Apr 22, 2009

Positive Impact of Time

Lately I somehow stopped being aware of how long I've been unemployed. But I thought about this yesterday and was rather surprised to realize that it's been over five months since I got laid off. I gave myself a break right after I got laid off, so it's really been about four months since I started working on my unemployed situation at the beginning of this year. But still! I honestly did not expect to be unemployed this long. I thought I'd have another job within a few month - at most. I mean, it only took me a little over a month to find another job last time I got laid off after the 9.11. event.

It's not that I still have the same expectations and intentions. And I definitely don't consider the past few months unproductive. In fact, a lot happened during this time and I'm surprised just how my perceptions have changed.

Which lead me to think about time. More specifically, the impact of cumulative time.

Time does a number of things. I couldn't have believed that I'd be OK without having a regular job for such a long time when I was employed. And for a while after I got laid off, I was subconsciously tracking time, fearing how long more I'd be OK. But now? I realize that the sky doesn't fall and I'm fine with my current situation. I never expected that I'd feel this way. Sure I've done a lot of thinking and stuff, but this gradual change couldn't have happened without time doing whatever it does to people.

The way I was measuring my life has also changed drastically. It used to be based on tangible outputs: How many reports and presentations did I produce this month? How many to-do's did I accomplish today? But overtime, I noticed myself looking at more intangible progress: Is my translation skill improving? Am I in better health? Am I feeling happier? This, too, I think, is time's doing. Time somehow makes me look inward, I guess.

All these gradual changes had to take time to evolve: I couldn't have reached where I am now without actually spending several months being jobless. So if I had gotten a job earlier, I'd have stopped this evolving process at that time to go off a completely different path. It almost feels as if I've escaped a parallel life that I probably didn't want.

I wonder if others are going through anything similar to my experience. The last unemployment stats that I heard said something like over 5 million or over 40% of all unemployed people in the States have been unemployed for 15 weeks or over. That's a very large number of people to be getting the "time treatment" at the same time. I wonder how our society might change because of it. I somehow feel that it'll have a positive impact.

Apr 17, 2009

Job Hunting Update

I know, you probably thought that I wasn't looking for a regular job anymore because I've been talking so much about translation stuff. But the reality is that I'm not going to become a professional translator earning decent living over night. It'll take a while for me to accumulate experience, mostly through volunteer work, and land on a paid assignment. Then it'll take some more time for me to establish myself enough to be able to get assignments on regular basis.

Exactly how long all that will take probably depends on how much time I can continue dedicating on this effort. I took TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication - it's a test to prove how well you understand spoken and written English) last week, just so that I have something that I can put on my resume to indicate my English ability (no, the fact that I have been living and working in the States for a very long time somehow doesn't count much in terms of proving my potential for translation job). Once I get the score, I can start applying for trials to see if anyone would care to actually test my ability.

Anyway, so I haven't completely given up looking for a regular job. There are some differences though. For one thing, I now check out part-time or contract jobs in addition to full-time jobs. I'm actually starting to think that a part-time or a short term contract job would suit me better because I get to continue working on the translation stuff. Another change is that I'm not stressed out trying to find anything and everything that I may quality. I try to look for something close to my sweet spot. I might apply for something not so close if there's nothing else to apply for, but I don't sweat it anymore either way. If I get something, great, if I don't, that's fine, too.

The funny thing is that as soon as I reached to this state of mind, a recruiter that I met through one of those green networking events called me with a contract position. It's not in green field, but something that I'm already capable of doing. I don't know how this goes - he says getting a contract position is like a bidding process; a qualified applicant with the lowest bid wins - so I'm not holding my breath. And another recruiter contacted me with a position in Munich. Munich? I had to turn this one down though - besides not having any German skill, it'll be too stressful work for me.

That wasn't it. I just got a call from an organization that I had applied back in February. I had almost forgotten about it, but guess what? They want to interview. This is a full-time job, but it's not a high-profile corporate job that comes with stress. So we'll see. If it's meant for me, it's meant for me. If not, well maybe I'm supposed to learn about myself or meet someone in the process. Who knows? Isn't life interesting? All this made me laugh.

So that's the update. One thing that I can say is this: Once you find what you want to do and make up your mind to pursue it, the rest becomes much easier to handle. So anyone who is just hunting for the sake of hunting and getting stressed out, my recommendation is to take a break and think through what you really want.

Apr 13, 2009

Get Encouragement from New People

When you want to change your career or life direction in general, it helps to expand your network and meet new people. I never really liked "networking" until I realized it depends on the context and purpose. I found that if it's something that I'm sincerely interested in (as opposed to being interested in because I have to do this at work), meeting people with expertise in that area and begging for their insights isn't awkward at all - it can be exciting, in fact.

But there's something else that I noticed recently: Meeting new people in the field that you are interested in when you are trying to change your direction can mean gaining supports that you wouldn't get from your existing network of people.

Sometimes it's not easy to get the kind of support that you need from someone you've known for a long time, especially when you have shifted your perception and reality to do things differently than before. For example, I don't think my co-workers from my previous employer can identify themselves to what I'm doing now. They may say that they support me, but I know that their value no longer match with mine, and the chances are that whatever the advise that they give me will be off the target, or worse, discouraging.

This is not to say that people I have known for a long time don't care about me. It's probably the opposite: They may discourage what I want to do, thinking that's too risky for my own good. My parents used to think that I should have a "steady corporate job (yeah, right)" because they thought that was the best option to make a living (thank god that they are starting to change their perspective). But anyway, it's possible for someone close to you to worry more because he/she knows your capability and experience to reasonably guess how hard it would be for you to change your direction. But what if you didn't care how hard it was going to be? It can really hinder your ability to pursue what you want.

Brand new people, on the hand, don't have any preconceived perception about you to give you biased feedback. And they probably don't care too deeply about you to worry whether it'll be a hard work for you to change your career or life direction, giving all the encouragements that you need to keep going.

It doesn't make sense to listen to new people, who don't know you or care about you enough, over old timers who know you and care about you. But that's not what I mean. What I mean is that when you know what you've got to do and need some encouragement, new people can give you just that - in addition to new knowledge and leads.

And who knows? These new people may end up becoming your long-time friend.

Apr 9, 2009

Change the Way You Perceive Reality

It was my birthday yesterday. For the past several years, I was always busy on my birthdays and never even thought of taking time to reflect on anything. But this time, I sort of had a profound emotion about getting older.

I mean, I'm in this "in-between" place, contemplating to change my career direction which could possibly take a year or two, and it's not like I'm fresh out of college. I'm not that young, and shoot, I just became one year older!

But then I thought about the concept of the 100 Year Lifestyle. The chances are that I'm going to live to be 100 year old. If that's the case, well, I guess it makes perfect sense to spend next year or two in an attempt to ensure the remaining decades to be happier years. In fact, going back to the same kind of life, though it's probably easier to attain, would be a waste of my time, wouldn't it? I'd have a decent steady salary for maybe several years - until I go down by exhaustion or be laid off again, whichever comes first - with not much else to gain.

And I was thinking "If I shared this thought to my previous co-workers, most of them probably wouldn't understand," when I realized something.

When I was working, I was often told "Perception is reality." (Yes, I was in marketing.) While I didn't particularly embrace the notion that what you do isn't as important as how that's perceived, I do agree that perception is reality in a way everyone has own reality that's edited by his or her perception. And what I realized was that I just edited my own perception, taking my reality very far from that of my old co-workers.

I'm not sure if I'm making a clear sense with this post, but what I'm getting at is this: We edit our own perception to create own reality - which means that we are in fact in control of our own reality. When we feel discouraged or need motivation, maybe changing how we edit our own perception is the key to overcome those.

So that was my birthday "a-ha" moment. Getting older isn't too bad after all.

Apr 6, 2009

Sweet Spot Update: Translation

It's been over two months now since I started to translate articles about green initiatives in Japan as a volunteer. And it's been almost two weeks since I started to recognize that this may be one of my sweet spots. So I thought I'd give an update.

I've been doing a lot of research on translation jobs: what kind of translation jobs are out there, what skills and experiences are required, how one without proper training or experience get a job, what options are available for training or getting experience, what certifications or designations are available, etc. Who knew there are so much more to translation? I found out that there are many different translation fields: business, medical, trade mark/patent, legal, fiction, non-fiction, movie/media subtitle, etc. Most of translators are freelancers working from home, while some are formally employed by translation agency. In-house translators employed by a non-translation agency company are minorities. Those freelancers typically go through trials, a tryout to prove your ability, to be registered at translation agencies who refer jobs to them. They get paid by number of words they translate so it's critical that you can process certain volume of work in a given timeframe. And because agencies favor well-established and proven translators to work with, it could take years before you establish yourself to receive jobs on regular basis and start earning like a full-time worker.

Whew! But even after learning these rather harsh realities, I still felt that I wanted to pursue this. It's interesting because I probably wouldn't have felt this way when I was making a decent amount of salary: Paid by number of words you translate? No benefit? And you have to keep looking for your next assignment? No, I don't think I want to do that.

I'm OK with all that now. So lately, I'm studying. I'm reviewing English grammar and Japanese vocabulary. I'm learning rules and mechanism of translation. I'm practicing by doing more volunteer work and participating online communities. (Thank you, Internet.) I'm researching about translation agencies and how they do their trials. I'm planning to study for and take some exams to earn certificates.

I don't know how long it will take for me to be "established." But it's not like I have something else that I want to do or I have to do at the moment. Not having a job and not having a good prospect for getting a job is really helping me focus on this seemingly long-term project.

We'll see how far I can go.

Apr 3, 2009

Tracking Your Life Over Time

My mother has a 5-year journal that she's been writing for quite some time (I think she's finishing the journal this year). She says she's just listing things that she did on each day, more of a record keeping than journal writing. But I used to get jealous. She'd say something like, "Oh, guess what I did exactly 2 years ago on this day??" or "The first snow fell earlier last year than this year." And I'd be thinking: "My days, weeks, even years are going by so fast that they all look the same. I can't even remember what I was doing last week!"

So a little over two years ago, I got my own multi-year journal. I didn't know if I was capable of writing everyday, so I went for a 3-year version instead of 5. I've missed a day or two here and there, but so far I'm keeping up with it: it's been two years and three months now. And you know what? It has been great. I highly recommend this to anyone.

I have nine lines in a 2"x2" square per day to write. It's not hard to fill this small space, and I write whatever that I feel like writing, with no rule whatsoever, usually at the end of the day or the following morning. When I do, I get to sort of look at what I had written around the same time last year and the year before, which is pretty interesting and insightful.

My journal also have a slightly larger space at the beginning of each month. At the end of each month, I write about what I want to focus next month. I also go back and read what I had written the prior month to see whether I ended up doing what I was thinking that I'd do. If I didn't do what I thought I'd do, that's just fine with me because things change. The point is to pick up what I was thinking a month ago and reflect on, so that I can put everything into perspective. Is it still important? Still a priority? It helps me to set my priorities right.

It's funny -what I write aren't interesting when I write it, but it becomes interesting a year later. It tells me about the progress I've made or how my perception changed over time - things that I couldn't have noticed by looking at today compared to yesterday. It proves that even if my days look blurry, they aren't. It shows me that I am doing an OK job of growing up, giving me confidence. And it teaches me that a little step that I take each day takes me far in a long run. It's easier now to trust myself. It has also helped me not to worry or get upset about small stuff. Yes, I knew in theory that you shouldn't worry about small stuff, but it wasn't until that I started to read about what small stuff that I was worrying about a year or two later that I truly understood that it makes no difference in a long run.

And after doing this over two years, I noticed that it's becoming my habit to think about what good happened today (or yesterday if I'm writing in the morning), rather than thinking what happened in general. And that, I think, makes difference.

I'm already browsing the selection of multi-year journals to see which one I want once I'm complete my 3-year version. (The 10-year version looks a bit scary, but also very intriguing...)

Apr 1, 2009

Take a Full Advantage of the Opportunity

I'm not about to claim that this is in any way scientific since I only got 17 responses. But the time is up and the poll is closed. It looks like what we most appreciate about being unemployed is the opportunity to consider switching career.

Personally, what I initially appreciated most was being able to take some time off, so that I can think straight for the first time since college and also rest a little bit to become healthy again. But now that I've done some thinking and realized that I need to change something, the opportunity to consider switching career is something I'm starting to appreciate more. It's encouraging to know that many of you also view the opportunity to consider switching career the most significant benefit of being unemployed.

Switching career is tough. It's not easy even when the economy is great - you'd probably need to get new skills and get some experience somewhere or start from the bottom - but when the economy is as bad as it is now? It's just really hard. And as your unemployed days go by, you cannot help but wonder whether you should just give up and go back to what you were doing before just so that you can show you already have the skill and experience.

But what I've been learning so far is that if you stay persistent and keep looking what you are interested, "it" eventually opens up to you and starts showing you a possibility. Now, the possibility presented to you might not be what you had in mind or even look feasible. But dig a little further and you find something else. You just have to look at it from every possible angle, through all channels that you can think of. It's amazing just how much you can learn. Take detour if you see something else interesting along the way, too. Who says that you have to stick with the first area that you investigate?

It's possible that I end up taking a job that has nothing to do with the field that I'm looking in. I might just have to compromise somewhere along the line. But that's something that I can think about when the time comes, right? And even if I couldn't make the switch this time, I know that the ground work that I'm doing now would give me a jump start when I get my next chance. None of this will be wasted. I'm going to not just appreciate but also take a full advantage of the opportunity.