids have flown the nest and your paying on for yourself, retire to academia and write papers on whatever you please. That's another thing a PhD gives you - a ticket to academia, which can be frustrating but also a lovely place to retire!

Final Thought
Give it a go. If it doesn't work out, then fine but if you give it up now, then you'll be left wondering and that will eat you forever.

Posted by Rob Fucking Lang at 2005/08/24 16:05:57.

Comment 3

Mark's shopping list:

1x Can of Beans
1x Loaf of Bread
1x Cup of Water
1x t-shirt for John reading:

"I finished a PhD, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.

Oh, and the opportunity to find out what else the world has to offer."

Reading forcibly removed my 'emotional crutch', and guess what? NOTHING CHANGED.

If you want to come back, then fine.

But tell Chie's mum to prepare the mother-load of Tempura, cos I'm coming to take your place . . .

Posted by Mark at 2005/08/24 17:07:09.

Comment 4

Chin up John.

Good post Rob!

I reiterate: cream rises to the top. Once inside, network and make you own opportunities. (I'd like to hear more about your story Rob!)

No employer in their right mind would offer mega bucks to an unknown with a PhD just because they have one; just in case they were a nutter who could blag an interview. Once you are established, proven and they realise your abilities you'll fly.

All this said you also need to count your blessings (you have many) and stop looking for external validation/approval (certainly from corporate-types). You know you are clever, creative, funny and well respected for it and you have lots of mates etc.

You're my A!

Posted by dsp at 2005/08/24 17:43:37.

Comment 5

Johnny Boy!!!!

Reading what you've written makes me go back to 1999 when I came back to Italy. I had an English degree, which for some strange reasons is not recognized here in this country, and it seemed to me that I spent 5 years of my life abroad for nothing. I couldn't get the dream job straight out of the can, and that pissed me off. Add that I lost most of my friends and I had no money after my stay abroad… Nice picture huh?

Ask me now and I’ll tell you that it’s A.B.S.O.L.U.T.E.L.Y the best thing that ever happened to me, under every point of view.

I think that all the "negative vibes" that you are experiencing are coming out because you KNOW that you are good. Ok, now let them know about it. They don’t know you, how do you expect them to make golden bridges for you?
Nobody is going to give presents to strangers (especially if they have alien-like fingers).

If I read the first part of Rob’s post (good one Robbie btw), it reminds me of what we were discussing in May. I more or less told you the same things; you cannot leave without having tried 101%. You will regret it later if you let it go, take it from someone that has a little experience of being an expat and working aboard.

Ok it’s hard, and so? If it wasn’t hard everyone would live in Japan and everyone would be employed at (a well known company). Forget your PHD, it’s history now, take the good parts of it and drop the rest. Now it’s time to make a different experience.
I can see only opportunities for you, and I have to blatantly admit that I envy your position, living with the woman you love, in Japan at (a well known company) (not exactly a dodgy company on the verge of bankruptcy).

If you don’t like your social life in Japan and you want out that’s understandable, in that case better go back, but you haven’t tried YET.
You need your flat and your own environment to start spinning around you. Then you’ll see if you like it or not.
You need to wake up at 7 to enter a crammed commuter train, eating at the speed of light ‘cause you’re late, you need the pressure from a deadline, nasty Japanese colleagues and more language barriers.
THEN, after you tried you can go back.
But I think that by then you’ll feel “alive”, and since you are “A” you’ll overcome all these difficulties (plus solving major issues with security in Windows), so maybe your prospective will change.

Up to now Chie has taken you around Japan in a way that most of us envy, but that’s just being a tourist in a country doesn’t mean to live in it.

Time to call the guy at MS Mr.Hawkins, my advice is to go for the job and give a serious shot at this idea of living in Japan. When you tame the beast (because you are to good to fail), then you can move to the next step.

Posted by Lox at 2005/08/24 19:27:21.

Comment 6

it seems to me a lot of people are lecturing you. you are the only one with a detailed knowledge of how good the job offer is, and what potential prospects are.

the renumeration package matters - of course it does - living in japan is a very expensive business - you need a high salary to make ends meet, not to live a life of luxury.

the way you are talking suggests that you know enough to see that it oculd be just another gateway to the rat-race, only in a different country on the other side of the world.

is that really what you want?

Posted by qqq at 2005/08/24 20:57:09.

Comment 7

You have got some good friends John ... all with their heads screwed on .. even though they have a rather endearingly quirky way of putting things.

I rather like the idea of my son 'showing (a well known company) what you have got' ....

I wonder if they 'spy' on these comments ?

If so .. then everyone give them an 'interwave' ...

I hope that's not something rude ! ?

And .. if you do ever start your own company .... then Nick Hawkins Research Associates can do you a special 'family rate' on marketing consultancy ....



Posted by Dad at 2005/08/24 21:00:29.

Comment 8


I know I'm not actually one of your peers here John, so forgive me (I bet you guys/gals often wonder what the f*@k Nigel's on about!)

Work is work... We all do it because we've got brains, a work ethic and no alternative income. There's no such job as a "dream job" - unless you're called Jobs (sic), or Gates, or Balmer, or Branson... They get boring too, no matter where you work. Rob might now be appreciated by his employer but that doesn't happen too often. (I was appreciated by one once but I still ended up leaving) Time though, does improve an employers view.

Key phrase: "Building is about repetition". (This is copyright me and will appear in my next book!)

What you've got old bean is "Home-sickness". Only natural. Of all the countries to emgrate to, Japan is probably one of the most difficult to adapt to, for an Occidental. There or China. A guy I work with regularly works in China (as the dreaded English teacher!!) for six months at a time. He actually came back, home sick for his girlfriend, stayed a week, split up, went back...! But I digress...

Your PhD though is a prize, something you personally worked hard for. It doesn't belong to an employer. It's you, it's yours and means *you* made a grade above the norm. Doesn't mean you're a better, kinder person (though I suspect you are by nature anyway!), more employable or socially adept, just means you can research, compute, originate, expand and gosh, forgive me, "think"! And I say "Well done!" for all that effort. B*&@er what MS thinks.

On a slightly more prosaic level, I gave up all (good job + family + social life) for my partner and moved across the UK (oh yeah, big deal I hear you all say!!) But I gave up immediate contact with friends and family to go it alone with her. Difficult to start, but things grow, improve and get easier. I now have kids - Rob is right, dsp is discovering, they give you a new perspective. My employers will never own me, I have my own agenda.

Ask youself what Chie wants. You're a couple - compromise, be flexible. Hey, if it helps get a video cam for your laptop so you can "see" all your mates regularly. Recently one of my old muckers asked me to get one so we could "video conference". Not a bad idea!

He might not recognise me. My hair is not as long as it once was, and is going grey!!

Key phrase No. 2: "Don't worry - you're worth more."


Posted by Nigel at 2005/08/24 21:06:56.

Comment 9

Lox has got it John...

Good balanced (experienced) sound judgement .... despite a few odd choices of words ....

I vote with him.... the man makes sense



Posted by Dad at 2005/08/24 21:12:11.

Comment 10

Just had a re-think, John. Forget all we've pontificated on before. Especially my pompous waffle.

Ask Chie what she wants to do, then go with that.

(When you officially have a wife, you pretty soon get the idea!)

Posted by Nigel at 2005/08/24 23:02:33.

Comment 11

Good grief, that's rather more feedback than I expected (plus I've had a load more by email too). Thank you very much to all of you for taking the time to give me advice. When I wrote that post I was just trying to get some frustration off my chest, and I pretty much thought I was just shouting into the wind.

Posted by John at 2005/08/25 03:49:26.

Comment 12

I use my blog to shout into the wind every now and then. It's an important reality check for me. If you get feedback it's even better helps to put things in prospective. We all live apart, but this amount of response makes me think that "WE" are a very good group! Let us know what you decide btw!

Posted by Lox at 2005/08/25 08:14:23.

Comment 13

That's alright, mate. That's what your blog's for. Get it off your chest. However, if you get it off your chest expect those who care to do something about it.

I'm still laughing at Nigel calling you 'Old Bean'. You are what you eat, eh?

So any advancement, any new thoughts? And new ideas on the same theme? Moved forward at all?

Posted by Rob Lang at 2005/08/25 10:21:06.

Comment 14

Well said Rob! As for the "old bean", I think that it was "spot on"! You shall be known to future generations as "John Alastair Veggie Old Bean Gaylord Hawkins"! (feel free to add names if I forgot some of them)...

Posted by Lox at 2005/08/25 14:04:52.

Comment 15

Last but not least, from your mother......

They said it all - but if you ever fall out with Japan, you should marry Rob Lang.

Posted by Mum at 2005/08/26 15:27:06.

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