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If last year was a year of growth, I would say this year was a test of my endurance, patience, and self-assertion.

#1_ New Challenges

After getting comfortable (and jaded) at Weber Shandwick, I started searching for my next challenge. And boy, did I get myself into a massive one. In June I started my new job in marketing. And I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the difficulties I faced during my first few months on the job — the different style of leadership, lack of teamwork (and team members), and of course, the completely new kind of work I was doing.

I still don’t think a marketer can do PR, or that a PR person can do (or be happy doing) marketing. Nonetheless I am at a good place now at my job; I have the hang of things and know now how to solve problems, external and internal. And I really appreciate my boss, my team, and the things I am learning. I learn something new almost every day at my job. Interestingly, I think I am learning more about people than I ever have at work.

#2_ Hitting Rock Bottom (almost)

In September, while I was on a 3-week business trip in Hangzhou, I hit one of the lowest lows I’ve ever hit in my life.

Each time I go to Hangzhou on business, I get sick in one form or another. Usually it’s a cold. But in September, from the grueling orientation plus the late nights I spent working after training hours, I became very ill with an infected boil. I ended up missing more than half of one of my mandatory orientation programs.

When you’re really sick, you start thinking about what’s most important to you. And you focus on only that, because you’re desperate to hold on to something positive and uplifting. And the only thing I could think in my hotel room, unable to move or even sit up, was how much I regretted not becoming a journalist.

The week following that moment involved three Chinese hospitals, a pregnancy scare, and an attempt to quit my job. But I’ll save the details for another day.

#3_ 55 Hours of Alone & 72 Hours with You

In 2013, this blog was born from my project called 60 Hours of No Human Contact, wherein I cut off all human contact for 60 hours and focused on myself and my writing.

For the first time since then, I found myself desperately needing this space and time of my own, complete freedom from the daily struggles and pressures that were weighing me down.

So I took three days off work, rented an Airbnb called “Thinking House” in Namyangju (a suburb of Seoul), and disconnected. But this time, it didn’t have the same rejuvenating effect as it did in 2013. Here is an excerpt from my real-time log from those 55 hours:

Tomorrow before noon, I have to pack up, clean up my traces here in the Thinking House, and return to Seoul. This getaway was neither effective nor productive, as I mostly just miss my boyfriend. I called him crazy for telling me he loves me only after three dates, but this time apart has made me realize I love him, too.

And I understand now the power of love; I am no longer afraid of what my future holds, and I don’t think it really matters what I do for a living. My boyfriend gives me the confidence to do my job and be satisfied with it. Most of all, when I’m with him, I focus more on what I am outside of my job. He pays attention to the whole me, wants to get to know the entire me. He makes me pay attention to the aspects of myself that I sometimes ignore or overlook when I’m focused on work.

I am writing this now at a bar in Gangnam, entering my 73rd consecutive hour with you, counting down to midnight. Our belated Christmas weekend to make up for the actual Christmas that we didn’t get to spend together.

This adventure we are on together is another challenge that 2018 has brought to me: a challenge of a new kind that I am facing for the first time and still learning to maneuver.

Whatever happens, I am thankful for the punches life threw my way this year, because I know they are making me stronger.

Happy new year, everyone.

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.

——

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.

— —

My best friend is in law school and he generally dislikes it. When he’s not studying, he gets stoned and writes me lengthy emails about his pot-induced epiphanies, rating each one on a “highness” scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the “highest” he thinks he could get. Whenever the rating exceeds 5, I am wary, because the higher he is, the more insipid the contents.

His most recent email, however, was different and strangely enough, unrated. It was autobiographical, and it made me feel things: concern, curiosity, potential. There was potential for some kind of discovery there.

In it, he presented an argument for his self-diagnosed identity crisis that went more or less like this: I am my accomplishments. I lose my potential accomplishments to competitors more successful than I. And when I do, I lose myself.

Instead of pursuing his dreams, he becomes reclusive and spends most nights smoking up and experimenting with his drugs. Averaging only 3 to 4 hours of sleep a day, he lives on various substances that keep him awake.

He’s actually successful in his studies and career — he’d pass for any respectable law student — but as with most of us, he feels something lacking.

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