I was recently invited to contribute an article to the blog Shinpai Deshou (otherwise known as What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?), and I have taken this opportunity to share some insights on what it’s like to believe in an idea and to transform a vision into reality.

It’s not easy taking on a big project by yourself. It’s even harder when you start from zero. But it is possible. I hope that this “guide” will encourage more individuals to pursue their dreams.

Many thanks to Shinpai Deshou for letting me join its ranks of contributors and for the inspiration for this guide. Check out the Shinpai Deshou blog for the full article: Art in the (Japanese) Social Sphere

DO YOU HAVE A VISION?

I’m incredibly excited to be at this juncture, of getting ready to head to Japan to fulfill my vision. Of course, it has been a long and challenging road. Anyone can come up with a great idea. Making it happen can be a lot more difficult, especially if you’re doing it on your own. But don’t let that discourage you!

Here, I’d like to share some of my insights on undertaking a BIG PROJECT.

First of all, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. For the purposes here, “project” refers to a short-term endeavor with a specific goal. There is usually a fixed period with a beginning and an end. Contrast this with a “program,” which is usually a long-term effort with a broader goal.

Define your goal.
This is crucial and should be your No. 1 priority. This is your anchor, your destination. What is the purpose or mission of your project? Every organization and business has a mission. So should your project. And everything you do should point you towards this goal.

Be realistic.
End world hunger. As admirable as this mission is, you’re not going to achieve it on your own and you’re not going to achieve it with just one project. Be specific. Relieve hunger in XX community by organizing a food drive. Now, this is absolutely doable. Just an example!

Be patient.
The little spark that eventually became Bound in Japan first occurred in the autumn of 2008. I knew that I wanted to give back to a community that had become very important to me. And I knew that I wanted to utilize my artistic skills. It took me at least a year to form a concrete outline of what the project would look like and how it would be implemented. Add another year as I mapped out a game plan and continued to refine the details. You won’t achieve your goal overnight so take the time you need. This is your project—you determine the timeline.

Be flexible.
The fine-tuning never really ends. Circumstances change. Your project may need to change. There are many ways to achieve the same goal. Be willing to backtrack and try another path.

Be willing to learn.
Bound in Japan aims to promote awareness about diversity and enhance intercultural understanding in Japan. I saw this as a need based on my personal experiences and what I knew of others’ experiences. However, I knew that I needed more than just personal experience and anecdotes to garner support. I needed a solid foundation based on fact. So I researched Japan’s immigration policy and history, I looked into the attitudes regarding immigration and non-native residents, and I read up on what was being done to address the increase in immigrants and to integrate them into local communities. I had to learn a lot of other things as well: how to apply for grants, how to build a website, how to be my own publicist. The list goes on and on. If you don’t already have the skills or tools to realize your project, don’t let that stop you. Learn!

Be creative.
This can be applied in various ways, but I’ll only address one here: fundraising. This has been the toughest challenge so far. There’s a lot more funding for organizations (versus as an individual), so collaborating with an organization or obtaining sponsorship is worth considering. When you are applying for grants, identify the different categories that reflect your project and apply for all of them. Some of the categories for Bound in Japan: art, community, Japan, international exchange, immigration, social issues. Are you female or belong to an ethnic minority? There are grants for these groups. There are also many regional grants so look into programs specific to your community, state, etc. Micro-fundraising (crowd-funding) is another option. This means tapping your personal network and local community for donations. With the development of social media, this has become even more viable. There are also online platforms specifically for this purpose, such as IndieGoGo and Kickstarter. If you are an artist (visual, performing, etc.), Fractured Atlas offers a fiscal sponsorship program.

Ask for help.
A big project is a lot of work. And if you’re on your own, it means you’ll be doing most of the work. Notice I did not say all.  You can ask for help! Yes, we all lead busy lives, but if you reach out to others you will find that most will make time for you. Your friends and family care about you, and they want you to succeed. When making a request, make sure it is something that falls within their capability or expertise. Give them advance notice so that they have enough time to complete it. My Japanese-speaking friends help me with translations, my computer savvy friends troubleshoot my website problems, and there are friends who lend their ear and perspective and help me work through issues. I have also reached out to complete strangers and have always been humbled and impressed by their generosity with their time, knowledge, and advice.

Toot your own horn.
I have to admit that this is my least favorite part of the process. But there’s simply no getting around it. It’s your project—you have to promote it. The upside is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes. If you want support, funding, and opportunities, start practicing. Talk about your project, write about it, and let people know what you are doing and why.

You will sometimes think “I am crazy to be doing this.”
Yes, you are. I tell myself that about every other day. Accept it, take a deep breath, and plow on. If you really want to accomplish something of this scale, you have to be passionate and a bit obsessed. This can also be called determination.

Take a break.
We’ve already established the fact that a big project is a lot of work. As a matter of fact, it’s like having a full-time job. And if you’re already working full-time, well, it can be stressful. Allow yourself to take a break. If you need to, take a day off—or two. Do whatever you need to do to re-energize and stay motivated to keep working. Remember: You’re doing this because you love it, because you believe in it. It should give you fulfillment, not headaches.

Don’t be afraid of failure.
During these more than two and a half years, I have never once contemplated quitting. There is no rational reason for quitting. Bound in Japan is not an impossible dream. There are certainly many challenges, but those can all be overcome with hard work and dedication. However, I have considered the possibility of failure, and I have decided that even if everything falls through, every minute spent working on this project has been worthwhile. Through this experience, I have expanded my knowledge, skills, network, and confidence. These things will remain with me for the rest of my life, and they’ll be there when I’m ready to tackle my next big project.

Last but certainly not least—say “thank you.”
Always say thank you. To the people who hear you out, to the people who help you, to those who have contributed funds and services. Thank your friends and family for their unwavering support. Working on your big project can sometimes seem like a lonely path, but you are never truly alone.