A fter 19 years in Japan, I have a pretty good network of friends here. I’m sad to say that at least half of them are unhappy with their jobs, and of that half, about 50% are actively thinking about leaving those jobs. Maybe it’s the pressure of Tokyo and the unique difficulties of working in a multinational firm – or maybe it’s just the human condition to feel the grass is always greener on the other side.

Whatever the reason, emotion plays a large part in our job movements and thereby much of our working lives. So it is important that in your happier moments, you set some rules for yourself that help to protect you in bluer times, like Monday mornings, or when something negative has happened in your life. By this, I mean that many of us let our emotions get the better of us and wind up damaging our careers as a result.

Busy and “driven” people in particular seem to be vulnerable to mood swings and acting impulsively when feeling emotional. I have to admit that when I was an employee for other people, this would have been a good description of me. But before I started working for myself, I found a great way to cope – which I call my two-year rule.

This rule was and is deeply important to me, and is something I don’t break – unlike a diet or a New Year’s resolution. That rule changes from period to period, but generally goes something like this: “If I take a job, and still like the company by the end of the probation period, I will stick out the job for at least two years – come hell or high water.” Or, “My boss is driving me crazy, I’ve had to put up with his petty tyranny for over 6 months now – I’ll talk with senior management, and if they don’t move either me or him in the next 12 months, I’m out of here within 6 months of that deadline…”

Well, you get the picture.

Of course, the two-year rule also applies to career development, such as planning to ask the company to pay for some after-hours or work-related training. I find that asking the company to pay for one course per two-year period is acceptable to most firms. Also, two years would be my maximum waiting time for a promotion. Again, plan at least 12 months ahead and give the company time to find you the right opportunity.

For foreigners working in Japan, the two-year rule also has particular significance. I find that many people in their first 12-18 months are too busy absorbing the newness and different-ness of Japan to have strong feelings about it. However, for those people who can’t cope, two years is usually the breaking point where they decide they’ve had enough and head home. When I meet fellow foreigners going through their two-year crisis, my advice is simple: “Wait another two years, and you’ll have come to grips with the difficulties of living in Japan and you will come to like living here.”

Lastly, as an employer, I have a two-year rule with new hires that are going to need a lot of training to bring them up to speed. The last thing I want to do is invest in raw talent, only to have them go off to some other firm after the first approach by a headhunter. So during the interview with such people I look them straight in the eye and tell them that I will make a bargain with them. I will give them a chance to enter the industry and get trained, and in return, they give me a gentleman’s (gentleperson’s?) promise to stay two years. That’s long enough for the company to recoup its investment, but short enough that most people can feel comfortable with such a promise. So far, I’ve found that most people do actually keep their promise, which is why I continue to have faith in raw candidates and continue to hire them into the firm.