UnF № 3: Symbolic Dominos, Part I

In about a year from now, the lease on my current apartment will be up. At that time, my partner and I will be moving, either to a new apartment in the same general area, or (preferably) to our own place out in the countryside. For either to happen smoothly, I must accomplish a lot in the next 12 months.

For the former option, I have to have enough cash on hand to pay my share of the costs of moving and getting into a new apartment. In Japan, getting a new apartment can be prohibitively expensive. Between the first month’s rent, deposit, agency fee, guarantor fee, and key money1, one may need to pay the equivalent of six months rent (or more) up front. Given the cost of rent in the Tokyo area, this can come to a staggering sum.

For the latter option (our own place in the countryside) to be a realistic one, we both need to establish location-independent income that can support our lifestyle, and also have plenty of cash on hand up front.

In either case, my life needs some major reinvention and my income needs to double or more in the next 12 months. On the upside, with my current income level (thanks, COVID!), doubling it isn’t as crazy a feat as it sounds at first. On the downside, I’m starting from a precarious position financially with very few resources available to me. Still, I am determined to do it, and this has a lot to do with the greater UnF theme I’m establishing currently.

Anyway, one thing that is important when trying to fundamentally change your life is to keep your end goals in mind. Keep the big picture there in front of you to motivate you and to keep you on track. This can feel overwhelming, though. Attempting to change critical things hugely starting right now can feel nearly impossible, but one thing I’ve found helpful in the past is to use symbolic goals to help myself stay on track and moving in the right direction.

These symbolic goals are more or less structured around a rethinking of the concept of what Tim Ferriss calls lead dominos. A lead domino is the sort of thing that, if you take care of that, it naturally leads to cascading results.

One example of a lead domino I’m working on in my life is Japanese language. Living in Japan permanently, being able to communicate well in the local language is critical. The better my Japanese, the more opportunities I’ll have and the better my life will be. Add fluency into the situation and innumerable other areas of my life improve.

But Japanese fluency is not a symbolic thing, it’s a functional thing. So what do I mean by a symbolic goal? I mean a goal that, for it to be accomplished, requires that a number of other things will have to have been accomplished. It requires fundamental, systematic changes to occur before it can come into being. Instead of being the thing that causes cascading results, it is something that comes into being as a result of cumulative success in other areas.

My symbolic goals are as follows. Within the next year or two, I will have:

  1. A wife

  2. A child

  3. A house

  4. A six pack

Let me explain what these really mean and what they require to happen.

A wife. I am engaged to a wonderful, wonderful woman who I am crazy about. However, there are some difficulties with her family, who aren’t exactly amenable to their daughter marrying a non-Japanese guy, especially one who doesn’t work a traditional, salaried job at a well-established company. I’m not going anywhere, though, and to resolve this situation to where we can get married without her family absolutely losing it, certain things need to happen.

  • I need to raise my income significantly

  • I need to improve my Japanese skills significantly

  • I need to meet and build a functional relationship with her family (to date I have not been able to meet them)

Mostly it comes down to the language problem and my not making enough money to please her family2.

A child. We want kids, and frankly the biological clock is not on our side, so this needs to happen soon. But for it to happen in an intentional and responsible way, some things need to happen.

  • I need to raise my income significantly, enough to cover 100% of our living expenses when she is not working

  • I need to improve my Japanese skills significantly, so that I can communicate effectively with doctors, her family, etc

  • I need to build a functional relationship with her family so that more of a support structure is there for her than I can provide on my own

See a pattern yet? On to the next:

A house. As noted, we intend to move out to the countryside as soon as we can, either buying an old house or taking over an abandoned property (of which there are hundreds of thousands in Japan). In either case, we will fix things up over time, modernizing it with such staggering innovations as insulation and double-glazed windows3 and doing some basic seismic retrofits to improve safety. For this to happen, I need:

  • Mo’ money

  • Mo’ language skills

  • A driver’s license, as my American license is now expired and we’ll need a car in the countryside.

Finally, a symbolic goal that doesn’t seem to fit with the others, but I assure you it does. In fact, it supports everything else in a systematic way that I’ll examine in the next post.

I want a six pack again. Yes, I want visible abs. Why? Because when I’m leading a lifestyle that is active and healthy enough for that to be a natural consequence, not only do I feel better and have greater confidence, it also signals that a lot of other things in my life are in better shape. For those abs to come out of hiding, I need:

  • Better overall diet with fewer calories (and fewer beers)

  • A consistent daily habit of exercise

  • High quality sleep every night

So really, what it mostly comes down to is three core things:

  1. More income

  2. Good language skills

  3. Health

Nice and simple. Easier said than done, of course, but those are the bones of it.

I will be further picking things apart and exploring how interrelated everything is in my next post, but that’s enough for today.


UNF (stands for unfucking) refers to the ongoing process of doing the work of getting back on track and fixing all the stupid stuff I let break in my life. All posts in the UNF category follow this theme.


  1. Essentially a gift to the landlord, thanking them for the privilege of being able to live there and pay them rent every month. ↩︎

  2. To be fair, I am also find my current income level unacceptable. ↩︎

  3. Houses without insulation and with single-glazed windows are extremely common in Japan ↩︎

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