A heart-to-heart talk with Find Your Element Founder- Aya McCrindle (Yoshikawa)
Aya grew up in Tokyo all her life but moved out of her parents’ house at 18. While attending the same university her mom went to, Sophia University, Aya continued to work as a model on the side to pay for tuition and her living costs. “Basically, I was modeling because my mother was a supermodel. I have two sisters, we were just born into it.”
Not long after graduating from Sophia University on the Dean’s List, she bought the modeling agency that she had been working for. Her company, Inframince, is in its 29th year, with 22 of those years in Aya’s hands. That said, her time in the modeling business is behind her.
A few years back, Aya discovered her true calling, or should I say, she found her element as a Connector: Aya uses her mindset, people skills, and relationships she’s built from all the years in Tokyo. Her experience includes running a modeling agency for 17 years, being involved with TEDx Tokyo from its first year over a decade ago, FEW (For Empowering Women) from 3 years ago, and SingularityU Japan Summit from last year. All of this inspiring her to curate 12 week-long seasons of workshops to help others “live a life of passion and meaning” with the best speakers she can get her hands on.
The list of extraordinary people who have said no to leading a workshop or haven’t gotten back to her yet is very short: Steve Wozniak (who invented the Apple computer) and Julian Lennon, a musician/photographer, who unfortunately seldom comes to Tokyo and is on the shy side in Aya’s mind. Steve Wozniak said that he gets over ten requests to speak per day from various places around the world, but as he chooses what intrigues him, Aya has not given up on him just yet. As for the rest, it is all only up to schedule and timing – “where there’s a will, there’s always a way” in Aya’s mind.
“Living overseas, which can be an isolating way to live, I was looking for advice to help me overcome challenges and figure out my next moves forward.”
I’ve been going to Aya’s workshops for a couple months now. Just a few of the speakers I’ve experienced firsthand include: Anti-ageing specialist/nutritionist Dr. August Hergesheimer (twice), ex- ACCJ President Jay Ponazecki, Life Coach Sarah Furuya, President of Sasuga Communications K. K. Helen Iwata, and Life Coach Tanja Bach. Each workshop leader has been incredible, one after the next.
After the 90-minute workshops, I’d walk home with my emotional batteries fully recharged, carrying lessons that I’d apply to my routine tomorrow and for the rest of my life. This is the one place in Tokyo where you can meet up with experts and like-minded individuals in an intimate setting, where others will genuinely listen to you and share their personal life lessons to help you become the best version of yourself.
Check out the line-up of speakers from previous seasons—it’s unbelievable!
During my interview, Aya shared some of the tough times she’d been through, the stuff most people don’t talk about: depression, sexual assault, being a single mom, years of IVF (in vitro fertilization) attempts with suicidal thoughts, feeling “stuck” in her career and marriage, and divorces. The things that Aya reveals connects to people at the level of their souls, because she’s willing to be vulnerable. With Find Your Element, she’s on a mission to save others from making the same mistakes and experiencing the same level of suffering that she has already been through. The workshops provide people with opportunities to be both inspired and learn the practical, efficient life skills to achieve their goals.
From rock bottom, there’s only way to go: up. That’s where Aya’s going. I decided to tag along for the ride, and what a good choice it was.
Here’s the schedule for the Fall ’18 Season! To learn more about each workshop leader, click on the individual links below.
11/21 “How to Be a Pirate” with Takemi Tokumoto (Jack the Magician Founder & CEO)
My interview with Aya was full of life lessons- what she taught me has made a huge impact on my life.
Read Aya’s story of overcoming adversity, becoming her authentic self, and leading a life of meaning and passion…
And remember: What you seek is seeking you. -RUMI
Click on each topic below or read from start to finish (5 minutes). Once you read her first response, you’re sure to be hooked. What Aya said totally caught me off guard, completely changing the way I think.
1. HER MISSION
Matt: You’re so good at getting these incredibly successful, often famous people, or celebrities I’d never imagine meeting in person to come lead your workshops. You’re so confident and good at connecting to people! As for me, I still struggle with getting enough guts to approach someone or to make the ask. How do you do it?
Aya: I’m a natural extrovert and am not afraid to get a no, particularly at my age! (laughs) The way I see it, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain!
I’m also really curious. For example, right now, I’m curious about you: I’ve met you several times at my workshops, but we never even had lunch or dinner together until you asked to interview me today. I would’ve gone if you’d asked during the season of Find Your Element Workshops too, though. If I had the time and it was with someone that I liked, I’d go just to get to know his/her story. I’m really into stories!
In your case, my advice would be this: bear in mind that it’s not about YOU. So stop being so narcissistic. From what I understand, you’re writing a blog which you hope will help its readers. My workshops are also designed to help people learn life skills we wished we had learned at school or at home.
I’m not asking superstars from all fields to get credit or attention for myself and my priority is providing authentic, credible, inspiring leaders who can share their useful life skills and inspiring stories to help us all with our own challenges in life.
I want to alleviate people from going through the challenges I went through because I didn’t know who to talk to or go to. I fortunately have been blessed with so many amazing friends and I really love that I can share them with you through FYE.
After 61 workshops and 24 Intros to Mindfulness Meditation, in addition to tons of books and online courses to up my spiritual fitness, I can confidently say that there are many options for all of us no matter our situation.
“It’s not about you. Stop being so narcissistic.”
2. A NEW BEGINNING
M: Could you tell me more about what it was like when you first started Find Your Element?
A: The flyer for the first season was like first grade level artwork, though it deserves an A++ for effort! (laughs) Shockingly enough, many of my powerful friends, including the TEDx Tokyo Co-founder/SingularityU Japan Summit licensor Patrick Newell and more TEDx speakers I’ve become friends with over the years kindly agreed to help FYE out as our leaders in the first season. Among them are top economist Jesper Koll, top architect Edward Suzuki, Goldman Sachs partner Kathy Matsui, Guinness World Double Record Holding mermaid Ai Futaki, and Design Theorist Azby Brown. Morever, we’ve had Roice N. Krueger Co-Founder of Franklin Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dale Carnegie Training Japan CEO Dr. Greg Story, top model Melody Yoko, President of Sasuga Communications K.K. Helen Iwata, International Love Coach Irene Cooper, and many more.
We also got very lucky to be able to confirm the only certified Byron Katie Facilitator in Japan Tim McLean, anti-aging specialist August Hergesheimer, and my first life coach, Lucy Reynolds. That was really amazing. Without much more than my passion and exciting ideas for the next chapter in my life, these wonderful, power friends agreed to contribute and share their stories and skills with our community.
Then I confirmed Gabby, an ex-French national volleyball star turned MMA fighter, who offered to videograph our workshops as he says he loves passionate people.
From the beginning, I was so lucky: I even had the Bitcoin CEO’s programmer making my first website! Since then, a series of things just unfolded, unexpectedly but perfectly, into my life.
It was great being able to show my son, just eight months after the divorce, that I snapped out of “tragic victim mode” to become a “heroine” in my new chapter! He got to see me start a completely new endeavor we badly needed for the English-speaking community, without funding, employees, nor an office. It was me at my best, using my creativity and focusing on my passion.
M: What other values have you tried to teach your son? Do you think kids have to go through adversity to grow? You’ve gone through a lot of adversity in your life and you’ve come out stronger.
A: That’s a hard question for me. Personally, I had to go through what I experienced to learn all of my lessons. But some were very dangerous. I remember contemplating suicide for the first time at 13. Then, decades later, when I was going through my IVF treatment for a few years and my husband at the time was often out drinking till late without texting me to let me know when he’d be home, I felt so unsupported and unloved.
I knew that the all the IVF drugs I was taking cause anxiety and depression among others, but it was hard to get used to. I sometimes wished that a truck would run over me every time I went out on my bicycle. If I’d committed suicide, my son may blame himself and I didn’t want him to think that it had anything to do with him so it was a liberating thought to imagine a believable “accident.” I just felt so stuck and I allowed myself to continue feeling that way for too long, staying in a highly volatile relationship despite all the warning signs.
Still, I am grateful for my ex-husband. He is my best teacher who helped me find and realize my passion/element.
“I’ve survived so many things that I’m obviously going to survive this too.”
4. AUTHENTICITY AND VULNERABILITY
M: What I really admire the most about you is how authentic you are. You’re so vulnerable, even in your bio on your homepage. I think most people would never share what you share about who you are. I feel like you’re always yourself.
A: Thank you, Matt! I really enjoy practicing the power of vulnerability I learned in Helen’s workshop in my daily life. It’s stifling if you’ve been stuck in a place where you can’t be yourself. It’s how I felt in modeling for more than four decades of my life. When you feel like your individuality isn’t being utilized, appreciated, or maximized, it’s very suffocating.
“I need to be me.”
5. SELF SABOTAGE TO SUCCESS
M:Could you share some of the feedback that people who have gone to your workshops have told you, and how it’s changed their lives?
A: I have one example on my website, called One Man’s Journey. I have a page dedicated to it on our ‘About Us’ page because he made the most transformational change. I met him at a meditation event, maybe a month or two before I was going to start the first workshop. He called it “divine intervention”, that I happened to be in the same meditation class.
He was sharing about his struggles with schizophrenia, being in and out of rehab, and coming from a dysfunctional home with divorced parents.
When I talked to Patrick, the meditation instructor, I said, “Wow, you’re doing a great job if your students are able to fess up like this.” I also went up to the young man and said, “That’s so brave of you to have so much courage to open up like that.” After that we bonded and I gave him my flyer, and he told me he couldn’t believe his luck! He came to every workshop and visibly transformed before my eyes. It was really sweet. And I said, “You know, my world is your world. It’s our world. This is me sharing via these amazing, inspiring friends I’ve been lucky to have met.”
Also, I love the feedback from other workshop attendees that tell me that they have the guts now to quit their work that they didn’t love. I’m not trying get people to divorce their lives, but it’s almost like that. It’s like…stop moping around about your situation, because you’re choosing to be in this situation.
“You know, my world is your world. This is me sharing…”
6. WRITE YOUR OWN STORY
M: Like Helen Iwata’s shirt that said ‘Write Your Story’ on it at her workshop on vulnerability, do you feel that you’re writing your story now in comparison to how you were letting circumstances determine your life in the past?
A: By all means! Before, I didn’t know. I now know that the whole time I was writing my story, so it’s critical that I understand myself as a heroine instead of a tragic victim, no matter what had happened.
Sarah Furuya gave a workshop on this: you can tell a story in two ways, as a victim or as a hero. Tim McLean, a facilitator of “The Work by Byron Katie”, talks about this too. There are different life coaches in the first part, the grounding series, that gave us this specific framework of how we tell our stories.
The young man in One Man’s Journey saw himself as a victim, so he had a way of telling himself, “My parents spoiled me rotten. That’s why I can’t keep a job, I can’t keep a relationship. My only friends are all into drugs and alcohol. So if I want to socialize, that’s all I have, that or video games”. He also had an internet addiction too which he mentioned at the time. It was frustrating, because he would blame everyone and everything, every day.
I actually used to do the same with my last marriage, along with some other unfortunate series of challenges I’d experienced around that time. Looking back, it took me a long time to stop modeling and running my agency despite having been dissatisfied and unfulfilled. In retrospect, I see that I really didn’t know how to leave, nor knew it was even an option.
At the time, it felt like so many people were relying on me and I somehow felt responsible to fulfill all of their dreams. Only later did I learn that life is not about seeking people’s approval and appreciation, that I need to take care of myself first and foremost, particularly if I were to help others. Modeling really didn’t help: it’s all about NOT being yourself after all.
M: Was there a point when you learned that you can write your own story?
A: I think it was gradual, because things were so bad with my ex-husband: before, during, and after. I couldn’t believe how bad it was at the time, and I needed to get out of feeling that way. I had a son that I was looking after, and I didn’t want him to see me unhappy or cause him unhappiness.