September Kick-Off: Unconventional Journeys September 22 Event Recap

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FEW Japan was proud to host the September Kick-Off: ‘Unconventional Journeys event to kickstart the new FEW year. Our annual theme is “Unconventional Journey”’ because so many of our members see their lives this way, so they brought panelists whose names we may know, to share their own stories and help us dig a little bit deeper in a safe, comfortable space. 

Share 3 words that you think of when you hear the word “Unconventional”

The audience was asked to share 3 words that they think of when they hear the word “Unconventional” and the results were captured in a word cloud as seen below.

Meet the Panelists

  1. Professor Kristie Collins – former FEW Director and Gender/Media Studies Specialist
  2. Viktoriya Shirota – FEW Program Director and Business Consultant and Owner
  3. Terri MacMillan – FEW Co-President and Corporate Technologist
  4. Tracey Northcott  – FEW Corporate Membership Director, Software Developer, Entrepreneur, and Best Selling Author
  5. Kyoko Nagano – FEW Vice President and Business Owner

How would you define an unconventional journey and what would you say makes your life journey unconventional?

Kristie – Spoke in reference to an unconventional (female) journey, stepping off the path of marriage and motherhood and fashioning your own happy ever after. Kristie says her journey has been unconventional because so much of it was accidental! “Unconventional” may be the new “conventional”.

Viktoriya – “I think it’s about gender stereotypes and fighting against them (in my case within Japanese society). Personally, it was about transformation from ordinary countryside housewife to business owner and social activist. Of course, each journey is unique, but I would define a few basic points:

  • It’s about flowing against the stream
  • It’s about self-growth and self-respect which includes hard work to tackle traditional toxic cliches inherited from the domestic patriarchal culture
  • It’s about being ready to pay the price of your choice

Kyoko – Her story defines “Unconventional”. She lived overseas for 17 years in 4 countries, gave up a corporate career as a trailing spouse and a mom while living in overseas countries, and launched 3 companies in 2018 and 2019.

Tracey – “My father’s advice to me when I was 16 and thinking about choosing a “profession” he said to not choose a “box” to put myself into. I was considering becoming a physiotherapist or a doctor. He said to always keep your options open as your life will look very different from what you imagine. I have done a number of jobs from training meat workers in abattoirs to software developer to real estate landlord. I have never worked a corporate job – always small businesses and side hustles that become new businesses. I have lots of interests and being an entrepreneur allows me to explore different paths. Some we win, some not so much but at the end of the day, I have a great life, built a house in Tokyo and am CEO of my own company”.

Terri – “My definition of an unconventional journey is leading a life that’s outside mainstream expectations. A path may be perceived as shocking or just out of the ordinary. I’m a natural rebel, sometimes to my detriment, but more often it brings me joy and a lot of amazing experiences. Staying on the path my parents had in mind – college -marriage – children – retirement just didn’t fit my needs.”

What is the most important lesson(s) you have learned from that specific path you have taken in your life journey, the lessons that taught you the most? And If you were to travel the same path, would you? What would you change if anything?

Kristie – “Build a community and nurture your friendships, your worth as a person is not tied to your marital status or your reproductive history. Would I have traveled the same path, I’m not sure, but I’m proud of the choices I’ve made. I think it’s healthy to wonder about “sliding doors”/“what if” situations and imagine how other life courses might have worked out, and to allow us all to admit that no path has probably been without its own challenges”.

Terri – “I wrestle with inconsistency every day, especially when it comes to my own creative work and language learning, and I know how wonderful it feels to be consistent. In my case that means writing, making art and publishing consistently. So that’s an important lesson that I’m still working on. Listen to my body, mundane, but true. And when I need help, get it. It’s a privilege that I’m very grateful for. If I were to travel the same path, I would take music, art and writing more seriously, right from the start. I went to a music & art high school and pretty much coasted because I was naturally good at it, but I was not great at studying. I might be a bit less knee-jerk rebellious, make more logical decisions. But then again if I did that, I wouldn’t be in Japan, and I’d miss out on my found family here and the amazing communities I’m a part of. So, all in all, I’m glad I’m on this path”.

Kyoko – “You don’t need to establish a company from the very beginning, you can always start small. Rethink about going with KK – GKK could be better and easier. Create a business plan and strategy and find your niche”.

Tracey – “Spend time with people who you admire and who inspire you. Be open to opportunities and accept invitations without overthinking it, you never know where your next great idea or collaboration will come from. If I were to travel the same path again, I would accept more invitations to adventures. I would also listen to my own inner voice more and be stronger to ask for what I want. Also, the best lesson I had from working in sales was to learn how to LISTEN and remember. I love matching up people that I know that can help each other out”.

Viktoriya – “I think the most important lesson I have learnt is the cost of my choice. It was paid for by me and my sons as well. The level of stress and difficulties I faced reflected in my children as well so I have to consider the importance of stress care and mental care issues. Of course, if I have to travel the same path I would choose the same course, i.e. independence but I would like to avoid some troubles. For example, I would not perform an official marriage in Japan to avoid a custody battle. I would love to focus on financial independence more than on family issues from the beginning. If I have time I would travel more and enjoy my life more than serve the family. I have realized that a happy mother makes children happy and daily sacrifice is unnecessary”.

What would be your advice to women with a profile similar to yours who are either hesitating to embark on their unconventional journey, who are either on a crossroads or are halfway and facing challenges and traditional roadblocks from society?

Terri – “I’m too self-centered to be a credible life coach, lol! But I would suggest taking small positive daily steps on what’s important to you. Take care of your body, learn something (even if it’s just one kanji). If your profile is similar to mine in that you’re single, remember that most worlds and language and expectations are built for couples. Thankfully that’s changing. I enjoy singleness, not as an answer to coupledom but as its own way to be. I’m fortunate in that I am my own biggest roadblock, so it’s in my power to change things. But if you’re facing societal or family roadblocks, know that you’re not alone. Reach out to the community that fits you best. Just a self-introduction in the FEWsion channel, if you’re a FEW member, can help you connect with folks who get where you’re coming from. That’s a lifesaver. This may seem odd, but, in these days of ubiquitous devices that hold the books and essays and speeches we’re writing, the photos we cherish and more: please back up and keep your devices up to date. You’re already moving through the challenge of living now – don’t add lost stuff to the list!”.

Tracey – “All journeys are unconventional. Never think there is only one way or one path. Don’t box yourself into somebody else’s truth. Always tell the truth – to yourself and to the world. You are enough just as you are. Listen to your own truth and it is OK to ask for what you want. 

There are always more ways to solve a problem. If you hit a roadblock in the path, there are always ways around. Hang around with people who are positive”. 

Kristie – “Nurture your existing friendships and develop new ones, as friends really are chosen family, especially for many singles.Take stock of your accomplishments and map out short/medium/long term goals that you can work towards. Society still imposes rather rigid age-defined timelines on when we “should” marry, “should” have children, and so on. Setting and sharing your own milestones (certification, promotions, mastery of a skill, etc) can help set up other signs of life progress. Let’s try to work together with non-single people to dismantle the divide between “marrieds” and “singles,” because society tries to put us against each other to no one’s benefit. We share more common ground than not, and we could be great allies! Claim some space to celebrate your accomplishments/life choices, for example, l told my family this summer that 2024 is MY year, because i want a big celebration for my 50th. I have spent time, money, and energy to celebrate their engagements, weddings, anniversaries, babies, etc, so l am asking them to mark their calendars for celebrating ME in 2024!

Kyoko – “Life is all about learning. There will be ups and downs in life so be prepared. Life is short so do the things that you really like, don’t waste your time”.

Viktoriya – “Have courage, you are on the right path. Look for support, you are not alone, there are so many women who go through similar challenges. Carefully manage your risks and create the most possible realistic plan for your journey to avoid the high costs of your decisions”.

The evening was followed by an interactive question and answer session and then a 15 minute networking session in breakout rooms. The conversation was led by our board members and was based around the following questions:

  1. Would you define your personal journey as unconventional?
  2. How does tonight’s panel help inspire or motivate you to continue or engage your unconventional journey?
  3. As a member or potential member what other way do you believe FEW can help along that journey?

The audience really appreciated the program and were inspired to overcome negative stereotypes and roadblocks to assert their own voice and vision and find success in their journeys. 

Thank you to our FEW Japan community who showed up for this event to learn about unconventional paths and gain insights into how you can unlock your potential to create your own fulfilling life journey. Many thanks to our panelists, Prof. Kristie Collins, Viktoriya Shirota, Terri MacMillan, Tracey Northcott and Kyoko Nagano for sharing their stories and experiences highlighting their “unconventional journeys” and for helping us build a community that celebrates and normalizes the unconventional as the “new normal” for women’s authentic personal and professional development. Special thanks to Léa Perceval, FEW Program Director and moderator for this event, and Dr. Jackie F. Steele, FEW President and co-moderator for this event.