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My transition in a nutshell – from a high-flying investment banker to a freelancer juggling motherhood and work
When I tiptoe into my bedroom to see if my 4 year-old daughter is awake at 7:30am, I often think about how different life would be if I were still in a traditional corporate role. In my twenties and early thirties, I never imagined myself NOT leading a traditional corporate life, but I also wasn’t contemplating motherhood. It wasn't that I was 100% sure I didn't want to have children; it was that I was convinced that I couldn't have children without killing my career aspirations. Until I saw female role models managing both motherhood and career to what I deemed a satisfactory result, I put the idea of motherhood on the back burner.
During business school, I attended a "Wharton Women in Business" luncheon. The most memorable female presenter was a senior executive at a Wall Street investment bank. She joked about having an entire payroll for the staff she hired to manage her household and kids. She said she even joined a conference call while in labor at the hospital. I shook my head at the idea that this was the prescribed way to "have it all". After hearing that story, I decided I would prefer to not have children than to have children like that. I proceeded to see my gender as an advantage... because of my no-child status.
As I became more established in my career, however, I felt an emptiness in the rest of my life. There was nothing wrong on paper, so it took quite a bit of soul-searching to unearth the discontent. This path led me to destruct my first marriage and to eventually remarry with a daughter in tow. Once my daughter, Desiree, was born, my career shifted out of both necessity and desire.
How did it shift exactly?
Well, B.D. (Before Desiree), my routine was to wake up around 5am to check the US markets from Tokyo or to hop on a conference call from the West Coast. Then, I would rush to grab a workout and breakfast, and be at my desk around 7am until 7pm. After dinner, I would answer emails with New York or Tokyo depending on where I was situated. In the early days of my career as an investment banker, I was on a two-week rotation between San Francisco and Tokyo, back and forth. With jet lag, the lines between work and home would blur even further as 2am insomnia would lead me into the kitchen and onto my laptop.
With a child in the mix, this type of schedule would entail incredible sacrifice or simply be unsustainable. So, when I reflect on the “before” and “after”, I say a silent "thank you" to my current work life schedule. While I am still an early riser and may sneak in a couple of hours of work before Desiree wakes up, I am not having to wake her up at the crack of dawn to shuffle her off to daycare. Instead, I can open the shades to let the light stream in at a normal waking hour and hear her say, amicably, "Good morning, Momma!" after a full night of rest.
How is your Japanese?
Since I have spent most of my “Japanese life” (i.e. time studying Japanese since 1995) in the United States, I will say lightheartedly that I am akin to a Japanese person in English — my reading skills are far superior to my speaking skills. Again, looking for the silver lining, I would argue that, if I had to pick between the two, reading Japanese is much more important for getting work done in Japan than speaking is.
Allowing my Japanese counterparts to be able to express themselves in Japanese opens up doors and insights I wouldn't get if we were limited to strictly English communication. At the Tokyo office of my previous workplace, research analysts and bankers were notorious for working long hours, so they loved that they could pass something off to me in the wee hours of the night and it would magically appear in their inbox “done” by the time they arrived back in the morning. We could, in essence, operate like a 24-hour team. But, where offshoring teams fell short in the Tokyo office’s experience, I did not. In other words, I communicated in Japanese. This was the key. It was not to say that the English language skills of my colleagues in Tokyo were not quite high, but at 1am, life becomes much easier when you can send a message in your native language. Beyond that, the material I was often working with — Excel valuation models and PowerPoint pitch materials of and for Japanese companies — were in Japanese, so my language skills went beyond "nice to have"; they were imperative.
How did you hear about WorkShift? What are your thoughts?
I discovered WorkShift in early 2017 when I was approached for helping out a Japanese client at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Since then, the relationship has blossomed and I have been involved in a variety of projects ranging from book translation to market research and investment advisory. Workshift welcomed me (and my daughter) into their office whenever I'm in town. Their screening technology ensures that I am not bothered by unsuitable jobs, but does make sure I do not miss opportunities that may be of interest.
What's great about Workshift is I can manage my workload. For example, if I know I have other projects, travel, or personal commitments, I can tone down my engagements accordingly. That optionality as well as the transparency for the give and take between myself and the client create an atmosphere of mutual trust and accountability. There is also a bargaining element allowed in case the client's offer is too low and yet I wish to plead my skills in a counter-proposal. I believe Workshift wants all of their freelancers to succeed. From my side, it feels much more like a collaborative family than a cut-throat competitive job forum.
Final question... totally unrelated. How did you get interested in Japan?
Disney On Ice, 1993. I was 18. I had deferred from college to skate professionally and my first tour was Japan! Over the course of three months, I skated in shows all over the archipelago, which let me experience "real Japan" as I like to call it. This sparked an interest to study Japanese in college and the rest is, as they say, history!