TITLE: The Mistaken Pursuit, (Part 1) 12/30/15
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The Mistaken Pursuit
I’ll never forget that sound. It was the thud of a 175-pound body hitting the wood floor. I didn’t think that a body falling to the floor could sound so loud. It reverberated throughout the office. My fifty-year-old co-worker, Takino-san, who had no known health issues, suddenly fell over as he walked across our grand foyer. I didn’t see him fall. I only heard him fall. I was sitting in my office, which faced away from the foyer, with my door open.
The company director, Minato-san, motioned us to stay at our desks. He called an ambulance, and with the help of male co-workers, moved Takino-san’s body to the employee rest area at the back of the office. One of my co-workers told me, “Minato-san attempted CPR on Takino-san in the rest area, but it didn’t work. He died from a massive heart attack.” A couple of hours after the ambulance came for Takino-san, I went to the employee rest area. Takino-san’s necktie and polished shoes were neatly placed alongside one of the walls.
How sad! Takino-san loved Hawaii and would participate in the Honolulu marathon every December. Since he knew that I was from Honolulu, he would make hula-dancing motions at me as he passed my glass-walled office.
There were things going on in the office that could have contributed to Takino-san's sudden death.
I was hired by the company through an executive recruiter who communicated the possibility of me working in the financial division of one of the largest multinational conglomerates in the world. I wasn’t seeking a job change from being in charge of the investment and research division of another global company. But the recruiter said, “The company is looking for someone with your skills. They need someone to research the viability of Asian real estate markets and investment methods and market the company’s services and investments to investors. A position will be created for you.” Without asking, I was offered a signing bonus (previously, I was only familiar with professional athletes receiving signing bonuses), high salary and bonus incentives, penthouse suite overlooking the expanse of vibrant Tokyo, private assistant, cutting edge technology, and the extraordinary opportunity to be part of pioneering foreign real estate investment in China and other Asian countries.
I wasn’t motivated by the compensation. I was drawn by the thought of being a part of groundbreaking real estate investment in places and methods that Americans had not yet tread.
Some graduates from the University of Hawaii Asia-focused MBA program that I graduated from worked in different parts of Asia in the financial industry. I thought that this type of career was a normal and good path that God would guide me through. I had considered myself an earnest follower of God. I prayed about the offer with my church Bible study group. Everyone thought that this opportunity was a blessing from God.
When I started the job, I was immediately tasked with, among other job responsibilities, leading an Asia real estate division review and planning report that was normally done by seasoned upper management. There was no flexibility with deadlines or content of the reports, which included information that I gathered from our Asia offices and various government economic statistics. There was tremendous pressure on everyone to make the company’s earnings estimates numbers on time. One manager told me, “You’re being put through trial by fire.” He wasn’t kidding.
The American conglomerate consistently ranked as one of the top Fortune 500 companies and employed 300,000 people worldwide. Their Asia region headquarters was in Tokyo. When I was employed there in the early 2000s, the Asia financial division was a major revenue driver for the company. Within that division was the real estate department where I worked. Our real estate team produced a phenomenal forty-five percent annual revenue growth for the five years it had been in existence. When there is remarkable growth like this, “something’s gotta give.” You must execute a combination of increasing efficiencies and personnel, or outsource; otherwise, the staff will be overburdened.
The job required communicating with people in different time zones, which made our office mantra, “The world is flat.” There was no day or night. Everyone had such ominous workloads that it was clearly understood—complaining wasted precious time. I felt like I was in a boxing ring every day. Mind and body were pummeled against the ropes by an extreme amount of real estate investment work in Japanese, my second language learned as an adult so it took extra time to mentally process the work. There was no end to the boxing round. I kept telling myself, Stay on your feet. Don’t buckle.
I found myself in office meetings with a co-worker until 3:00 a.m. I searched for a “Don’t you think that a 3:00 a.m. report review in the office is insane?” look from my co-worker. However, his body language and attitude were the opposite, business as usual. On a different day, my boss, international director Eric Smith, made an unplanned call to me from the US east coast headquarters to my Tokyo office to review a report at 4 a.m.
The division’s review and planning report was completed in time for a 7 a.m. visiting executives’ presentation. I saw the sunrise that morning as I arrived home from work at 5:30 am. I didn’t sleep. I only went home to jump in and out of the shower, and then returned to the office for the presentation. After the presentation, I remained in the office to make other project’s deadline.
Months later at night, I was trying to sleep, but couldn’t because my mind wouldn’t stop churning with all the work projects. My heart started pounding hard and erratically. It thumped so hard once that I thought, I’m going to die. I called the twenty-four hour front desk clerk in my building, who called an ambulance. The ambulance arrived in minutes. I can’t remember what the paramedics asked me, but I recall one of them shrugging to his coworker and muttering in Japanese, “Another one, overworked.” He said it like it occurred daily. Then he switched the conversation to that day’s sumo match results. They strapped me to a gurney and transported me to the ER room.
I laid motionless on the hospital bed in complete exhaustion, forced to be still and face the reality of why I was there—out of control heart thumping echoing throughout my body in retaliation to stress, and a “Sleep? What’s that?” lifestyle. While waiting for the emergency room doctor to review my test results, I stared into my soul and acknowledged, I’ll shorten my life if I keep working like this. This was God’s wake-up call to snap out of the pursuit of things other than Him. The doctor’s recommendation to recover from my irregular heart palpitations was to manage stress and get more sleep. Plus, take medication. I didn’t take the medication.
When I was offered the position I thought, God is providing me a bigger platform to tell others about Him. I had considered the job offer a tremendous blessing. But reality proved the thought foolish. Although I faithfully served almost a full day at church on Sundays while under the heavy workload, what should have been roaring flames emanating from me for God were instead sputtering sparks. I was spiritually drained.
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