I Took the Road Less Traveled By

By Michael Gakuran | | Journal | 13 Comments |

Since my earlier post, I’ve been sitting on a bundle of comments in a rather surprising response to my naked outpouring of worry and doubt. I keep meaning to get to them and reply, but I’ve been rather drained from work lately. It’s been rather hectic at the office as we gear up for some big changes beginning April 1st. I’ve been given the task of organising a small team in charge of keeping the company from suffering what could amount to a huge burden. Changes in Japanese law mean that certain types of company will be required to verify the identity of their users or face penalties. For the company I’m currently working at, this means facing up to the prospect of having some 170,000 members submit personal identification, with more signing up every day. Not a pretty task, as you might imagine.

So as this working week closed, I sat down to relax and watch the Life of Pi with my girlfriend. It was Friday night after all – just one of two nights a week I get the chance to stay up late and do whatever I want without worrying about the morning alarm afterwards. I distinctly remember reading the book of the same name at some point. It was a great story, and the film did it justice. Not long after finishing the film however, I somehow stumbled upon this post, which brought me in a full circle back to the same problem I was dealing with last week.

Just how should I go about organising my life so I can do all the things I really want to do when there’s so little time in which to do it?


Image from Richard P. Gibbs

Plunged into a familiar pit of self-doubt, I had a long discussion with my girlfriend about future directions and goals, while still managing to keep things realistic for us both. We’ve recently moved in together, but I long to get out and travel more for extended periods of time. Perhaps it’s just an itch that needs scratching, or perhaps it’s something deeper linked to my very core and way of living. I haven’t yet come to a conclusion on that point, but I do know that I was left with a very nasty sensation in the pit of my stomach after reading that article.

Travel while you’re young. You’ll regret it if you don’t when later you’re an adult with the burden of responsibilities.

Let’s not pretend otherwise here – renting a house, getting a full-time job and moving in together aren’t the sort of actions that easily mesh together with an adventurous soul like mine, ever longing to break with the ordinary and go places in abandon. But perhaps there is a solution. A little ray of light at the end of our discussion. I feel surprisingly lighter after having the conversation. Optimistic. I know from experience that these sensations are fleeting, so I’ve learnt to latch onto them in the moment and go with it as much as possible.

I need to write something.

So here I am. Again.

Somehow, things seem just a little more focussed than before. I have a clearer vision of things I know I want to do. As the old metaphor goes – the clouds have parted, at least for just a moment.

I need to travel more. To experience more of the world and grow as a person. I want to write about these experiences and tell them as stories. My brand of non-fiction fiction. My website is one obvious output for that, but certainly not the only one, or perhaps the best. When thinking of solutions, always reject the initial and obvious. Think deeper. What about other mediums for storytelling? Photography. Video. Audio.


Deeper, now.

Books, television, radio, art. Words, conversation. Seminars, events. Tours?

Still too obvious.

Something original. Something more.

The idea itself isn’t what’s important now. What’s important is that I feel like I’ve taken a step inside myself towards my next goal. I’ve defined it a little more. It may not be what I ultimately end up doing. It may just be a whim egged on by a late night conversation, some coffee and New Zealand hokey-pokey ice-cream.

But to achieve that goal of travelling more and experiencing more. It’s easily said, but rather harder to do in practice. I need time and money. What to do then? I need to be in charge of my own schedule and have more control over my income streams. Only with the flexibility to pause work and take a break when I feel like it will I begin to experience the freedom I crave. Monday to Friday just isn’t working for me right now.

Travelling more will demand a minimum financial investment. I need a buffer of savings to help me get from place-to-place, although ideas such as couchsurfing and working as I travel are of course possibilities – perhaps necessities. I need to be able to offer services which I can do on the road. This is definitely do-able even with my current skillset. Japanese-English translation, interpretation and teaching, web design and front-end development as well as SEO optimisation and internet marketing. What I need is an expanded network – contacts to get the work flowing in as a freelancer. Enough so that I have the flexibility to pause life and take a break without too much worry. Also, contract work on the side is a very real possibility now that I don’t have to worry about Japanese visa issues for a while. Thank goodness for the 5-year sticker in my passport! All that job-hunting for a full-time employee position last year paid off, thanks to my specific New Year’s Resolution.

Suddenly, it all seems quite possible if I plan things accordingly. As with any such venture, there’s a fair degree of risk. Freelancing isn’t foolproof. But I know, I know I have to do this. Freeing up my time is essential if I’m to pursue my current goals. Procuring a network and multiple income streams are the first step in doing that. Starting a company will happen somewhere along the way naturally, and with a lighter soul, I hope to find more comfort in settling down other areas of my life, such as starting a family.

I’ll close with a favourite poem of mine (of which I know admittedly very few). It seems appropriate given my current situation.

The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

I’m curious. To those reading – how have you secured streams of income such that you’re able to pursue your goals independent of the social norm of a Monday-Friday working week?

13 comments on “I Took the Road Less Traveled By
  1. esperance says:

    While reading your post (and the “3 Reasons to Travel…” post) I was reminded of this convocation speech:


  2. SohoJay says:

    Thank you for sharing! Such a great read.

  3. Paulo says:

    Thanks for this… I never thought that migrating or coming into some place you don’t know is really this difficult.. though I wil take this as challenge, and nothing something that will bother my dream – coming to Japan…

  4. Zbynek says:

    I know excatly what you mean, Im actually freelancer and working towards what I want, its quite hard though. You need contacts and that requires time, otherwise you are doomed to random and low paid jobs. Check book from Tim Ferris – The 4-hour work week – it might not be the best solution but there is ton of very useful information. Also check some online freelancer forums and stockphotography options. I do sell some pictures via microstock and that alone makes some usefull $$. Good luck :)

  5. Rob says:

    I fortunately got the travel bug out of the way now (I still want to visit new places, but not for years on end) and am aiming for things you seem to have achieved at the moment (Japanese, Haikyo exploration). I supported myself through savings, advertisement on my travel website (easier said than done) and working odd jobs around the world.

    I ended up without much money though and in Japan. But that’s enough about me.

    I do strongly suggest you travel to get it out of your system. When I was 21 I asked as many work colleagues as I could (company of around 800 people) what they regretted the most, most were in their 50’s. Travel was the most common one, with sticking with this job as second. It seemed obvious what I needed to do – quit the company and travel. It’s a big step, especially as you seem to have made the first steps in settling down now.

    By all means plan it. I had a financial target I wanted to hit before I left (around £6k travelling alone). I was heavily in debt (thanks to an ex-girlfriend who liked my credit score) and once got back to £0 my company announced redundancies. So I volunteered for that and hit my financial target overnight rather than have to save up for another 6 months. It also made leaving easier. Sometimes things do work out, that was one for me.

    Once you’re off (preferably before) start on your income. You’ve got a big skill set, the problem is of course finding people that will pay for those skills. Even sites like elance.com which will have jobs that require your skills, have big competition that is endless. It’s not an overnight thing fortunately.

    The web development/advertising/SEO game is also a losing one generally. Google updates almost dictate your income which is scary. I’ve lost about 60% of my meagre income since March this year in Googles Penguin update. A lot of people with impressive incomes (around $5k a month) found themselves with $1.8-2k a month after too, so everyone was hit because companies are rethinking advertising strategies online now. So I think your translation work will be much more reliable with much less competition as it takes a few years before people can get to your level, rather than pretending from the start like a lot of ‘SEO Experts’ do.

  6. Tommie says:

    I can’t believe all the similarities I have with the writer of this (sorry, a bit confused about who actually wrote this). I have been a resident of Japan for 16 months now, live with my Japanese girlfriend, but will most likely have to leave the country within a few months due to visa issues. I do not want to waste my time teaching English and for that reason it’s very hard to find a proper job that can help me with my visa situation. Instead I have started up my own website writing about learning Japanese and Japanese culture.

    I too would like to keep traveling and not really get stuck with responsibilities. Truth is though, I haven’t been “back home” in Sweden for 4 years and time is now to either make it or break it. Even though I have learned tons during my time here both linguistically and about online marketing, it doesn’t really matter if I cant turn it into a profit.

    Would be very interesting to see if you found a solution to this. Maybe I can find some motivation in it :)

    My website is not as fancy and established as yours but if you want to, take a peek and drop a comment about what you think. I’ll be sure to check back here again!

  7. MadParrot says:

    Dear Gakuranman

    The ten thoughts of that wisest of birds, Mr Parrot.

    You should …
    – Reread “Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenance” – his journey is not so far from that you describe
    – Listen/Read to “Time” from the Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album – they summarise the anxiety rather well.
    – Admit that you have already “seized the day” with your amazing adventures and elonquent reflections
    – Understand that time is a great deceiver; in attempting to make time we often consume more than we create
    – Go slower; we perceive more deeply. Cycling is super. Wasted weekends are, on occasions, super. Sometimes less is more.
    – Seek quality in life; better to have less but more fulfilling experiences
    – Be true to yourself; house divided against itself etc. Trying to be something/someone you are not will invariably come back to haunt you
    – Let go of your anxiousness – good /wise decisions are made contently
    – Run the race; don’t let the race run you; it is all too easy to let admirable goals become tryants that persecute you with unrealistic demands, feelings of guilt, inadequacy,….
    – Do whatever gets you out of bed in the morning; hardware and software still do it for me after more than 36 years of practising the dark arts. Personally i find your prose insightful, thought provoking and somewhat Machiavellian – seems a good starting point to me

    Be true, be smart; be you

    The esteemable Mr Jasper Parrot.

  8. zoomingjapan says:

    I don’t work Mo-Fr! ….. I work Tue-Sat (-___-”) …

    I understand. Trust me. I HEAR YOU!
    I’m the same. After all that was one of the reasons why I moved to Japan in the first place. “Do it while you’re independant and young!”
    I’ve been to all 47 prefectures, but I’m still eager to explore more!

    I feel that I have enough time and money for traveling (most of the time), but I also want to share my experience with others and I clearly don’t have enough time for that with my full-time job right now!

    I’ve been looking into options how I could surivive on freelance work … I’ve been in Japan for a bit less than 6 years. Not enough for a permanent residence status. I wasn’t as lucky as you and I just got another 3 year visa.

    There are visa issues, but there’s also the thing that you won’t have family or old friends around who might back you up if you fail or if everything takes longer than planned.

    I suppose being a private English teacher with your own students won’t fit your lifestyle. You need something where you can work from wherever you are, am I right?
    Your best chance is to do something online!
    You already mentioned quite a lot of skills and ideas! You just need to figure out what you are passionate about and see if you can turn that into a business idea somehow!

    Good luck.

  9. Chris says:

    I’m a freelance web dev in old blighty. Sometimes I have too much work and need to push it out to someone. Would love to hear more about what you’re capable of. If you’re interested you just grab my email address from this comment and get in touch.


  10. Soph says:

    Yes. I work part-time but make enough money (and have enough free time) to live and enjoy what I like.

  11. Greg says:

    Not quite sure I have an answer to your question for myself because I’m an overworked consultant who can’t even remember the last time I even contemplated this concept of life-work balance. But Eli Locardi seems to be somewhat living the life that you yearn for?

    It’s at least interesting to read his story and seeing if there’s any relevance for you (http://www.blamethemonkey.com). Either way, all the best on your journey.

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