Don’t base it on not knowing what to do next
When I returned to South Korea for a second year of teaching English, I did it for the wrong reasons.
There were some good reasons, too — but my choice ultimately boiled down to this:
I didn’t know what else to do.
After finishing my first year-long teaching contract, I did some travelling in Korea, Hong Kong, and Macau for about a month. Then I headed back to Canada to spend the holidays with friends and family.
Before long, though, it came time to make the dreaded decision:
Was I going back for round two or not?
I thought long and hard about this, even making a pros and cons list and eventually annoying my family with the same question over and over again:
“What do you think I should do?”
Though they tried, they couldn’t help me.
Of course they couldn’t help me. This was a very personal decision — one that only I could make.
I took it so seriously, in fact, that it started to eat me alive. Soon my mind became addicted to this dilemma, and I couldn’t seem to think about anything else. My head and my heart both made very strong cases and adamantly stood their ground.
The only problem was, they weren’t on the same side.
My heart had its own idea of what I should do, but my head had other plans.
I was torn down the middle, and all this back and forth only made things worse. Instead of getting closer to a decision, I became more confused by the day — and unfortunately, the days were becoming numbered.
I had to let my employer know one way or the other.
When that time came, I had nothing else lined up.
I didn’t know how or where to begin trying to find something else, and the thought of job searching and interviewing made me queasy. So I took the path of least resistance and went back to a job I knew I had — the one that was waiting for me.
There were parts about teaching ESL that I really enjoyed, and there were students I absolutely adored and wanted to take home with me.
The problem was, teaching wasn’t what I really wanted to do — and I already knew it.
Instead of allowing myself to be in the unknown and see what might arise from there, I made the mistake of going back to something I already knew wasn’t my passion, and I ended up paying the price for it.
It’s now been almost five years since I left Korea, and that time has given me some perspective on the situation. Reflecting on it now, I can see why I went back even though my heart wasn’t in it.
It’s now clear that I was operating under a few (false) beliefs at the time. By sharing them with you, I hope to help you make tough decisions for the right reasons, as opposed to the reasons I used.
Here are some of the lies I believed:
1. Having something lined up is better than nothing
I tricked myself into believing this was a good decision (and the better option), all the while ignoring my own gut and the dread that filled me every time I thought about another year of teaching.
I let things like the money I’d make, the “security” that having a full-time job would bring, the “coolness factor” and stamp of approval I’d get from my peers for living and working abroad, and the opinions of others influence my decision.
If I was really honest with myself, I would have admitted that this wasn’t the right job for me, and could have instead set about researching things that might have aligned with my interests and skills a lot better.
2. Admitting you don’t know what to do makes you look bad
I was afraid of looking lost and wandering aimlessly. I was afraid of people thinking I didn’t know what I was doing.
The thing is, that’s exactly how I was feeling on the inside!
Instead of allowing myself to be real, and to be seen — vulnerable and all — I pretended I knew what I was doing, which only made me feel worse and more disconnected from myself than ever.
Allowing myself to be honest would have given me the opportunity to connect with myself and others in a way faking never can.
3. You have the power to make somebody else happy
As much as you may want to, or believe that you can, you can’t.
I learned this one the hard way, for sure.
A huge part of my decision to return was based on somebody else’s wishes. I’d made a really good friend there that I did everything with. We worked together, ate together, drank like fish together, hung out on weekends, went to karaoke, and even started a bus tour business together!
We’d grown so close that when my contract ended, she seemed devastated. I wasn’t ready for all our adventures to be over either, and I made the mistake of promising to return so that everything could stay the same for a little bit longer.
When I got back for year two a few months later, though, nothing was the same. I knew almost immediately that I’d made a huge mistake.
I quickly began to hate my job, and the more miserable I became, the more I resented her. Instead of accepting responsibility for the choice I’d made, I blamed her — and in the end, I made us both unhappy.
4. You always need to have a plan
I am definitely a planner — although I’m more of a dream-planner.
I love to sit and think up all the things I want to do and accomplish in life, and then break them down to figure out exactly how I’m actually going to do them. (Although breaking them down is not my strong suit). For this, I tend to rely heavily on my boyfriend’s more systematic approach. I do the overall vision; he does the details.
As much as I enjoy this whole process, carefully crafted plans are not how life works.
You can plan all you want (and it won’t stop me!) — but life seems to have its own timeline for things.
In one of my I need to plan my whole life out! moments, I remember asking my sister what I should do with my life. She looked at me like I was crazy.
“You don’t need to know what to do with your whole life right now,” she said. “You just need to decide what to do next.”
And sometimes, clarity comes in the unplanned moments.
Maybe you’re facing a period of transition right now, feeling lost and uncertain. If that’s the case, the best advice I can give you would be to embrace it.
Allow yourself to feel the uncertainty.
It might feel uncomfortable and awkward, but I promise it won’t kill you.
Don’t rush into something just because you don’t know what else you can do. Take a minute and explore. Spend some time reflecting and soul-searching, figuring out what it is that you really want to do.
And then don’t be afraid to try it, because the only thing you’ll regret is not trying.
My decision to go back to Korea resulted in the hardest year of my life so far.
I experienced depression, loneliness, social anxiety, job challenges, and even a weird health issue where a blood vessel in my leg burst, leaving an open wound on my shin that wouldn’t heal and lasted months. (I still have the scar to prove it!)
As challenging as it was, that year ultimately changed me for the better.
It taught me the importance of making decisions that are best for me, because I’m the one who has to live with them.
It forced me to really get in touch with myself and my needs, and to ask for help when I needed it most. That one decision led me to the start of a lifelong journey of self-discovery and personal growth.
And for that, I can’t regret it, because it was actually a gift.
As hard as it is sometimes to face your demons, swallow your pride, and admit to your mistakes, it’s the only way to grow and become better.