Japanese? What are you going to do with that?

Whenever I told anyone what I was going to study at university, the response was always the same.

“Japanese?” they would say, followed immediately by a look of confusion. “What are you going to do with that?”

It was a tough reaction for someone excited about studying the language and felt they had finally found something they enjoyed. And over the semesters and years that followed, that seed of uncertainty grew into a deep pang of self-doubt until I questioned the very reasons I had chosen to study it in the first place instead of something more closely aligned with what society expected.

It was a challenging time, one where the voice inside my heart frequently came up against the voices of my friends and family, and one where every experience I had seemed to contradict what they expected me to do. I visited Japan twice thanks to opportunities the University of Queensland gave me and loved every minute I was speaking and living in the country, and every book I read, every song I heard, and everyone I spoke to there suggested this was the path for me.

How, then, could I reconcile the two voices that argued about what I was supposed to do and figure out what the right answer was for me?

I wish I could point to one clear moment, one groundbreaking event that finally turned the tide and helped me understand I was on the right path, but the truth is that it was a slow journey of discovery and unlearning many of the lessons I had heard about building a career and the right way to lead my life. And in that process, I learned perhaps the most important lessons of all.

Those who study the humanities and social sciences often do so because they are drawn to a particular subject. Not because there’s necessarily a clear career path or trajectory, but because there’s a voice that simply calls them and couldn’t consider anything else. And even though society is apt to look down upon such paths and tell us they fall outside the norm, it’s precisely because we want to do something outside the norm that we choose these subjects and pursue a path of our own.

As such, there’s a lot of unlearning to be done as we set aside the negative voices that urge us to consider a different path, voices that aren’t always entirely wrong. Creating your own path is often more difficult than walking one that is already clearly defined, a decision that comes with its own trials and tribulations, but the world is a wide, bright place filled with opportunities that can only be unlocked by choosing to create something new.

Today, I am proud to work for a company where many of our brightest and most talented leaders come from a background in the humanities and social sciences, from majors in journalism and anthropology to philosophy and the English language. And in each case, it is their passion and deep understanding of these subjects that helped them excel in a world where the need to distinguish yourself with your own personal story is increasing and new angles of thoughts and approaches are what set us apart.

My journey in Japanese has been much the same.

The knowledge and perspective I gained as part of my degree have played a crucial role in all my jobs to date, from my first role as a translator and interpreter in a local government office in Japan to my role as a technical translator at IBM and desk side support specialist for a mix of English-speaking and Japanese-speaking clients. It was also the edge that won me my current position, my understanding of Japanese culture helping me rebuild a departmental relationship with important customers in Japan and the concepts and perspective I gained through living in a radically different environment giving me an edge that has helped me become a senior program manager today.

It is your difference, not your conformity, that will open up the world to you and will take you places you might never have imagined going. It is your study of these subjects at such a deep level beyond that of a simple hobby or side interest that will give you a depth of perspective and insight into the world and its structure that will help you understand who you truly are, and it is this process of self-questioning and yes, even the challenges and questions you will encounter along the way, that will make you who you want to be.

And that is a great thing to be.

by Andrew Dahms

B Arts (Japanese) Graduate