Change of Plans

Two years ago today, we landed in the International Terminal of Narita Airport. 2 exhausted travelers: 1 moving home for the first time in over a decade, 1 moving abroad for the first time in her life. We each had decided to leave our careers in New York in the pursuit of something different: Shuji would start his own small business vender (online retailer of curated spirits), while I planned… my plan.


plan (noun)

  1. a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something.

  2. an intention or decision about what one is going to do.

    source: Oxford English Dictionary

KPI: Key Plan Indicator

I turned 28 this year, which means I have 552 days until I turn 30. That I must mark these 3 decades of orbiting the sun with a “worthwhile” endeavor is absurd and irrelevant. I know it. I KNOW IT.

I have long since rejected any age-specific milestones of “success”: award by age X, professional title by age X, marriage by age X, salary by age X. I fully embrace the fact that each individual is on their own journey.

Despite knowing this, I find myself evaluating each plan based on where it will lead me at age 30:

Writing a Master’s Thesis at age 30?

Leading a design research lab at age 30?

Leading a creative team at age 30?

Establishing my own firm at age 30?

This silly mind-fuck exercise is particularly easy to do since I will turn 30 in the year 2020. Nice round number. Much of the buzz around Tokyo is gearing toward the big Olympic deadline. Almost every brand, company, coalition, committee has its eyes set on 2020 as this beacon of the future.

What will that look like for me?


Plan K: Keio Media Design

My first and most defined plan in Japan.

I began my first semester at the Graduate School of Media Design in Keio University in the fall of 2017. I worked closely with my techno-progressivist design professor Matthew Waldman. As we clicked almost immediately and worked well together. I ended up being one of few (if any) first-year students TAing for a professor. Together we tackled projects like building brand identity systems for a couple of cryptocurrency as well as establishing his design research lab at the university: SAMCARA.

/ At age 30 /
I would be finalizing my Master’s Thesis at KMD.

A worthy feat in many circles. As the oldest private university in Japan, Keio University is widely recognized for its prestige and has a well-established network. Especially in Japan. (It is the first university I have ever name-dropped to gain some clout in a conversation.)


According to this plan, I should be in London right now for a term of courses at the Royal College of Art (RCA) and Imperial College. Then spend next spring back in New York studying Industrial Design at Pratt as part of the Global Innovation Design Program.

I am not.

A few weeks into the second semester, a family emergency drastically altered my priorities (as well as my financial situation) in continuing this plan. After spending way too much time contemplating my parents’ mortality, calculating my savings, weighing my options overall: I decided it was time to change plans.

I am currently on indefinite leave from the program.


Plan M: monopo

As I made the decision to leave school, I was just two-weeks into working at a small creative agency located in Omotesando: monopo.

I was unsure of how they would react to my sudden change in plans. I had approached them as a graduate student, so they hired me as a part-time member. An intern. At that point, I had only worked a total of 5 days… To add to the panic to uncertainty: the school had also informed me that I had 3 months to leave the country. (They were no longer able to sponsor my visa as I was not an enrolled student.)

Cool. Cool. NBD.

I chuckled nervously about the absurdity of it all while explaining my situation to Yoshi, the co-founder and CEO.
All my cards were on the table:

I am no longer going to London in the fall.

I left school. I do not know what I will do next.

I might have to back to the States. I need a visa.

I definitely caught him a bit off-guard, but he replied: NP. We got you. (Paraphrasing here.)

This conversation set into motion discussions about how my skills and background would fit into the bigger picture at the agency. We established goals for my career, my own self, and how those things could be supported by the agency.


monopo, ILY. (i love you.)

Diverse in background, interests, capabilities, each member brings a distinct combination of superpowers to the table:

Film Producer / Account Manager
Art Director / UI Designer
Creative Director / Front-end Engineer
UX Designer / Copywriter / Producer

It functions almost like a co-op. We start each day by cleaning the office together and gather for family-style lunch every Wednesday. We take care of each other. The team closes out each month with a small dinner party, recapping recent accomplishments and celebrating the hard work we all put in.

With a resolve to stay in Japan indefinitely, I agreed to join monopo full-time as a Creative Director / Art Director.

/ At age 30 /
I would be killing the game as an Asian-American-Female-Creative Director.

Surrounded by a team of kick ass creatives from all over the world, we will address the goals of Japanese clients with a global-minded approach. And vice versa. Specializing in our ability straddle both perspectives, each member of the team truly empathizes with the values of each.

My time working with this tight-knit group brought many unexpected experiences: meetings at Shiseido global headquarters in Ginza, traveling to Shanghai for the first time in 20 years, finding camaraderie in the creative community of a foreign country.

I am still stunned that a cold email could lead me here.



Plan C: California-Bound / C U L8r Japan

A few weeks ago, I received an offer to work for a company I have admired for a long time! The job will be in their global headquarters in California. Still in disbelief, tbh.

In lieu of planning my next course of Japanese language lessons, I am now planning a wedding (more on that later) as well as a move back overseas near the end of this year. I am a bag of mixed emotions: a little nervous, but mostly excited to be moving back to my home state. I haven’t lived there since I left for college at age 18. It will be my first time living in NorCal.

Being back in a place where I will communicate solely in English all-day-everyday seems strangest of all.


The job contract is for one year, so I have no idea where I will be at age 30.

I may still be in the States. I may be back to Tokyo.
I may end up somewhere else entirely.

What is certain is that through a series of planning, re-routing, stalling, and some serendipitous detours…
I learned to focus on the journey—not the plan.

Lessa Chung