I always said it was a story for another time.
Well, it’s been almost two years, and I think “another time” has finally come.
April 2010 was a tumultuous time for me. Management changes were going on at my (former) job, I had gone on a week-long vacation to ZA MOTHERLAND, and at the end of the month, on April 27th 2010, Anime Expo announced that they would be bringing over AKB48 as guests to perform at the convention IN LOS ANGELES.
Thus began a chain of events that would change my destiny forever.
You see, I was one of those bright shiny engineering kids once. I was in the employ of a well-known, brand-name company, on a “career track” (whatever the hell that means) where you play cute corporate games and try to please as many bosses as possible, and if you do it right, you get up to
senbatsu mid-level engineer and then senior engineer and sub-manager and finally manager of a department where you continue to perpetuate this multi-level marketing scheme by finding new engineers to suck into your black hole.
But it takes one guy … just one guy, to table-flip everything into a maelstrom.
You see, as soon as they shuffled managers around in April, my department and I became the new whipping boys for Rage Guy. Now, Rage Guy was very intelligent, very driven, and clearly top leadership material. But he also had no sense of diplomacy and figured that the best way to get maximum performance out of his department was to browbeat everyone and make them feel horrible about themselves. Sometimes, this works. Some people rise up to the challenge and say, “I won’t let you get me down! I’ll take on whatever you have to throw at me and show you that I can win!”
And I lasted like that … for about three and a half days maybe. But whatever I did wasn’t good enough. And he would always verbally entrap you to make you feel like an idiot. And the belittlement would snowball from there; Rage Guy was basically trying to emotionally damage me to the point where I would finally shape up or ship out.
Look, I understand that the workplace is no place for egos or being coddled. Sometimes you ARE going to run into tough people and their toughness is what makes you stronger. But you also have to learn to recognize when tough people are just out to destroy you entirely. Like if you genuinely dread going to work every morning, when you feel like you’re a psychological train wreck waiting to happen, when you actually feel your panic response kicking in, even though you are not in a falling airplane or burning building … it’s time to cut your losses.
I began to make some calls and brushed up my resume, pretending for a second that I was a Responsible Working Adult (AAAHAHAAHHA). I could not survive in my current working conditions any longer. All I had to do was draft a bailout plan, and I knew where my target destination was, even though at the time it seemed like the MOSTE COUNTERINTUITIVE THING. You see, we had been indoctrinated at work to believe that this was the Right Place For Us, that everywhere else was Hell And Satan, and you will never want to leave because there is nowhere else to go.
Surround yourself with those kinds of people and that kind of message for 10 hours a day, 5-6 days a week, and soon you start to lose track of THE REAL WORLD. But I still had the tiniest grasp on reality, and in desperation I reached my hands out in hopes I could still escape to a world that was sane. A world away from this fuzzy brainwashing, a world where Rage Guy could not control me.
The thrill of the AKB48 announcement at the end of April gave me a temporary boost, but it wasn’t long before the yelling and screaming and belittling continued to wear down on me, and I strengthed my resolve to find my way out. But could I make it to Anime Expo, which was in 2 months, and spend my time there knowing that I would only be coming back to eternal guilt-trips and self-loathing and continued RAAAAAAGE?
The stranglehold of my former job was so great that they blocked off the internet so that you couldn’t even check Gmail. (Okay, this is understandable, I mean working people gotta work.) But because of that, requesting an AKB48 interview for the convention was basically a crapshoot: Requests were first-come-first-served, meaning that you had to monitor your e-mail ALL DAY waiting for Anime Expo to say “HAY GUYS INTERVIEW REQUESTS ARE OPEN.”
I couldn’t wait all day for the Interview Requests message! My Gmail was blocked off at work!
Then, one Friday afternoon in June … a miracle.
Every now and then, the IT department would slip up and they’d accidentally (?) open an internet channel they weren’t supposed to. For some random-ass reason during my Friday lunch hour, I browsed to the Gmail website—even though I knew it was supposed to be blocked off—and weirdest thing, it actually opened up.
And there, in the Inbox, was the Dream of Dreams staring out at me:
Sign Up for Exclusive Interviews with Our Guests of Honor
I have never filled in my name, address, and other contact information so fast in my life. If I could get that interview …
Meanwhile, work was still weighing on me like a millstone around my neck. I was waiting to hear from a Prospective New Employer about a possible position that would quite literally save my life. At the same time, if I DID get the AKB interview, I’d be screwed as far as my current work schedule: I could get days off for Day 1 and 2 at Anime Expo, but the Press Junket (fancy-ass word for getting all the interviews in on one day then squeezing ‘em out like weeaboo diarrhea) would be on Day 0. The only way to get that extra time off would be to earn even more eternal wrath from Rage Guy. Or … quit my job before AX.
That was the brilliant bailout plan, right down to a day-by-day timetable. Get job offer from new place. Quit current job. Have a blast seeing AKB48 at AX 2010. Begin new job.
I was going to quit my job for AKB48.
(Okay, okay, there were other major long-term factors concerning my physical and mental health, plus career prospects for the future, but look. The timing of it all centered around Anime Expo 2010.)
After the Gmail incident came the weekend, and then .. another miracle.
I got the job offer.
With precisely two weeks to spare, I got exactly the lifeline I needed to save my sanity, save my career, and save enough time for me to drive into L.A. on a Wednesday, interview the hell out of AKB, and enjoy the rest of AX completely guilt-free and never having to worry about future emotional damage. Was it an impulsive decision? Was it a foolish decision? You tell me. I could still be in that “prestigious” job, cowering under the reign of Rage Guy and “building character” while thinking of wanting to kill myself every morning and feeling like I will amount to nothing. Or I could be where I am today, living a (relatively) normal, well-adjusted life and knowing that I experienced something in the summer of 2010 that will stay with me forever.
Sometimes you just have to choose your battles, know when to run, and know where you’re running to.
The final miracle, of course, came right in the final week of June when I heard from Anime Expo that the interview slots had been filled and I would indeed be crossing paths with selected members of AKB48 a few days later. Sasshi and I would end up making a stupid inside joke, and she would hold up the autograph line because she wanted to flip through my sheet music book, and the rest of the con went by in a dreamy haze as Japan’s most famous idols flew in and out like a passing desert breeze.
So when I think back on what happened over the spring and summer of 2010, I laugh a bit at myself. Hah. Hahah. I quit my job for AKB48.
Thank goodness I did.