A few weeks ago, I started chronicling my long absence from this little writing exercise. (If you missed that installment, you can check it out here.)
Looking back at that rambling essay, I see that I promised to continue my story the following week and I (unsurprisingly) dropped the ball. This seems to be a bad habit of mine that I’m currently (and very actively) working on overcoming.
So, I wrote out the basics of my sabbatical and here’s where I wanted to go with that “continuation”: I was afraid to take a step I saw as “backward.”
Let me explain.
The “Call Back”
I got a Facebook message from a previous coworker of mine the week of July 4 asking me if I would ever consider coming back to Korea. I was on vacation with my BFF in Florida and I remember seeing that message and literally laughing out loud.
I said, “Can you believe this?! Of course, they’re asking me to come back. Things must really be going to shit over there. How ridiculous. I can’t go back there.”
My BFF said, “Why not? You loved it and you’re miserable now. What’s wrong with going back?”
“Because I left that job and returning to it would be taking a step back,” I said.
“How so?” he asked. “Look at me: I’ve quit and returned to jobs so many times. Hell, I’m doing it again in a few weeks! I don’t feel like I’ve failed – I feel lucky to have an opportunity that I know I enjoy.”
And that’s when I really started contemplating the move.
Coming “Home” to Korea
My love for South Korea may be unusual to some – many, in fact. For a place that made me utterly furious from time to time because of their antiquated banking system or what I saw as “strange” trash collection habits, it’s a bit of a wonder that I embraced it as much as I did.
Being in the “Americas” made me long for a previous home like I had never longed before. My family moved a lot while I was growing up and the longest I ever lived in one place was 5 years, from the time I was 3 to 8 years old. My time in Korea was the second-longest time I had lived in a single city and the longest time I lived in the same neighborhood.
Crazy, right? It’s actually blowing my mind now as I’m writing this. So. Crazy.
The truth is that I was missing Korea so very much but I had decided when I left that I would never return to live here – not as a teacher, anyway. I would never find a job that would pay me what I was being paid when I left without a masters degree (which I had no intention or interest in obtaining). I would likely not find a school that would be so flexible in the ways my school was flexible. I would not enjoy the same “say” in decisions being made simply because I would be “fresh blood.” I may not get a “good” apartment from a different employer.
The reasons to stay away from a teaching job were many and specific.
I also had no intention of returning to where I had left (specifically, the school) because, in my mind, that was like a complete failure. Why would someone go back to a job they had already left for, most likely, bigger and better things?
The “Failure” Complex
You may be thinking to yourself that this is purely ridiculous and that there are plenty of reasons why someone might leave a job only to return to it later – whether that be much later or relatively soon after originally walking away.
While I had seen plenty of examples of this in my own life via friends and family, for some reason I was not willing to see it as a viable or acceptable option for myself.
For example, my dad left a job several years ago that he had had for around a decade to for a startup of sorts doing the same kind of work. Just months after leaving the previous company, the new company folded for unforeseen circumstances. My dad went without a job for a while and then, suddenly, a position exactly like what he had left opened up at that previous company. He took the job back and has been there ever since.
I’ve also seen my BFF do this more than once in the last 6 years… He left a job to try living in Korea and then, 3 months later, turned around and went back to that same job. A few years later, he moved and the company moved him only to move him back into the same city – 6 months later – into a similar job at his request. Then, he quit a job to try living in another state and when that didn’t work out, he was offered the job he left again and eagerly took it.
I have seen this man I dearly love quit and return to jobs no less than 3 times since 2013. (P.S. What is wrong with him?!)
So if my dad could do it and my BFF could do it, why couldn’t I? Well, I just didn’t see it that way.
For me, leaving a job meant you left and never went back. I’ve managed to do this in all previous instances of my extensive moving: Not once (until now) have I returned to a city I previously lived in to live there again. I viewed jobs the same way.
Because isn’t the point that I would quit one job and move on to do something better or, potentially, just different? If I went back to Korea, in my mind, I would have failed at making enough money in the U.S. or not found a job in general or somehow gone bankrupt from running myself into the ground trying to conduct an entrepreneurial business. Nowhere in my headspace was there an inkling of returning to Korea as a positive idea. I was completely wrapped up in negativity.
And I can’t explain why that was the case…
Maybe because I figured I could never make more money than I was making when I left (pretty true, actually).
Maybe because I viewed people who “left” and “came back” as having failed in their own ways and not being able to “hack it” in the western world in a “real job.” (As if my job hasn’t been real from the moment I took it…)
Maybe because I wanted to start my own hustle and, if I was unsuccessful, returning to Korea in a lower position than I had left was the only option I assumed I would have.
Regardless, it was stupid and I was wrong.
Bottom line: I was afraid of “failing.”
If you think about it, we’re all pretty scared of failure in one way or another.
Failure on a public stage is embarrassing. People look, point, and laugh.
Failure in private makes us feel like we’re less in some way.
Failure hurts, no question and no matter how it comes about.
But the reality is that failure is the only way we learn. If I hadn’t quit my job and gone home, I would never have known how much I really don’t enjoy living in the U.S. anymore. I had a pretty good idea that I was going to really miss living abroad but I didn’t understand how that feeling would manifest itself.
If I hadn’t had that horrible job with that asshole I worked for, I would never have learned everything I did about the right way to go about social media management, how to handle clients efficiently and professionally, or how to maintain some organization in my business. I would never have fully understood the power I have to create my own business doing much of the same things.
If I hadn’t had almost a whole year without any planned major trips, I might not have fully realized how important travel is to me.
I gained so much in that year I was away and I didn’t fail… I just took a break from something I truly loved.
“Failure” isn’t always failure.
In the same way that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so failure is in the eyes of the one who perceives themselves failing. Sometimes, we feel like we’re failing but to those around us, we’re doing nothing of the sort. Not even a little bit.
I don’t think anyone around me understood why I was viewing this opportunity to reprise my role at my school as a total misstep. In fact, I think a lot of people I spoke to thought I was crazy for thinking the way I did.
Sometimes, we can’t explain why we see these things the way we do. Regardless, the next time you think you’ve failed, take a good, long look at the whole picture. Maybe you’re absorbing lessons you needed to master and simply acquiring more experience for the next big thing. Maybe you’re getting out of something unhealthy that you needed to get out of but didn’t realize it until it was over.
Maybe it revolves around a job like it did for me.
Maybe it’s a relationship.
Maybe it’s a bad habit (or a few).
Maybe it’s a health risk.
Maybe it’s pure stupidity.
Maybe, just maybe, you’re simply growing up.
Whatever your “failure” is, it probably isn’t.
Failure is an opportunity to learn. Take it, dear Reader.
What “failure” have you had that, looking back, has actually been a great opportunity to advance your career/life or has been a great learning experience? Share with me in the comments!