July McAtee, Global R&D Disaster


In several places on that form I was complaining about a few blog posts ago, I entered my title as 惨事 (“disaster”) rather than 参事 (“councilor”). I’ve only been studying Chinese characters for thirty years. In the online review system for the form, my manager’s terse comment came back: 役職など正しく記入して下さい。(“Please enter your position, etc., correctly.”) And then in my performance review this week, I got a lecture about how many careless mistakes he’s noticed in my writing. Does he, perhaps, attribute that to my having a careless personality? Perhaps I am careless, in the Japan context.


The first character here is “san” meaning join or participate. It has a more ancient meaning of three, and an even more ancient meaning as the name of a Chinese constellation with three stars.

The second character is the first with the heart or emotion radical added. Phonetically it’s still “san,” but it means tragedy.


The second character in both words is “ji,” meaning event or situation. So a “participator in events” (参事) is a councilor (or that’s the way my company translates it), and a “tragic event” (惨事) is a disaster.

I wish I could blame Microsoft’s Japanese typing system. (I’m from Silicon Valley; we reserve the right to blame anything on Microsoft.) I wish I could blame the poorly designed online form or the stress level in the office.

But in truth, as I learned in business school, that would be leaning on my attributional bias, where we attribute our own errors to the situation and others’ errors to their personality.

In truth, it was probably payback for my years as a technical editor, when writers quaked in their shoes when I handed them their reviewed manuals. (Once, to my horror, a writer literally cried as he took his copy with shaking hands.) I occasionally found Dilbert comic strips about Anne L. Retentive (the sociopathic proofreader) anonymously tacked on my cubicle wall. I really didn’t want to make anybody cry! I just wanted it right.

Now, of course, in this enlightened age of up-to-the-second information, proofreading is a thing of the past, or so they say. But here in my office, even though our job is creating new revenue streams not technical manuals, it still matters. My excitable, tough-love manager thinks I’m a proofreading disaster, and he’s probably right.

However, every evening I fully unplug my attributional bias and pat myself on the back for managing to keep my job at all (two plus months and counting) when I only understand 60% of what’s being said, get much less (or zero) of what’s not being said, and miss many vital announcements in the hundreds of Japanese emails that stroll through my Inbox every day.

I think I’m just writing this blog post to burn the event into my brain and never make this particular mistake again. That’ll leave room for the next mistake.

About July McAtee

American gal turned Japanese "salaryman" for a while. I'm blogging my experiences as my daughter and I move from Silicon Valley to Japan and beyond.
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8 Responses to July McAtee, Global R&D Disaster

  1. Mr. Reader says:

    Yeah, in certain careers (airline pilot, radiation saftey manager) mistakes *can* be disasterous. Luckily, in most fields (including yours), mistakes are stepping stones on the path to “experience” and “wisdom”. It sounds like you know this intuitively, so keep up the good work of looking at the positive. Hey, in Silicon Valley what do they call a high-tech entreprenure who has several failed start-ups on her resume? “Experienced!”. Sure, mistakes are embarassing and not exactly fun (I am an expert mistake-maker, so I should know), but my strategy will be to try to remember and learn from them. Sometimes laughing at myself and drawing amusement from my own actions helps…but not always!

    • July McAtee says:

      Mr. Reader, I’m glad that I don’t work in a field where a mistake could mean a lost life. I’ll be quite content with just losing a little dignity now and then. Thanks for your thoughts…and here’s to being “experienced”!

  2. oni says:


  3. quaintk says:

    hahaahahaa…i read the last 2-3 posts! and am almost in tears myself. i would have fled back to Bombay if i was in your place for sure! so you are doing a wonderful job of trying to at least survive there 🙂 🙂 hugs. and kudos!

  4. weegems says:

    JM, well, I finally caught up again in my reading of your posts. I am weary at the thought of you
    navigating all this strangeness. Glad you found a bit of bluegrass to keep you grounded. If you have read my recent blogs you see what I am up to. I have several more in the pipe line along with working on some January classes based on “So Whats?” from my book. Still getting very positive reviews. Expect your other readers there will look at this one: “Say what?” The Hazlehurst boy really appreciates your contact. love, UB

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