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Yuri Awano – Feeling the Need for Life Changes

I didn’t imagine a year ago that I would be standing where I am now today – with a data analytics certificate and ready to work on my next step.

In January 2021, I joined the Designing Your Life Workshop (DYL) for Women Virtual Journey. I became a mother back then and pregnancy gave me the opportunity to realize how precious life is. These events encouraged me to join the DYL workshop to reflect the 30 years of my life and set goals for the future.

My Quest

There were two areas which I particularly wanted to reflect on – my work and myself.  First, I wanted to reflect on my identity – “Who am I?”  Second, I wanted to focus on my work and what it means to me and how I define feeling fulfilled.

My Cultural Narrative

I was raised in Luxembourg during the first ten years of my life. I attended an international school and was exposed to different cultures, traditions, customs, values and everyone was encouraged to respect each other for who they were.  Every year we had an International Festival where we would wear our traditional clothes, taste foods from different countries. I remember running around with my summer kimono feeling so proud. When it came to the growth of my interests and strengths, I was fortunate that my parents and my school gave me enough time and space to figure out what I may like to do. 

When I returned to Japan I had quite the opposite experience. There was a box that I had to fit myself into and a predefined ladder ready for me to climb up.  In Luxembourg I was living in an environment that supported my development as an individual, whereas in Japan there is a saying: ‘A nail that stands will be hammered down’. Being different and sharing different opinions was not appreciated, and often I would stand out in the crowd. That was the biggest challenge for me as a 10 year old girl.

Climbing up the ladder was also very tough, however, it was essential to get into a prestigious and high-ranking school and university and eventually land on a job that brought security. I spent my evenings after sports at a cram school preparing for the next entry exam. The predefined ladder naturally made me believe that a happy and well-deserved life would be waiting for me when I reached the “top”.  When I look back, I realize that I didn’t have much time to discover and appreciate my interests, but rather was encouraged to keep climbing higher and striving.  There were many moments in my youth when I couldn’t find happiness being raised in two countries, and I felt that I didn’t belong to either of them.  

Reframing the Past

It’s been four years since I moved to Germany, and as many people experience when they leave their home, they have a greater appreciation for their country and their culture of origin.  I noticed how grateful I am for the many values I learned from Japan – hospitality, how we appreciate things, and how we can forgive others and events. Today, I can reframe my perspective of both countries as ‘Thanks to the two cultures I have spent my life in, I can understand people from different backgrounds; I see differences as opportunities rather than a challenge; I gained wonderful values from both cultures which will help me throughout my life to be a positive and an open minded person.’ 

Finding Work that Works for Me

My goal for work was to work abroad.  After five hard years of working in Tokyo, I found the opportunity to work in Germany.  I thought my dream had come true, and I would be happy. But I started to feel stuck, because location wasn’t enough.  I couldn’t find fulfillment at work.  I knew something was missing, but I didn’t know exactly what that was. 

Reframing My Dysfunctional Beliefs

‘Why hasn’t anyone in my past 30 years taught me this?’ was the thought I had when I learned about reframing dysfunctional beliefs.  I was there at the first workshop writing my primary goals in my notebook: ‘Find out my passion’ and ‘Make my passion as my career’. I thought by following my one passion, I would have a fulfilled life.  But this was immediately reframed in the next one hour. ‘Engagement first, passion second. You may have many passions’.  I had to ask myself “What do I want to engage in and explore?”

I also thought I only had one life to live, and therefore I could only try one thing in my life, but that was again reframed. ‘There are many great ways to live. On average we can experience six to seven different careers/lives.‘ It was mind blowing, and I was released (finally!) from the dysfunctional beliefs which kept me in my shell.  These beliefs kept me from trying things out, because I was scared to fail at finding my ‘one’ passion. I thought to myself, how could I have been stuck in these beliefs for such a long time?

Prototyping My Possibilities

Throughout the workshop I realized what I have been missing in my work – creating tangible impact on the people who are in need.  With more clarity, I built three different odyssey journeys for the next five years. With the help from my peers and the DYL App we utilized during our one month journey, I narrowed these down to one journey for prototyping. Prototyping is the phase where we get a feelling for the direction we’d like to try out through conversations and by taking action.

Prototyping Led Me to a New Path

I reached out to people via LinkedIn who are creating impact through technology and data. I was worried that no one would respond to a stranger, but surprisingly, a few people replied.  I came away so inspired and encouraged from every call.  Each story was very personal and unique and none of my contacts had the same path.  What is so interesting about prototyping is that some conversations would open up a completely new door for me to walk through.   Starting from the conversations with people from the Edtech industry, I ended up talking to people from the nonprofit sector who are using data and evidence to solve social problems. My prototyping phase helped me define my next step — to study data analytics in a bootcamp program where I would learn how data can be used to create social impact. 

Today’s Journey

I started from scratch and learned coding.  After six intensive months, I was able to complete my final project on predicting fetal health with cardiotocography data, hoping that this can be one of the solutions to help prevent and end infant and maternal mortality.

Often friends ask me, ‘So, Yuri. What’s next?’.  From some, I feel an expectation for a big bang or major change!  This is also one of my favorite parts of the workshop.  I learned that designing my life doesn’t  mean giving up your current job for a new one or totally changing direction.   There are small things we can redesign in our daily life to make our life more meaningful, more full of balance and energy, and more joyful for ourselves. 

I took on the bootcamp program as a big challenge during a life phase where I could invest time for myself and had the support to do so.  This year, I want to focus on my health and take small steps in my current job and towards something more meaningful and impactful.  I will restart my prototyping conversations to expand my world and volunteer my time to help nonprofits with the skills I gained from my studies. With that I am already excited about what 2022 will bring.

My Gratitude

I would like to thank the DYL workshop leaders who supported me on my journey in releasing dysfunctional beliefs, staying open to curiosity and reframing.  The workshop was a life-changing experience with 50 other amazing women from different age groups, nationalities and professions. I gained the courage to take a leap through their encouragement and radical collaboration.  My biggest thanks goes to my husband who was next to me throughout this journey.  Whenever I was feeling stuck he would encourage me to believe in myself and what I am doing.  My one year old daughter kept me present and made sure I maintained my curiosity. Today, my DYL book is with my husband who just started his life journey, and I am very excited about what he will be discovering.  The journey continues….