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Battles make good fodder for stories. You, the protagonist, want something, but an opponent – the antagonist – gets in the way. The thing you want is important enough to fight the battle, and the battle ends with you either losing or winning. That’s where the story ends. Of course, it could also end in a stalemate, but I prefer definite endings.

In real life I am a fighter, and I hate losing. I do pick my battles, but even the ones I fall into, whether I want to fight them or not, I will fight until the end to win. The one I found myself entangled in today, I decided to lose because sustaining it would’ve meant inconveniencing someone who was waiting for me and counting on me. But more than this, I didn’t have the energy to fight it.

This battle, although short and unforeseen and somewhat uncalled for, was not only a tally loss against the opponent but a real loss of many things for myself, things I considered precious and pure.

If there’s one thing that often trips me up and makes it challenging for me to climb the ladder, it’s that I can’t work for people I don’t respect. And today, I lost a lot of respect for someone I had quite a bit of respect for and took after as a role model.

I am nothing without my principles and passion. These two things keep the fire in me going and sustain me through tough times. But today, as a result of losing the battle, my passion took a hard hit. I found myself questioning my conviction that the work I am doing and have enjoyed immensely for the last year is right for me.

If the passion was real and true, this loss wouldn’t have me second-guessing myself. But then again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill and this incident is merely an anomaly that can be isolated from my confidence in my career. As absurd as it was. (I still don’t understand why it occurred at all.)

Or maybe, as you grow older and more cynical, only your principles remain. Like bones.

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There is only one person I’ve ever met that could give me unsolicited advice and get away with it.

“I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything okay?”

I’d say I’m fine, what do you mean I’ve been different, nothing’s wrong.

Three bottles of soju later, and he’s ladling 김치찌개 into my 앞접시 and I’m telling him how much it hurts me when students let me down. He’s telling me whether I realize it or not, my words are hurting them.

“Think of how much confidence a student has to work up to walk into the teachers’ office and tell you that he forgot his homework,” he tells me. “And you immediately shoot them down, not allowing them a chance to explain or giving them the benefit of the doubt.”

He’s right. I have nothing to say.

And then he says to me, in the gentlest and most loving way, “I know how much you care about them. But I care about you, too, and I want others to see you, to recognize you as the generous person that you are. Because if they see that, they’ll appreciate your passion so much more.”

Even to this day, in moments of doubt or crises of faith, I think of Peter and ask myself, “What would Peter have to say about this?” And it doesn’t matter that I can’t talk to him because he’s an ocean away and not here to ladle soup into my bowl. I know him well enough to know what his answer would be, and to know him this way, I am lucky.

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