Masa Takei: The Storyteller

Masa, we’re super excited that you have agreed to share your story with us, our customers and followers. So let’s get to it, we have some questions for you. First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I work as a freelance writer, kind of a hunter-gatherer of stories. I’ve written in an array of mediums including magazines and newspapers, online, and for the screen. For example, I wrote stories about traveling through the Northwest Passage for The Globe and Mail and through the Great Bear Rainforest for Explore, created a year-long video series for RadX while building an off-grid cabin on Haida Gwaii, and worked on epically bad feature movies about half-vampires and genetically modified mercenaries. In my wallet I carry a license to go anywhere, talk to anyone, do anything and call it work (as long as I produce something to share). What could be better than that?

That’s a pretty eclectic body of work, but clearly storytelling, be it through words or film, is a big part of your life. How did you come to be a writer and forge such a unique career path?

I came to writing late in the game. Though I’d published my first piece in my 20s, I didn’t dedicate myself full-time to writing until my mid-30s.  Previous to that I’d worked in management consulting, initially working on international projects with a firm based in Tokyo.  My educational background is a degree in Economics and an MBA from McGill. But I think that the time spent working as a treeplanter, trench-digger, and motorcycle courier contributed as much to what I do now as my formal education or the time spent wearing a suit.

The decision to make the transition to writing was painfully drawn out. Though I distinctly remember the moment when I was sitting in a windowless room at a client’s office on the weekend, surrounded with banker’s boxes full of spreadsheets and thinking that there had to be more to life than this.  I started with an internship at a magazine then afterward rented a desk in a Downtown Eastside office with a bunch of the writers I looked up to.

What are you doing presently, and do you have a vision for what comes next? Can you tell us about your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)?

Right now, I teach at a university and continue to take on freelance writing projects. My BHAG: To use my writing skills in launching a whole new business venture. Details TBA.

Why I Hunt – Western Living Magazine, Illustration by Matthew Woodson
What are some challenges that you are currently facing, in work or life, and how do you tackle them?

Like many who work within the realm of media, I’m trying to make sense of the rapidly changing industry.

I like to handle a challenge by trying something radically different, as I understand that the old way of doing things will only produce predictable results. Easier said than done of course.

As you mentioned earlier, you weren’t always a writer. In fact, the journey you took to become the writer and professor you are today is an adventure story in its own right.  Given the hindsight you have now, would you do anything differently? Do you have any advice or tips to share about how to succeed as an entrepreneur?

I don’t feel like I can speak to ‘success’ but from my own experience and mistakes, there are a few things that, if asked, I would suggest to those trying to find their own way.  I’d recommend making sure that you’re truly stoked about what you’re pursuing. There was one question that might seem trite but that had helped me with my decision-making: If you could roll out of bed and do anything with your time, what would you do?  Can you make that your work?  It seems like these days there are more opportunities than ever to make your interests your main way of providing value to others.

Personally, I wish that I’d started earlier, even if just moonlighting. I’m in one of those professions where you don’t need permission. You can just start writing. Everything really is just mileage, persistence, and a willingness to put up with the inevitable drek. Something that I continue to work on myself is consciously breaking things up into smaller, more manageable tasks and to maintain momentum with forward progress.

Photo by Jeff Topham
You probably saw this next question coming – can you tell us about a book that is meaningful to you, as well as what you reading right now? Summarize a key takeaway or overarching message for us in one sentence?

 In terms of fiction, an enduring favorite is Drown by Junot Diaz, his short story collection before he won the Pulitzer.  Right now, I’m reading (okay, listening to) Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?, Alan Weisman’s follow-up to A World Without Us. 

 Top takeaway: we’re collectively f*cked if we keep on going the way we are.  A helpful reminder at a personal level that we’re all connected whether we recognize it or not.

 Masa, do you have a favourite inspirational quote?

 “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.” – Amelia Earhart

 That’s a great end note, or rather, segue to getting on with things. Masa, thanks so much for taking the time to do this with us!

Masa Takei is an award-winning writer, off grid adventurer and professor at Capilano University in Vancouver, BC.  Born in Japan, he grew up in both England and Canada. Masa writes primarily about being outside and the people you find there. He’s been published in Canadian Geographic, Explore Magazine, The Walrus and The Globe and Mail, among other notable magazines. In addition to writing, he also works in film. MasaOffgrid was made into a TV documentary for the cable channel, radX, and his work has been nominated for National Magazine Awards and a Canadian Screen Award.  Masa has an MBA from McGill University and was previously employed by management consulting firms in Tokyo and Vancouver.

You can read some of Masa’s stories, including Why I Hunt, as well as learn more about his other projects at Takei.ca

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