I’m a huge fan of the Korean version of TED talks, 세바시. Not only because these 15-minute youtube videos are excellent material for listening practice, but especially because I always feel that I learn so much more than “just” Korean. This post is inspired by a talk I have found particularly inspiring:
나다움을 찾아야 내 다음이 보인다 – About finding your true self
The speaker shares frustrations and experiences from his youth where he would always initiate a lot of things and then never follow through simply because he lost interest. He finally found his true calling by being an English teacher giving others the joy of learning. His main takeaway point is that we must learn to forget about prestige and others’ expectations and instead focus on our own and others’ happiness. He proposes two questions for self-reflection (자기 반성):
- Have I been happy in my life?
- Has my life made others happy?
If we can say “Yes” to these two questions in our final hour, we have lived a full life.
There are many reasons why I find this talk especially moving. Like many of you out there I often feel that my life up until now has been one long search for who I truly am. And what’s worse, in my quest to become who I thought I ought to be or who others expected me to be, I may have overlooked my true self for way too long. I think it’s basic human nature to want to fit in. It’s also expected from our peers that we make an effort to conform to the majority. But what about those of us that are not as easily categorized as other people? Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to become all kinds of things when I grew up. Doctor, teacher, vet, CEO, and interpreter were among my ever changing goals. So, where did I fit in, and how did I end up as an economist? Good question, and I wish I could say that becoming what I am today was a 100% deliberate choice but sometimes life just happens and we follow along. Not that I don’t like being an economist because I do, but is what I do more than it’s who I am! And I can never be sure that this is what I want to do forever. In fact I’m pretty sure it’s not.
And speaking about fitting in; how many of you have felt that you had to participate in some function you’d gladly pay to get out of but ended up going anyway because it was expected of you? The other day we had a big dinner for the employees here at my department. I really didn’t want to go but I felt obligated to do so and went along. The next day, I ran into a colleague who I had not seen at the restaurant the night before. When I asked he simply told me “Nah, I didn’t feel like going”. No excuses, just friendly honesty. I was impressed and thought, “How strange! Here we force ourselves to either go or come up with excuses, but what I truly admire is that guy’s honesty!” Conclusion: There’s nothing wrong with just being true to yourself. My department’s annual Christmas party is quickly approaching (about a month from now), and I simply hate these gatherings more than I care to describe here. Anyway, one of my colleagues just asked me this morning whether I had signed up for it. I smilingly told her that I hadn’t since I really didn’t like this type of gettogethers and frankly would prefer a quiet Friday dinner with my husband. She smiled back and told me that she felt the exact same way. I know we often offer a tiny white lie once in a while out of sheer politeness, but as long as we’re not hurting anyone what’s wrong with being honest? I’m not making anyone sad by not showing up, so I may as well give them the real reason.
Last week I attended a big family memorial service following the recent passing of my paternal grandmother. Despite the occasion indeed being a sad one, I enjoyed seing so many of my distant relatives gathered in one place. Cousins I hadn’t talked to for years had come and I had decided beforehand to allow myself to be no one other than my true self. Of course such family reunions, no matter the occasion, are bound to bring about questions along the the lines of “Are you still living in that tiny apartment?”, “Aren’t you planning on having kids soon?”, and “How are things at work?”. A year or two ago, I would have avoided these questions and answered something vague, but this time my answers were: “Yes, we simply love this place, and it’s so close to work”, “No, in fact I’m not sure I ever want any kids. I like my life the way it is.”, “I’m not sure about my career, but I will most likely spend a year in Seoul from August next year. I’m also learning Korean and enjoying it tremendously, by the way.” And I received nothing but positive reactions from everyone!!
I’m not sure I have found myself completely yet (in fact I strongly believe that it’s a moving target), but there’s no doubt that allowing myself to be who I want to be rather than who I ought to be has brought me a lot closer. And most interestingly, I feel that I only started discovering who I really am when I started learning Korean. For once there was something that I could truly enjoy for hours on end, and not once did I ever feel like quitting. Through learning Korean I have met a lot of awesome people and learned about a foreign culture, and surprisingly a great deal about myself!