My great uncle died when a Steinway & Sons piano fell nine stories from an apartment building in Manhattan and flattened him into the sidewalk.
In the weeks and months after that loss, in the middle of my recovery from this horrific tragedy, I started a foundation.
That foundation was designed to provide support for everyone who had lost a family-member to similar, equally as tragic accidents: piano’s falling out of the sky.
Over the next few years, I became the figurehead of that foundation. I was protecting and advocating for the lives of as many as dozens of people who have lost their family members from similarly horrific incidents.
I’d become the Bruce Wayne of people who had lost their family-members to piano-related slaughter.
Every time I’d pass a Steinway & Sons store, I’d shudder, thinking back to the day of that horrific incident.
“Damn you incompetent moving company!” I’d say, as I shake my fists in the air.
“Curse you Steinway AND YOUR SONS!”
This is of course not a true story…
My uncle died from medical complications later in life — he was in his 80s (or 90s?)
He’d lived through The Holocaust, the death of many of his friends, his wife, and had gone on to live a rather full life and was a staple at his local Synagogue.
There was nothing particularly tragic about his death — it was normal, for all intents and purposes.
The piano story is simply a twisted dream of mine — a dream I have of suffering from a tragic loss.
Of despair, and of perseverance.
A way for me to rationalize taking action on something that I dream to do because now I’ve got a reason, dammit!
But the truth is that most people won’t find those neat, compelling, gift-wrapped stories of horror that motivate them to do great things.
An uncle of mine died from pancreatic cancer years ago, and while I thought about starting a foundation to help those with pancreatic cancer, that idea didn’t stew particularly long.
Often, horrific events like that don’t result in the sort of ascendance to great power and meaning that many people dream of.
Most of the time you have to create those stories from scratch, and it’s hard.
What does any of this have to do with moving to Japan?
Well — most stories will tell you that adventure starts with deep, profound tragedy.
In Eat, Pray, Love — it starts with the dissolution of a perfect life through a tragic divorce. That leads her to a life of self-discovery through Italy, India, and Bali.
In Wild, it’s, umm — yeah, a woman’s self-destructive decision-making leads to the dissolution of her marriage and a journey to the Pacific Crest Trail.
In Ghostrider, the death of Neil Pert’s wife and daughter within a short period of time pushes him to find meaning in their losses by road-tripping around North America on his German motorcycle.
Tragedy and profound loss often precede these incredible adventures and give us a reason to give a shit about the characters within.
Here’s how mine started: I was bored and my life was perfect.
Denver had become a place of deep comfort, love, and meaning, but it had also lost its verve as an exciting place to live.
My life had started to feel relatively static and my days had started to look oddly familiar. I knew that if I’d continued down this path for the next 5-10 years, things would continue to look more and more comfortable.
My relationships would continue to grow.
I would probably be happier than I am now.
Then one day, returning home from a flight from Phoenix to visit my parents, I looked upon the beautiful landscape of Denver and its industrial outskirts and told myself this: I’m leaving!
I’d always loved Japan and found it interesting, so I started to tell people I was moving there.
Then one day, I finally did.
On February 1st, 2020, I’d finally arrived in Japan, at Narita airport in Tokyo.
As soon as I got here, I thought to myself, “what the fuck have I done?!”
Here’s how I did all of that.
Step 1. Preparing myself financially.**
The first thing you’ll probably ask yourself is, how did you prepare yourself financially?
Here’s the honest answer; when my grandparents died a few years ago, I’d been written into their will, and as a result, got access to a sizeable chunk of their estate.
I’ve managed to preserve that money over the last few years and it continues to be a relatively secure nest-egg for me.
Is it possible to move to a foreign country with minimal resources?
Yes, and there are books about it.
(Vagabonding is one of these books and it’s fantastic.)
But like most things in life, it’s easier when you have money.
Not to mention no family, no kids, no debt, and are stupid.
Emphasis on the stupid part.
**Note: when you see people who on Instagram claim they’re, “travel-a-holics,” that’s likely coming from obscene amounts of privilege.
That, and their life is often completely devoid of meaning and purpose otherwise. So the only thing they have to feel proud of is all of the cool places they’re going in life. They’re probably just as unhappy as anyone else. Maybe even unhappier.
Step 2. Telling my friends and stuff.
I made the decision to move to Japan in April 2019.
That gave me 9-months to second-guess each and every one of my choices.
I slowly started to inform my friends of my insane decision, bit-by-bit.
First, it was telling people in my inner circle in order to start developing momentum.
Then, my family.
Then, it was telling people in my co-working space.
Next, it was telling all of my friends.
Then — literally anybody I talked to.
And then they’d ask, “WOW, WHY DID YOU DECIDE JAPAN?!”
And then I’d come up with an elaborate number of stories and answers that spoke to that.
“You see this tattoo on my arm?” and they’d nod.
“It has nothing to do with Japan, I just think it’s cool. I’m moving to Japan because I think it’s cool, too.”
Right before I’d moved to Japan, my relationships were at their peak. I was spending time with all of my favorite people, I’d trips planned to see just about everyone I loved around the country right before I left, and I was even dating a super cool girl.
Everything was perfect. At several points, I would think to myself, should I just bail?!
I’d probably consulted with a dozen close friends and mentors about this decision — most advised, fuck it, just go! but the internal conflict remained.
Making big decisions is difficult and scary and you’ll probably never be more than 50-60% sure it’s the right one.
A few weeks before my trip, I’d taken a handful of mushrooms with friends and while we were lounging in a hot tub we all came to this mutual conclusion that, yes, Japan is calling me.
It felt reassuring at the time, so I went with it.
Step 3. Getting rid of all of the shit I didn’t need.
In the two weeks leading up to my move, I effectively gave away everything:
- My big couch.
- My standing desk.
- All of the random chotzskis lying around my apartment.
- My bed, frame, furniture, etc.
Most of those items went to my friends; including posters and the like. But I’m okay if I never get any of those things back.
(And honestly, I’m okay if I never move back to our completely fucked up country.)
I sold items that were actually valuable — including camera equipment, and other large items.
But otherwise, I pretty much just gave everything away.
There’s something incredibly rewarding about giving something you own to somebody who needs it and them being like, “This is awesome and I’m so stoked to use it.”
At some point, I’m standing in my apartment, and all I have left are a duffel bag and a backpack. It had been an exhausting few weeks because for whatever reason giving stuff away is exhausting.
And I’m just thinking to myself, “this is all I have right now.”
And I’m free.
Step 4. Wrapping up business loose-ends.
My business had also been growing.
I had gone from barely landing $250 client projects a year earlier, to consistently landing projects that were paying me $1,000-$2,000+ for a half-day of work, and as much as $6,000+ for just a few videos.
Things were awesome and I’d finally started reaching critical mass with my client-work.
That and my ‘side-hustle’ editing service business was starting to take off as well.
Combined, I’d had my first $10,000 month between both of those businesses.
It was at that point when I started to ask myself, “am I making a big mistake here? I’ve got so much momentum in Denver.”
And then that momentum fell off the face of the earth.
The next few months, I dealt with delays in projects (which meant delays in payment), unsatisfied clients, and selling our ‘side-hustle’ product went from effortless to trying to move a boulder uphill.
Maybe part of it was that I was simply unattached to any of the outcomes of those projects, or I simply hadn’t reached ‘product-market fit’, but everything started to feel difficult.
I remember the constant day-to-day pressure I felt, but often it helped me reiterate the fact that, yes, you should just let go. The answers will come.
I tried to wrap up as many projects as I could before I left, but timing and various other factors prevented that from happening — I’d often find myself working super early in the morning, or late at night on projects that should’ve
Within about a few weeks of relocating to Japan, after I’d adjusted to the time differences, the culture, found a solid house that I was staying at, and started to develop some semblance of a morning routine, things began to fall into place.
I’d found a rhythm in executing on client projects, in setting up sales conversations, in finding new leads and business, and so on…
March wasn’t a bad month, business-wise but had plenty of expenses, too:
(And that doesn’t take into account any reoccurring revenue from our monthly editing service, which was right around $600 or so. Not exactly killing it, either, but I’ll take it in this economy.)
Step 5. Last-minute preparations.
Aside from getting rid of my shit, there were a handful of last-minute things that I had to clear up before I could wrap up my trip.
I won’t go into extensive details on how to do these things, because I have a whole
- Language learning. I downloaded a few apps like Memrise and started working with a tutor on iTalki for about an hour a week. Honestly, aside from a few keyphrases, I’d learned zero Japanese before I got here.
- Passport renewal. I had to get my passport renewed before I’d left. So I went to an expedited passport place near Denver and got that done in a few days’ time. I’m currently on a 90-day tourist visa, so I haven’t figured out the long-term plan just yet.
- Saying bye to everyone. I’d scheduled hangouts and final goodbyes with pretty much everyone I loved in Denver. It’s amazing how much more available people make themselves when they believe they won’t see you again for a long, long time.
Lastly, this list of resources will be incredibly helpful if you plan on traveling to or moving to Japan at any point in the next year.
I made it for my friends who were planning on coming to Japan but couldn’t because COVID-19 ruined everyone’s travel plans.
Step 6. Finding purpose and meaning.
The hardest, and perhaps most important piece (that I’m still struggling with) is finding purpose in my day-to-day and a community.
When I first moved here — as of a few weeks ago, honestly — most of my days were incredibly lonely.
Yes, I went on the odd adventure with a new friend or travel buddy and created many memorable and unforgettable experiences, but for the most part, I was alone.
I’d spend a lot of time working, thinking, note-taking, learning Japanese, but not a lot of time creating.
I’d told myself that I came to Japan to reignite my passion in creativity, but to best honest, most of the time I spent hours and hours trolling YouTube or Netflix for new and interesting content.
That’s started to shift in recent weeks. I’ve started to find myself full of interesting ideas and concepts, some of which have really started to pick up steam.
That, and I’ve found myself really diving into photography and spending a lot more time mastering that craft.
Making some of the stuff I’ve been making has been an absolute joy:
Even though, for the most part, I don’t really make any money off of these personal projects.
Beyond that, I’ve started to build friend circles with people in my community, find people with common interests, been learning Japanese a bit better, and so on.
(More on this in a later post, probably.)
I think about my uncle Jakob a lot — he’s somebody who I’d grown to admire as I grew older, especially in the years before his death.
A few years ago, when my mother called me to tell me he’d passed away and that the funeral would be after I’d planned to arrive back to New York (I had already had a trip planned), I threw my phone on the floor in my bathroom.
I was furious — why couldn’t they just wait for me?! I thought.
(Jewish funerals wait for nobody. The body goes into the ground as quickly as possible.)
One time, in a rare conversation about his experiences during The Holocaust, I asked him how he found the strength in himself to get through his most difficult days.
“There was no WHAT IF!” he yelled at me, as he usually does.
By that, if I can recall, I think he meant that he never spent much time in the past or in the future.
Every moment, for him, was a moment to try and focus on survival and getting through that difficult moment.
I think about that a lot these days. We’re incredibly fortunate in that a lot of us aren’t fighting for our lives.
Most of us are healthier, safer, and more well-equipped than we ever were in previous generations.
But every day a struggle.
It’s just a different struggle — if it’s not a battle against an Axis of Evil, then it’s a battle against a virus or poverty or climate change, or, worse, ourselves.
And there probably won’t be a moment that pushes you to make the pivotal decision that you will want to make in your life — those moments are convenient, but they’re rare and often non-existent.
If you’ve been putting something off for a while, just know that the conditions will never perfectly align.
The only thing that has to change — starting today, at this moment, is you.
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