Two unexpected lessons from studying Japanese

The long and short of it is that I have been learning Japanese for nearly a year and there’s two valuable life lessons that I’m finally getting to grips with (as an indirect result of my studies).

  1. The first of these lessons was to stop expecting instant gratification in my endeavours.

  2. The second lesson was learning ‘how to start’.

Obviously, there's unquestionable logic in both of these concepts and neither of these ideas are brand new to me. It always seems that a large part of ageing is the process of is discovering an irritating amount of evidence that supports the wise advice you've previously ignored.

I quit my job to start a freelance design career around two years ago. As I had no portfolio or professional experience as a designer, the whole process had me starting from scratch in this career path. In any new skill, there's no way to outsmart, or outrun, the need for many hours of practice. Despite that, we all want a way of scaling the learning curve as quickly as possible and I was no exception.

Until I started learning Japanese. 

Learning this language was something I had been putting off for years. For one thing, it’s a notoriously difficult language to learn. I live in London and none of my business colleagues or clients live in Japan. I had previously visited Japan as a tourist and quickly realised that the level of English in Japan is constantly going up. It’s certainly more than enough for a temporary sightseer to get around the major cities. As there was no benefit to my career and no immediate benefit to my travel plans, this made learning Japanese something that I could never really commit to.

It was only once I began approaching this project as a hobby, that the previous desire for an instantaneous indication of progress became a non-issue. I learned to start small, by signed up to a weekly class in the city. I viewed it as a way of getting out of the house and spending time not thinking about my job and the act of going to class became an overall milestone in my weekly routine. When you attend one class, once a week, you don't really think about the cumulative effect. It's only when you're three terms along the curriculum and you can actually start constructing sentences that you feel a realisation of what you've actually achieved. 

I had put off signing up to this particular class for months and months! It's impossible to see how far you'll travel until you've actually taken the first step.

There’s a lot of discussion around the problems that social media might be creating for society and our ability to be patient. The expectation for immediate results is a genuine problem I’ve experienced in my life since childhood. Amazon Prime is practically my best friend. A careful savings plan is my worst enemy. Additionally, many now experience envy of others on social media channels, whether it’s career or lifestyle related. Surely this is just a resentment and critique of our own pace in life, reinforced by the sight of others seeming to get results overnight.

Before I started learning Japanese, I applied the same expectations to my own life. In a way, being forced to learn something at a pace that can’t be shortened or cheated has been humbling and a relief. I've now learned that to take small steps into daunting tasks is something that can launch you into a decade long hobby and open you up to so many new friends, paths and opportunities. Just because something doesn’t seem to offer a short term reward, doesn’t mean it’s of no value at all. If anything, it probably is more valuable than anything you planned to tick off your To Do list today. For me, I’m learning to enjoy the journey and focus less on how far I’ve travelled and more on putting one foot in front of the other.