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Christopher's story in brief

  • Christopher didn’t have a Plan A. He was a high-achiever who had the grades, but not the roadmap for his future.
  • Studying sociology without a clear direction, he simultaneously worked in Canadian Customs and Immigration, where he gained an early appreciation for how our jobs can shape who we are and how we see the world.
  • His quest for clarity led him to Japan to teach English, a temporary plan that turned into 20-plus-year adventure including teaching, consulting, and co-founding a marketing company in Tokyo.
  • It wasn’t just a career shift; it was a life transformation. Christopher realised his professional purpose was deeply tied to entrepreneurship, creativity, and a desire for variety and novelty in his work.
  • Christopher’s podcast, "Life as A..," is his way of shining a light on the myriad of career paths out there. It's about giving people a real taste of the options they have, helping them find their own spark in the professional world.

Conversation themes

  • Navigating career uncertainty
  • Curiosity, exploration, and enthusiasm as career catalysts
  • The interplay of career and identity
  • What it means to find purpose and fulfilment

Recorded 23 October 2023

Episode Intro

That's what purpose is to me, I think – you're intrinsically motivated. And it also involves elements of curiosity, a willingness to learn. Not being told you have to study this, you need this knowledge. You want to explore it. You really just want to know as much as you can about it. A general sense of enthusiasm towards what you're doing.

When you have those moments of struggle, if you have this purpose within your life, it gives you that extra little something to dig down a little bit further and to find your way out of these problems that are being presented to you. That's a good way of knowing if you have this purpose within your life.

And I think the opposite is true. If you don't have that natural inclination towards learning more about what you're involved in or you're not intrinsically motivated by it all, maybe that's a sign. We all have days where it feels like, oh no, this isn't right. But if this is every single day for six months for a year or something, that might be a sign for you.

You’re listening to the Still Curious podcast with me, Danu Poyner, the show where I meet people who insist on relating to the world with curiosity and care and talk to them about the red thread that runs through their life story and which ultimately empowers them to flourish as their unrepeatable selves.

The voice you just heard belongs to my guest today, Christopher Schoenwald, host and producer of the Life as A.. podcast, an internationally awarded podcast intently focused on helping youth and mid-career professionals find professional career ideas and or business pathways by exploring and unearthing the details of jobs from around the world.

Christopher’s guests range from MIT Professors, world Food Program Officers, skydivers, Venture Capitalists, famed musicians, eco minded entrepreneurs and Netflix reality stars, all of whom have plenty to offer to those looking for occupational knowledge, insights, and advice for those presently engaged in trying to find career planning, clarity, and inspiration.

I have been listening to Christopher’s Life As A.. podcast for a while, and one of the things I like about it is how he focuses not on the career itself but rather the relationship that someone has to their career. You get to understand the shape of a career through the people in it, and you also get to understand the shape of a person by the way they relate to their chosen profession.

Christopher is a thoughtful and curious interviewer who is interested in the way work shapes our lives, and what it means to find purpose, direction and personal fulfilment through professional activity.

And, like many people both of us speak to, Christopher’s own professional direction was not something he started off with in any clear sense, but rather something he has grown into.

I didn't have a Plan A. I was a good student. I was motivated. I did my work. I got very good grades. I was valedictorian in my graduating class. I think for others they would say like, 'oh, you're destined for success', or 'whatever you do is gonna turn to gold.'

But in my mind, at that time, I just did not know what I wanted. I really didn't. And it was driving me nuts. Friends or classmates, they knew, or at least, seemingly they knew what they wanted to do. I just didn't have that. I was so undecided and there was so much angst and frustration and a whole myriad of emotions that were just swirling around constantly.

After mulling over his options, Christopher eventually pursued a degree in sociology, hoping that a career direction would leap out at him along the way.

It didn’t.

Meanwhile, he worked for Canadian Customs and Immigration during his studies, stamping passports, interviewing arrivals, and even dabbling with some aspects of law enforcement. This was where Christopher first gained an appreciation for the way work can shape a person’s worldview. If the work you do is repetitive, after a while you can lose your spark. And if you are only ever having certain kinds of interactions with certain kinds of people, well, that can lead you to be less open-minded, quicker to judge, and harder to budge.

This wasn’t the kind of future Christopher saw for himself, so instead, still seeking clarity and looking to pay off his student loans, he moved to Japan to teach English. It was supposed to be for a year, but over 20 years later, he’s still there.

He started a business in Japan focused on teaching English and consulting, helping companies and individuals improve their global skills. Later he moved to Tokyo and co-founded a marketing and advertising company called Brand Point. This venture allowed him to explore creativity and entrepreneurship on a larger scale in a global city, further developing his interest in non-linear thought and innovation.

Through these experiences, Christopher realised that his professional purpose was tied to entrepreneurship, creativity, and a desire for inherent variety and novelty in his work.

You can really hear how important all of this is when he talks about why he likes doing his podcast:

Endless exploration is what it is for me. I'm tapping into worlds that I would never get to know, get to understand.

I remember when I was considering what I wanted. At that point, I knew I was driven by this notion of curiosity. I wanted a neat opportunity to explore these worlds while still never really leaving my home, right?

I'm stepping into their world. If I can construct it in such a way and ask the right kind of questions, I can be immersing myself into their world, even just for an hour for 45 minutes. And how exhilarating would that be?

Through his podcast, Christopher hopes to contribute to a broader understanding of various professions. There are more career options than ever, but how many opportunities do people really have to know what their options are and hear what they involve from the people who are involved in them?

He’s now over 100 episodes in, and aiming to expand the reach of his podcast by collaborating with educators to guide and influence young people in their career choices.

So how does he describe his profession today?

In the simplest terms, I'm just like a host, right? I'm a host of this program. But if I were to dig into it a little bit further, maybe a guide of sorts? A career sherpa if I really want to be creative here.

I like the career sherpa metaphor because while Christopher is traversing the same terrain over and over and over again with his guests, each journey across that same terrain is unique and special because of the unique relationship and characteristics of the person and the profession he is taking the journey with.

Find out more about Christopher’s journey and what he has learned along the way about personal and professional fulfilment on the other side of the music on today’s episode of the Still Curious Podcast.

Interactive Transcript