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Lessons from Japan - Be Good to Yourself

Two months. That’s how much time I thought I’d need before I could start working on gigs again after moving to Japan. Two months is a ton of time, right? I knew the first month would be training and moving, and it would take me another month or so to really get adjusted to my new job. Two months is forever. Two months was too much, even. I needed to be up and running way before that two-month deadline.

Turns out, I kind of underestimated just how tough it is to move halfway around the world. I barely had internet up and running after two months. I’d only been in my apartment for a month and had no idea how to pay any of my bills. I’d never taught English before in my entire life, and now it was my day job. Small things like going grocery shopping and using the remote for the air conditioner were suddenly huge, terrifying tasks. Basically, it was kind of a miracle that I survived my first few months. And somehow, I thought that it would be possible to keep with my audio work while all of this was going on.

As you can imagine, everything was sort of on fire and I crashed pretty hard when my self-imposed two-month deadline hit. I thought that because I had survived doing an internship, outside projects, and a full course load in college all at once that I’d be able to handle something like this, too. What I found out instead is that I’m a lot more human than I thought, and that it’s incredibly difficult to even think about doing additional work (especially creative work!) when you’re barely making it through the day. I learned the importance of self-care and making time for yourself.

What Self-Care Is

It’s as simple as making sure to eat well, get enough sleep, and seeking the best treatment available to us when we’re sick or having other issues with our physical or mental health. It also includes giving ourselves proper time for relaxation, no matter how busy we are. I recently read that it’s best to give yourself one hour a day and one day a week to relax. When I say relax, of course, I don’t just mean non-work hobbies and/or Netflix. That hour/day should also be used for spending time with family and friends, and also for just… existing. The time we spend doing nothing is equally as important as the time we spend doing things!

I’d especially like to stress the idea of making time for being with people you like. For me, social time is one of the first things to go out the window once I’m really busy with projects. I mean, you do what you need to do to meet a deadline, but doing that for an extended period of time is definitely no good. It’s amazing how much even something small like grabbing coffee with a good friend can positively impact your mood (and I say this as an introvert that regularly spends weekends shamelessly locked in my room playing video games in my pajamas). Having good relationships with others is a really important part of being happy.

Why We Don’t Do It

No Time

“Rachel”, you’re going to say, “I’m a busy professional that’s always busy with busy things! I don’t have time for that!” And to that I would respond, “Friend, please do your best to make time!”

As I said, I totally get what it’s liked to be squashed by a million looming deadlines, and the occasional sleepless night due to projects comes with the job sometimes. You do what you need to do to finish things and get by. But like I said before, it catches up with you eventually. It might not be next week. It might even take a few years before you start to feel the effects of it. But eventually, it’ll happen. I think that’s a large part of why so many people leave the game industry in the long term. A person can’t do 12 hour days forever.

Instead of thinking of the time spent relaxing as time being unproductive, it might be better to think of it as part of the process for doing the best work you can. The time you spend investing in yourself will show in your work. Another thing I hear a bunch (which is true) is that you can’t give to others if you have nothing left to give. In other words, if you’re tired and exhausted, you’re in no shape to do things for other people. By taking better care of yourself, you’re better able to take care of others.

Feel Bad About Taking Time to Relax

I think there’s a lot of pressure on us to feel like we’re always being productive. There’s a tendency to treat the number of hours worked as being indicative of how hard a person works, as something you can brag about to other people, especially in this industry. Don’t get me wrong – hard work is important, and putting in the hours is often necessary to improve and advance your career. If you feel like you can’t relax because you’re not being productive, though, then it becomes a problem.

In addition to what I said above to treating relaxation as an investment in your future work, I’d also think of that time as a reward or treat for all the previous work you’ve put in. If you feel guilty about taking time off, you’ve probably more than earned a break.

Forgot How to Relax

It sounds silly, but seriously, if you’ve been doing nothing but working for the last zillion months, it’s totally possible to forget how to actually relax. I, um, have to admit that I had to re-learn how to do this. There’s a chance that even if you do take the hour, you won’t know what to do with yourself. Here’s a few suggestions that helped me:

  • Deep breathing using your diaphragm for 5 minutes. I usually inhale for 5 seconds, hold for 3, then exhale for as long as possible. I know everyone says that slowing down your breathing helps, and just breathing for 5 minutes seems like a ridiculously long time when you’re doing it, but it really does help.

  • Journal Writing

  • Hot baths (or going to an onsen if you’re lucky enough to be in Japan. Seriously, those things are the best.)

  • Drinking a warm beverage (bonus points for herbal tea!)

  • Going for a long walk

Last Notes

While I’m not proud of how long it took for me to adjust to life abroad, I realize in retrospect that it was time well spent. Though I may not have been the most productive, I still learned so much from it, and learning how to take better care of myself let me do bigger and better things later on. If you ever come up against something that’s really tough, I hope you won’t feel guilty about taking some time to regroup if you need it. There’s only one of you, and it’s so important that you’re in the best shape possible so you can keep doing the awesome things you do! I hope that during the new year, we can all learn to be nicer to ourselves, myself included.

Any tips on good self-care? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below!

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