The Importance of Wearing Hats

As I write this, I’m sitting at my hotel in Yudanaka, Japan watching the snow fall outside through the huge stain glass windows. I can see the mountains leading up to the ski resorts, trees lightly frosted with this morning’s dusting. I see ancient buildings nestled up against modern apartments, steam rising in various places from the town’s dozens of public hot springs. And I think again about how different my life is from just a week ago. Last week I was winning money with my uncle at Black Jack tables in Vegas. This week I’m here. I’m not sure I could think of anything more opposite.

Snow in the Mountains

Snow in the Mountains

Yet I’ve come to accept irregularity as part of my life. Someday I want a more stable job, something that pays well, gives me the freedom to spend time with my family and something in which I gain autonomy, mastery and purpose (see the TED talk). Yet for now, I appreciate the experiences and lessons I’ve learned from doing so many things. I was trying to count yesterday how many jobs and internships I have done in my life. I counted 24, but I’m sure there are more. Some of the crazier ones include tour guiding for a Japanese movie star in Kenya, growing chili peppers in the desert, playing pickleball for money and working at a Japanese ski resort. There are lots of lessons to be learned from doing so many things, and I wanted to share a few of those:

1. One Thing Usually Leads to Another

It’s strange, but the things you learn from previous jobs always come in handy in whatever you do next. I don’t know how that happens, but it always has for me. Living and working in Kenya, I learned to think on my feet and use the resources available to me. We frequently dealt with delays, lack of electricity, traffic, corruption. Comparatively, driving Japanese customers around Colorado and dealing with the hiccups that inevitably occur seems like a piece of cake.

2. You Gain Lifelong Friendships & Networks

Yesterday I put on my previously nonexistent bartender hat and waited on Taiwanese guests. Besides learning to make mixed drinks on the fly, we had a fascinating conversation, less because of the content and more because of the linguistic challenges. There were three of us, the Taiwanese tour guide, the Taiwanese customer, and myself. I spoke English and Japanese, the tour guide spoke Japanese and Taiwanese, and the customer spoke Taiwanese and English. We had a roundabout three-way conversation, constantly having to translate everything to the odd man out, both of them becoming increasingly intoxicated. As a result, they both gave me their business cards and I have places to stay in Taichung, Taiwan if I ever visit (which is coincidentally where another close friend of mine lives). One of my bucket list items is to know someone personally from every country in the world. Doing these jobs helps me achieve that.

Wearing another kind of hat

Wearing another kind of hat

3. People are Amazed at Your Life Experience

Things like growing up in Japan and working in Kenya make you an interesting person, which in turn makes people want to talk to you. In my most memorable class at Azusa Pacific, I remember the president telling us to strive to become interesting people, not to boast about our individual achievements but to be able to share our lives with other people. And hopefully that will enrich theirs. I want to be someone who exudes humble confidence, knowing that I can do almost anything but realizing that many other people have helped me along the way and nothing is accomplished by my own strength.

Japanese Friends

Japanese Friends

4. You Learn What You Love & Hate

I love cooking but I could never work in a restaurant. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way. I love helping people create memorable vacations and digging deeper into what makes a place special. That’s the sort of thing that makes me tick, and having done various jobs, I better appreciate the importance of doing something you love. Sometimes you have to do things that you know aren’t the best, but as long as those are pushing you towards something better, those are all just opportunities to learn and grow.

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Naked Friendship

One of the best ways to get to know someone in Japan is to take a bath with them. That might sound strange, but the Japanese have a phrase for this, hadaka no tsukiai, which translates roughly to naked friendship. Literally stripped of all clothes and outward formalities, the relaxed onsen vibe gives you the chance to go beyond the surface. It seems the only other way to do this is to consume lots of alcohol so I prefer the onsen.

Having been in Japan less than a month, I already have some great onsen stories. Like the other day when I got into a snowball fight against two Australian kids in the rotenburo (outside bath). It was awesome. Just as I was getting out, the 10-year old hits me right in the back. I had to fight back. I duck around the corner, make two quick snowballs and return with a vengeance, hitting the kid square in the chest as snow explodes everywhere. They try to retaliate but I quickly escape into the relative safety of the dressing room. All they could talk about after that was a rematch, which I was regrettably unable to oblige.

Then there was the onsen conversation about English grammar with a Korean friend. He works here at the hotel and apparently studies English in his free time. I don’t remember the question, but we talked for at least 30 minutes, completely naked, about some obscure grammatical question that I had no clue how to explain in simple language.

Also over a bath, I had conversation the other day about differences between Japan and the US. Specifically, my Japanese colleagues couldn’t understand America’s dieting/bingeing culture. They thought it was hilarious and ironic that people would become vegetarians, or not eat carbs, or do some crazy diet and still remain overweight. “Why wouldn’t you just eat healthy from the start?” was their simple response. Japanese people don’t exercise much and they eat an excessive amount of white rice but their waistlines and life expectancy are worth noting.

In the end, hadaka no tsukiai reminds me of my need to be more “naked” in my own friendships. It’s easy for me to coast along, never digging deeper or having challenging conversations. But those are the conversations that matter the most and I want to value the people I can have them with. Friendship takes longer in Japan but lasts for a lifetime. With old friends and with new, those are the types of friendships I want to intentionally cultivate and invest into.