When I had a child at the age of 43, my career was at its peak. However, for the child’s sake, I decided to take up a new position as a full-time “entry-level” mother and moved to Sweden, leaving the never-sleeping energetic Tokyo.
The reason was simple. I wanted my daughter to grow free from the severe competition in Tokyo.
Until the move, I had been working as a market communication expert and manager at one of the foreign-affiliated communication technology companies in Tokyo.
I was ambitious. I learned agile strategies in business development through daily work, business plan competitions, and business-related social networking across the industries which became my life hacks.
I raised the company's brand awareness from 1.7% to 22% in one year and to 83% in two years through strategic PR activities, fostering government, university, and investor relations, lobbying, and internal talent training. I also managed several collaborations with other industry partners.
In Japan in the late 1990s, the concept of mobile internet was already very widespread and we could already transmit large volumes of data. For a while, I worked as an innovation ambassador, introducing the latest technologies (mobile Internet, access to visitors’ guides and shopping via mobile phones at shops or amusement parks) to the international market – technologies that are now normal for everyone but were a technological revolution in the 90s.
I took the external posts as vice chair and chair of the event committee at the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and made the most of the experience, creating life-long friends, mentors, and business partners. Some of them are now angel investors and venture capitalists, so I frequently update them on our progress. When I wasn’t working, I was active in the Tokyo Adventure Club (all different types of sports activities) and dragon boat racing – I even joined a dragon boat racing team called the Tokyo Dragon. All of these friends are also my enthusiastic supporters and mentors. Although they are now living in different countries, we are still in touch.
Through my work, I have been involved in achieving global changes at cross-industry levels attracting new customers from automotive and medical technology companies, government agencies, and mobile operators. I truly enjoyed working long hours averaging 13-16 hours a day and didn’t stress about it. I became very popular in the international job market and business practices in Tokyo.
I do consider that I’ve had quite an interesting life in the most exciting and ever-changing industries in Tokyo. I experienced handling large negotiations, worked internationally, and created new innovations with cross-industry players, thanks to my managers who gave me the opportunity to do so.
Since moving to Sweden, my life has completely changed. It’s become slower and calmer.
I did get a job but went through a layoff after 3 years at the company.
When I had my child, I made raising her my main focus. The social and business aspects of my life fell into the background. I raised my daughter and, like other beginner mothers, struggled a little bit along the way. I helped her learn new things and to become curious. I encouraged my daughter and her friends to participate in various activities, such as sports, dance, creative work, technology, and robotics.Raising her caused a shift in where I wanted to focus next in my professional life. I became interested in introducing innovation, technology, and science to children in Sweden – similar to how Japanese children are invited to large tech companies to learn about how their products are made and how their services work.
It was a bit difficult to implement because there was a language barrier since Swedish is not my native tongue. I became interested in providing children and young adults with an innovative environment to foster creative thinking using electronics and wireless communication. I wanted to see them become inventors by offering support and creating opportunities. So, I joined a project to establish a science platform for young people aged 7-18 and also joined the technique club and the First Lego League as a jury to encourage children to be innovative.
During these periods, I carried out several small consulting assignments and at a later stage, I shifted my focus and worked for an incontinence product company, where I became more aware of the dire state of elderly care. Among other things, I observed a man in a wheelchair screaming for help only to have several caregivers ignore him and tell him they would change his diaper at 6:00 pm– which was 7 hours later. It was astonishing to see that his dignity was disrespected and ignored.
That feeling moved me to action and I started noui - a tiny wearable bladder monitor.
I recruited our CTO via a Facebook announcement and a CFO/COO and testing expert via Y Combinator. They are committed to the venture and we established a competent team. I also recruited diverse and dynamic global advisory board members. Now we are funded by several Swedish Governments and supported by the EIT Health and European Union.
My lesson here is that if you are not an expert at making a product but you have a vague idea to solve a problem, you can do it. You are the only one in history with your unique experience, your unique knowledge, and your unique education. Sometimes, your career may slow down because life happens, in my case that was having a child and moving to a new country. It’s definitely not easy to establish yourself and build new career paths in unfamiliar circumstances, especially if you are in your 40s. It can be easy to fall into imposter syndrome or think your promising career is over. But when those thoughts take over, imagine yourself when you pursue and regain power in your career or new role and hold on to that.
Your patience and courage will reveal your talent as an innovator and you will begin to write new pages in your biography.