How I Quit My Job, Moved to a Foreign Country, and Became a Ninja

Hi there.

My name is Izzy. It’s nice to meet you.

Sometimes people say strange things, odd things, things that make you do a double take.

Do you ever think about quitting your job, moving to a far away land, and pursuing some crazy dream?

Me too, a few times.

Sorry, I’m being melodramatic. Let me rephrase that.

It crossed my mind about a thousand times. Notice the past tense.

So I did it.

I quit my job, I moved to Japan, I am pursuing my childhood dream: I’m trying to become a ninja.

Today I want to share my story in hopes of inspiring and encouraging you to follow your dreams.

December 2009

I had been battling with anxiety, depression, and burnout since the beginning of the school year. The question loomed on my mind everyday.

What am I going to do?

I had been teaching in the inner city of Los Angeles for the previous 4 years. For the first 3 years I had enjoyed it, even loved it.

But many things had changed. The work had changed, I had changed, my life had changed.

I was in the middle of getting my masters degree in education. I thought I wanted to run my own school.

I was wrong.

It was a $20,000 mistake.

Some lessons come harder than others… Some with lots of zero’s attached to them.

How could I leave teaching? I had 2 degrees in the field of education, built up my resume, had a plethora of experience, and was moving up the ladder fast. I could be running my own school in 3 years.

And yet I hated it.

What do you do when you hate your life, yet you have worked so hard to get to where you are?

Do you know what it feels like to wake up at 2am and you can’t fall back asleep because of massive anxiety… for an entire year?

365 days, every day, never making it to my alarm clock. Every night, lying in the dark, fearing the events of the upcoming day.

Allow me to get off topic for a moment.

Have you ever heard the story of the whimpering dog?

A man comes over to his neighbor’s house and notices a dog whimpering:

“Hey Bill, why is your dog whimpering?”
“Well he’s sitting on a nail.”

“Why doesn’t he just move?”
“Because I guess it doesn’t hurt enough yet.”

I was driving and all the emotion swelled up. Mid day, in the massive metropolis we call Los Angeles, I pulled over to the side of the road.

I stared at the steering wheel. I broke down. I cried.

What did I do wrong? I had the degrees, the good job, was moving up the ladder. I did everything they said…

And I hate my life.

It was at this point that the pain of the nail was so strong – I was forced to move.

That day was one of the hardest in my life, but also one of the greatest.

It was the moment I realized:

If my life was going to change, I had to change it.

The Change and A Pursuit of a Dream

At first it started as a harmless joke.

“So you’re gonna leave teaching, what will you do instead?”

“I want to be a ninja.”

We would both laugh as I evaded the question. But there was something about this dialogue that I nor my friends initially understood.

It wasn’t a joke.

The Re-birth of a Childhood Dream

Is this starting to sound strange?

A near 30 year old dude, is talking about leaving his teaching career behind to become a ninja.

Strange or not. It’s the truth. Let’s continue.

Initially, I didn’t tell anyone that I was serious, but I knew it. I started to ask an important question:

What is a ninja?

Do you see what was happening? The dream was evolving. I stopped caring if it sounded crazy. I started caring about the answer.

What is a ninja?

I didn’t want to be the ninja from the movies, the historical textbooks, or the comic strips. I wanted to be the ninja from my childhood.

I wanted to follow my childhood dream.

According to my 8 year old brain a ninja does the following 3 things:
1. Moves to a far away land.
2. Becomes an expert in martial arts.
3. Lives life by his own set of rules.

Sounds good in theory. But words are just words.

Present Day 2012

It is 10am on a Saturday. As I write this, my body aches all over. That is what happens when I attend 6 Aikido classes in 3 days.

I now live in Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan. I came here 1 year ago to pursue this dream.

My life is simple, yet beautiful: I live 10 minutes away from breathtaking temples. I study Japanese, train in martial arts, and work just enough to cover my expenses.

I couldn’t be more excited about my life. Everyday is a quest to improve, to become better.

I share my story in hopes of one thing: I want you to realize it is possible to follow your dreams.

Below I am going to share the 4 specific steps I took that allowed me to begin the pursuit of this dream. My hope is that today you change your life.

How I followed my Dream (and you can too)

It is easy to glorify my story. But this does an incredible injustice.

It was not easy, and is not easy. It has taken me 3 years to get where I am now.

Was it worth it?

You tell me. I wake up everyday excited. I get to follow my passion. I train in martial arts until my body aches. I learn new things everyday, live in a new culture, and most importantly feel at peace.

Does that sound like it was worth it?

I want to share with you 4 specific steps I did to make this dream real.

Step 1: Commit to Discovering the Dream

As soon as I realized that I needed to make a change I made a comittment to myself. I would figure out what I wanted to do with my life.

How often do you hear this:

What should I do with my life?

People say it all the time. But that’s the problem. All they do is say it.

We have to take action to discover the answer. Being aware that we don’t know how to do a math problem isn’t enough – we have to actively seek the answer.

I took personality tests, did community service, enrolled in salsa dancing, tried to learn a new language, took up martial arts, joined political organizations, and read book after book.

Everyday I took action to discover what I wanted to do with my life. Eventually clarity started to come.

I started to see opportunities.

It’s a powerful question:

What do I want to do with my life?

But it’s only powerful if you take the steps to answer it.

What will you do today to figure out your life?

Step 2: Define the Dream

After I realized that “I wanted to be a ninja”. I defined the dream. I made it crystal clear.

A ninja:

1. Moves to a far away land
2. Trains extensively in martial arts
3. Lives life by his own set of rules.

This provided clarity. Those 3 things, became my driving force.

I would look at those and think: “how can I make this happen?”

Do you have a clear vision for your dream?

Step 3: Save up Money

This is a step that so many people don’t want to talk about yet it’s so important.

Here is the thing, following a dream takes creativity and the ability to handle risks. It’s hard enough without worrying about money. By taking the time to save money I freed up my mental resources to focus on the right things.

I ran a budget and was extremely particular about how I used my money.

If you struggle to run a budget here is a link to one my most popular posts that shows how I do this (and has a free downloadable budget).

Yeah, I lived tight. If you want to follow a dream you have to make sacrifices.

You can’t buy a $6 latte and at the same time claim “I’ll do whatever it takes!”. It doesn’t add up.

Are you taking financial steps to give you the opportunity to pursue your dreams?

Step 4: Create a Plan and Follow Through

I love making a solid plan. The importance isn’t in the plan itself, it is the peace of mind that comes with it.

By making a plan, it allowed me to take action.

It’s not rocket science. I simply answered the following 2 questions:

1. Where do I want to go?
2. How will I get there?

Then without anymore thinking, I followed through.

The most important part of the plan is execution – not the plan itself.

What step can you take today to begin the pursuit of your dream?

A Final Word

I share this because I want you to go out and make your life awesome. I want you to realize it is possible.

I am not special, gifted, nor super smart. I just want to be a ninja.

I’ll end this with a question:

If I can quit my job, move to Japan, to become a ninja…. Why can’t you follow your dream?

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