Today is Buddha’s Birthday in Korea. In the previous weeks I’ve daydreamed about how I’d greedily plan and spend this extra long weekend by traveling somewhere far and strange from Cheonan, the city where I reside, and do something really fun. The reality of the situation is that I slept in until 10AM, drank too much coffee at my apartment and took about 2.5 hours to decide to go outside and hop on a bus to the opposite side of town to explore and find a coffee shop to write in. I wasn’t aware that the buses weren’t running on a scheduled cadence because of the holiday and I subsequently waited in the hot sun on the side of the road for my bus for about 45 minutes before going home, eating lunch and taking a nap. Rockstar lifestyle, I’m leading, I’ll tell ya…
This is one of those periodic updates that I really had to force myself to write. Being in Korea has become incredibly… normal. I wouldn’t go as far to say as I’ve lost my sense of wonder or awareness that I am in fact all the way across the world from where I’m originally from. However, there’s a certain level of comfort that routine here has brought me that I’ve never felt before.
Last week I hit my 7 month mark here. I can’t quite believe that 7 whole months have passed by so quickly. Every month when the 20th rolls around I remind myself to try to be present in the moment but also aware that time is continuing to pass faster and faster every day. I think there are a few reasons for time feeling like it’s passing faster. One of those reasons probably has to do with my proximity to strong gravitational fields and whatever other business there is about black holes and such I learned from watching Interstellar. But I also think time is passing very fast because of the relative comfort and familiarity I’ve found with my time here in Korea.
Comfort means different things to different people. Loosely, I’d describe what I’m feeling as comfort because I’ve managed to learn enough about my immediate surroundings, my job and to navigate language barriers where I don’t really have anything inhibiting my day to day life from operating within the margins of “smoothly.” Mind you, there are some things that are downright maddening to me that will never be remedied as long as I live here, no matter what I do.
I think the things that have proven to be most important to me are regular communication with family. When I moved to Wisconsin in 2009 and then Colorado from 2010-2014, I recall seeing my family on average somewhere between 3-4 times a year. I was only, at any given point, about 2-4 hours of flying time away from seeing my family back home in Massachusetts. It was a simple enough affair to hop on a plane and go home. However, I often found myself feeling sluggish to book a plane ticket to go home, or go anywhere for that matter. I’d rationalize that plane tickets are expensive and in the last 6 years (but really, my entire adult life) money has usually been tight as it’s been allocated to paying debts in an unwise and unstructured manner, or there were things locally I’d rather do.
When I landed back in Worcester in the terms I’d like to describe as “on my ass” last Spring in 2014, my head was still spinning from a breakup that had me questioning pretty much everything that seemed secure and normal for me. I had a career in social media that had seemed to be more successful as each year passed, but never quite seemed within the reaches of being what I’d consider “secure.” Much more often than not, I wasn’t doing the kind of work I’d describe as being in line with my soul-purpose. I’d say that could mainly be attributed to not having, or not knowing clearly what my soul purpose was for most of those years. I’d pivot and change things up from time to time, aligning myself with eco-friendly or holistic living companies when I could to do work that seemed more inspired, but that never seemed quite right. I met some great people along the way and looking back I can honestly say I lived what some would call a blessed life.
But, I realize in hindsight that I was always playing catch up. I was terminally behind the eight ball as I continually set my goals and my personal sense of accomplishment to the tunes of what I viewed as successful around me. I knew a dozens of people who were business owners, who had made hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars over their careers building and selling businesses. I always wondered if that could be me. If I could just idly dream up some sort of product or service that would have demand explode around it and I could fill my days with purposeful work either growing my own business or helping people I truly admired grow theirs.
I don’t know if that was ever something I ever really wanted. I suppose I had an idea of a lifestyle I was chasing instead. I had my girlfriend and our friends, many of whom just seemed to have their proverbial shit-together. Dinner parties, cocktail hour, day trips to wineries and farm dinners. This was in fact the good life I never knew I could have. But I always felt like I was somewhat just along for the ride and not actually driving that car. Even though my girlfriend at the time and myself lived in a relatively modest apartment in a fabulous neighborhood, with some of the best friends anyone could ever ask for literally within stumbling distance of our front door, I always felt like the pieces, and in turn my happiness, were being held together by a string and poised to fall apart at a solid jostling just around the bend.
When the relationship I was in suddenly finished in January 2014 I felt an incredibly heavy burden on my shoulders. I realize that from the outside my life looked enviable to most people and that I wasn’t doing anything too out of the ordinary from the average person. But as I had slowly acquired a few possessions here and there, some online subscriptions, gym memberships, etc and I was living in Boulder, all I felt was that I had to somehow maintain all that. Like I wasn’t going to able to rebound from this breakup and re-discover myself while being responsible for everything that I felt tied to. With a great deal of honesty and generosity, I even felt like I had to walk away from my job at the time which was in many ways a great place for me to be. Almost everyone and everything in Boulder, with the exception of my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu family at Easton BJJ, reminded me of how I had ultimately failed at my relationship and keeping my life I had worked so nervously at together. I realize now that this perception wasn’t entirely correct, but as I walked around in a fog filled with anxiety, sadness and complete stupor in the 4 weeks after the breakup, everything inside of me told me to drop it all and walk away. I still to this day am almost moved to tears remembering the looks in some of my friends eyes who stared at me helplessly, unable to understand why I had to leave, but loved me anyways and supported me in my decision to do so. I will never forget this period in my life.
So in an act of reckless and irresponsible abandon, I set a date for myself to sell every possession I owned that couldn’t fit in my car with complete abandon and with my dog headed on a long-extended road trip back East to Massachusetts. I would stay there, regroup and figure things out for as long as I needed to and get healthy. In my months between February, when I arrived back in Massachusetts and in October, when I left for Korea, I did my absolute best to simplify absolutely everything about myself and take a long hard look at my life, my decisions, my strengths and more importantly, my weaknesses and come out of this situation a better person.
I started with my physical impediments which I felt were making it harder than necessary to live my best life. I had lost large amounts of weight in my life at various points in my adulthood, but never quite managed to make those positive changes stick and wound up putting most of not all of that weight back on over the years. I experimented with low-carb dieting, kettlebell lifting and daily walking and hiking with my dog when I was home in Massachusetts. The weight started to come off steadily and has continued to ever since. When I look at pictures of myself now compared to where I was just a year and a half ago I think I look like a different person. Not only do I carry around less body fat, but my musculature makeup has changed for the better. I think I look better and I more importantly feel better. I’ve also continued to meditate every day which I’ve written about already. This has helped me even out as a person in how I react and deal with everyday challenges a lot better. As far as money and lifestyle goes, I’ve learned that making less money can in fact make more a simpler and more easy to manage life as long as I am focused on managing the important parts around saving and paying off what needs to be payed off and when.
Everything feels so much closer to equilibrium right now since I’ve come to Korea. I’ve continued to develop myself in ways I set forth when I went home specifically in my weight management and meditation goals. However, I’ve realized that this sense of comfort comes with some challenges, as everything in life seems to. Being away from family and not seeing anyone familiar for 7 months (and I likely will not see anyone familiar for the remainder of my time here) has made me feel a bit dissociated. I came to Korea with an open mind of how long I’d stay. I didn’t honestly tell anyone I’d be here for just a year or if I’d plan to be here for a decade or any amount of time. I just came here with an open mind and open heart to whatever was possible. I discovered that my job could be incredibly satisfying in many ways. I also discovered how easily I am able to adjust to and integrate into a different lifestyle in a foreign place. These are valuable lessons for me to learn. But, something in my heart tells me that where I need to be is back stateside closer to family and trying to make a go of doing good work that aligns with my values that can also support my simple lifestyle.
The decision to come to Korea was a simple one. I sometimes wish I could say it was out of total whimsy and passion and that I wanted to make good on a promise I’d made to myself years ago to come here, but that’s not entirely true. When I moved back to Massachusetts I entertained several interesting job offers and interviewed with some very well-know ad agencies, technology companies and even did a bit of freelance work for some companies as a marketing consultant. These are all things I’m proud of to an extent because they represent the work I’ve put into becoming somewhat of a good marketer over the last 10 years. However each time I got to final rounds of interviews or when I’d get a job offer for basically the same type of job I’ve always had, I couldn’t tap into the excitement or passion for that opportunity that I once had. I was ashamed of myself. Like, who am I to be having what seems like my 3rd mid-life crisis and I’m only in my early 30’s? Eventually I realized that these types of jobs weren’t going to pan out, my freelancing work was drying up and I needed to do something. Working as an English Teacher in South Korea is easily one of the most comfortable lifestyles anyone from an English speaking country could ever hope to have. For all of the bitching that English teachers here do about this and that, we get paid a good salary in a relatively cheap cost-of-living country and our skills are highly in demand (until the proverbial bubble pops on the English teaching industry). I fully recognize how good I’ve got it here. There’s no question to that. However, the price to be paid for this life is that I’m a very long ways away from my family and loved ones. Making a life here and developing friendships and relationships here is definitely something I could pour myself into successfully, however when I think of what I value in the long term, I don’t think that throwing away what I have back home in turn for a “fresh start” in Korea makes the most sense. In essence, I learned that lesson the hard way when I moved to Wisconsin in 2009 and lost my job when my company wasn’t doing well and again learned that lesson over and over in Colorado bouncing from startup to startup and eventually experiencing the coup de grâce (hah!) which was a bad breakup. At the end of the day my family back home were always the shelter in the storm for me, even when I was begrudging to accept that.
So, are things good here in Korea? Overall, yes things are very good here! It’s a good life! It would be a good life for just about anyone! However, as my values have changed and solidified in the last couple years, I am realizing that maybe investing more of my energy into developing something solid and long-lasting back home is what my calling might be, or at least part of my calling, for part of my life. So, I am going to do that.
What does this all mean? This wound up being a MUCH longer email/newsletter than I intended and I’m sorry about that to anyone who bailed on reading this at any point. However, the TLDR; version is this… at the end of October I’ll be coming back home to Massachusetts. I’m starting to look for, network towards and apply to jobs in the greater Worcester area and surrounding places like Portland, Maine, around New Hampshire, etc. Maybe I’ve said too much about my personal and professional struggles in life and this makes me a less than desirable candidate for an employer. However, I believe my journey is something that a lot of people can relate to in some ways. My experiences have made me a stronger, more sure-footed person and I believe that all of my skills as a writer, as a marketer and as a general businessman have brought me to this point in life. Whether I find a great company or small business to work for, or if I go back to agency world or if I have the courage to start my own business, I know these experiences will shape the ethos of the work I do for the rest of my life and will help me to be a better man, partner and person into the future.
… and if the economy is looking too rough and I can’t find anything in America, maybe I’ll just go teach English overseas again 😉 But let’s not cross that bridge unless we must.
Thanks for reading!