The aftermath of shitty jobs
… and an ode to new languages
I once heard that in order to write well, you have to sound like yourself. I’m doing my best to sound like myself when I write these days (does anyone know how often you’re allowed to say fuck on Medium without getting thrown out? I’m pretty sure I can’t sound like myself without it).
I decided to touch upon a topic that is turning out to be pretty significant in my life. I feel like I talk about this a lot in my personal circles but I thought it would be easier to articulate what I’m talking about through an article (lack of human contact in the process makes me more eloquent).
I’m one of those people who loves working. Not all jobs are made equal but I do try my best at each and every one. While most people I knew took the idea of work for granted, something that everyone would eventually do, I equated work with a job that I was passionate about.
I dreamed of writing for a living and slaved away at customer support and other operations jobs until I finally got a break and started to work as a writer (when I say I slaved away, I’m not even exaggerating. Think night shifts, screaming customers, and sexist bosses here).
But then, almost three years ago, I left my job as a Senior Content Writer at the start-up I was working for.
The reasons were the same ones that many people last year and this year have quoted during what is being called the Great Resignation (or the Great ‘That’s what you get for treating people like shit so do fucking better” Parade): low pay, a toxic work environment, virtually no work-life balance, lack of growth, and, most importantly, lack of respect (I can practically hear the collective sighs of people relating to this).
I was happy I left and I never once questioned or regretted it. What I did regret, and still do, was how long it took me to finally snap and stand up for myself because of what followed.
Anyone who has faced burnout will know but, for those of you who don’t, it takes a while, a long while, to wake up from a full night’s sleep without feeling tired and defeated. The exhaustion of the past couple of years had sunk into my bones and I distinctly recall that it took months before I woke up feeling rested and, even then, it was only my body that felt it, not my mind.
Could you blame me, though? Despite working 14–18 hours a day for the better part of TWO WHOLE YEARS, managing various teams of writers and translators, both in-house and abroad, I left with no title to reflect just how much of myself I poured into my job.
I didn’t just blame the company though. I mostly blamed myself.
Companies are not known for charity and they don’t generally pay a penny more than what it takes to keep you around. I knew this and yet I made the mortal mistake of expecting that I would simply be given what I deserved without having to ask for it, that my work, which I had mistaken for my worth, would be recognized and rewarded if I just fucking kept at it.
But as one of my cherished spoken word poets, once said, “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.”
Somehow, after ALL of that bullshit, I suddenly found myself back at square one. I had managed to get into content marketing after years of breaking my back at odd jobs that I hated and yet had ended up with no acknowledgment of hard work or skill.
Then I went through the many stages of ‘what the fuck just happened to my life’ syndrome. I felt sad, then angry, back to sad, resigned, to melt-your-eyeballs rage, and, eventually, resigned again. A lot of carbohydrates were consumed.
I wrote off my listlessness as ennui at the time. Looking back, I recognize it for the depression that it was. My body and mind went on strike. Weeks would go by without showers or a step beyond my bedroom door. Meals were had when they were forced upon me by a concerned sister and best friend, and everything that I had previously taken joy in merely felt like going through the motions.
I still did them, though. Read articles, watched Youtube videos, listened to k-pop songs, and binged k-dramas. In the moments after I turned off my laptop and before sleep took me, I thought about how much of a failure I felt like and how all the criticisms I’d ever faced felt like they were materializing in front of my eyes.
On the really bad days, I could hear a voice in my head say, “Maybe I’m really never going to succeed at anything or get to do what I love for a living. Maybe I’m too stupid to ever find a job again.”
What a silly, silly girl I was. Because one thing that we have learned through songs, books, and the epic that is Jurassic Park, is that life, inevitably, finds a way.
It was in the middle of this vicious cycle while I was watching a k-drama that I ended up spilling bolognese all over myself (these were not particularly glamourous days, my friends) and ran to my sink without hitting the pause button. I was washing sauce out of my shirt and off my hands, listening to the drama I was watching when I realized something. I could understand things and I wasn’t reading the subtitles.
I came back into the room slowly and doubting my own ears but, after turning off the subtitles, there really was no doubt about it. I really could understand a good 60% of what was being said. I sat back and thought about how exactly this had happened. I could only come to one conclusion.
I’ve always had a knack for languages and my brain had been absorbing chunks of the language throughout years of watching Korean content. (yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Another Koreaboo/fangirl/ whatever. ZIP IT. I will address this misguided and shameful judgemental behavior that crucifies people for liking non-white cultures at another time and then it’s OVER for you bitches… I’m serious about talking about it, not so serious about the bitches part).
For the first time in a long while, I felt a sense of excitement and pride. I hadn’t even intended to do it but I had already taken in more than I had realized. Before I knew it, I was watching videos on how to read the Korean script, hangeul.
In case you haven’t done it, learn a new language. Learning a new language as an adult is an extremely humbling experience. It feels like being a kid again when you didn’t know how to read and write. You have to start from the absolute beginning and be open to something different.
Given where I was in life at the time, that suited me just fine. All I had to do was reschedule the wallowing and brooding to another week and we were gucci.
As I slowly went through the characters and sounded them out one by one, learned new words, formed sentences, I realized that I kind of loved it all.
I felt like me for the first time in a long time.
I look back at that time and think of it as one of those crossroads you get to at certain times in life. I often say that learning Korean (though it could’ve been any language I had a passion for, now that I think about it) single-handedly pulled me out of those 6 months of depression.
It made me realize that, even though it felt like it at the time, my life hadn’t ended and that I wasn’t worthless. I was still capable of learning new things, and I still loved experiencing something different. I still wanted things. I may have started a little later than most at the job, money, and passion thing but I still had plenty of time to adjust course and chase the life I wanted for myself.
It’s been a little over 2 years since then. I’m pretty fluent in Korean and can hold conversations for several hours, though I still have a crap ton to learn. I’m going to start taking lessons to study for the TOPIK in August (which is like the TOIEC but for Korean and, I’ve heard, not a walk in the park).
I’m visiting Korea for over a month at the end of this year to scope the place out. Why, you ask?
Because I’m planning on moving there next year… but that’s a story for another time.
Thanks for reading. Stay safe, healthy, and strong.