Being the boss of a bunch of language schools is one of the hardest learning curves I have ever been on. The job is great, but it is endless, and I really wouldn’t trade it for anything. I had a very interesting experience today when I met with a gentleman who is hoping to come and work with us.

I am not going to tell you any details about him, except to say that he was very nice and if he comes to work with us that will be great.

What I realized while he was talking was the complete and utter truth as to why people do the work they do. He said, “People work to live, not live to work.”

I had to stop for a minute and think on that one. Seriously. I was momentary stuck… how do I respond?

But then it became so obvious and it became crystal clear to me what is the motivation that most people have for their job.

Most people are looking to the time around their working hours as the places they get all their enjoyment and pleasure of living. They do not consider or expect that their job should give them pleasure or joy. They have no expectation of real deep satisfaction from what they do to generate money.

Wait. That can’t be right….

I was almost about to protest… and then I had a flashback to my own working experience in the past…. (start the Twilight Zone music!!!)

I was a professor at a university in Kanazawa, a rather big university. For years I had slaved away in high school classrooms but I got my graduate work done and then I was to start my new career as a university prof! YEAH! I made it, and now, I thought the “real work” will start.

But it didn’t. Not even slightly.

I left the chalkboard dust filled rooms of high school behind me only to be in a department of a group of highly educated teachers and professionals who were put under the direct control of a selfish, mico-managing, humorless and jaded despot. He is an American by birth but imagined himself as a haiku poet of an age passed by, and he was deep in the political machinations of university existence. His Japanese colleagues jokingly referred to him as the leader of North Korea (seriously.. that is no joke!)

He forced all teachers to work from the same textbook and we were to give weekly quizzes to students of 10 points each. We were not allowed to even make these quizzes. All paperwork was to be edited by him, and no matter what was sent to him as via email, it was completely reworked and handed back for what he wanted. After several weeks of having all my micro-tests rewritten by this man, I just sent him random sentences so he could send back what he wanted in the first place. We were told to form committees and submit reports that were never read. My coworkers and I, after several rounds of submitting long and hard-researched work with no response or feedback, simply abandoned all such committee work and went for lunch. He hardly noticed.

We avoided this man. He was dull and unfriendly. The women in our department all dreaded his knock on their doors and several reported their refusals of his invitations to “onsen retreats”. Funny, I never got such an invite…. Maybe my legs are too hairy.  Work at this university had such promise to help the next generation of engineers have REAL English skills, but all our efforts as a team of 15 professors, the years of our combined education, the huge amounts of money poured into our salaries was all squandered because this man, this puny man, who needed to keep us doing “busy work” and he kept talented people out of sight from his superiors for fear of losing his position in “the collective” of university politics.

It was the highest paying salaried job I ever had up until then, but it was the most mind-numbing experience of my professional life.

I turned my untapped energy to other things. I went to the gym daily and got in pretty great shape. I wrote a couple of books and I published one that became a “best seller” in my niche of karate. I took on outside work as a consultant for several companies. I edited several books for other writers. I managed the HR department for a friend of mine who needed someone to get her staff organized. I also read about 100 books about the Pacific War and did enough research for a PhD in History.

As it turned out, my life that was around the soul-sucking existence of “university professor” in that situation is what gave my life pleasure and meaning. The “job” was awful, and that manager is one of the worst people I have ever met. The job was bad, but the life around it was meaningful.

It was this flood of past memories that snapped me back into place today.

I responded to the very nice gentleman I met, “You are completely correct. I agree with you”. But then I also spent some time talking about how we can be a place that is 1) fair with our teammates and 2) a place that gives each member a sense of purpose with the work that we do together.

The notion that teaching in Japan is “something you do” to fill time before you figure out what to do with your life to give it meaning is kind of an anathema to me. It wasn’t always, but it surely is today.

It has been many years now since dealing with that mouth-breathing manager of the past at the university in Kanazawa, but now that I have the boss hat on my head, I need to make things different, and I need to remember that what I hear from our teammates is something that is “their truth” for the time and experience they are in.

That was a great lesson for me today. I best keep that one close to heart from now on.

Running language schools has been a great education for me so far. And there is much much more for me to still learn.

Thanks for dropping by today!

Mark