When someone asks me what I want to do after teaching in Korea, I usually sigh and say “I don’t know”. It’s always a lie. I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do; most of us have. But the problem lies in the question itself. If the question was, “If you could choose anything in the world, what would you want to do?” we could all answer. But the real question is “What do you think you’ll do, in which is possible, socially acceptable and will make you decently happy?”. Now the answer is hard.
If I’ve come to any realization recently, it is how much pressure we seem to put on ourselves. We are all told to stay on the the same path. Finish high school, go straight to college, graduate in four years (maybe five, but never six. Oh no, you must be lazy if it took you six!) Then after college, dive into a career. This career is supposed to be one we should have for the long run, working our way up, putting off other aspirations until we can finally retire and live the good life… (All the while we should be planning to get married and have children).
I did fine up until recently, but now I’m questioning this status quo.
I am not saying that people who have roughly followed this path are wrong. I’m not saying they are unhappier. I am just saying it shouldn’t be a mold for all of us.
We are all raised with illusions of an American Dream, which at first seems positive. This American Dream is visible in our fairy tales. It’s visible in our role-models. It’s on T.V and in our school curriculum. Yet sometimes I wonder if our generation has become jaded by it.
A while back I read an article by Stephanie at Twenty-Something Travel, and one sentence stuck with me.
“The problem with the American Dream is that it’s slightly out of reach.”
There is always a bigger house, a better job, a faster car and more material possessions which are supposed to make us happy.
Why is there so much pressure to live like this? Who told us this was the best way? What if I can’t fit into the same mold? Will I be worse off?
In the last few months, all these thoughts and stressors have been lingering in the back of my head. They come out when I least want them to. They creep out of the dark of my brain and intrude into my other thoughts, like unwanted ghosts. Pests that disrupt the contentedness I have in most other aspects of my life. It can all be very stressful, and I know I’m not the only one. The fact that the term “quarter-life crisis” is frequently used and understood by twenty-somethings is a problem in itself.
The other night I was hanging with a bunch of Europeans. A Swede, a few Germans, two Lithuanians and a Colombian, to name a few. They were all students, here (Korea) for a semester or year abroad. They were also all my same age, around 24. Every conversation was so interesting. I was reminded why I love to travel: to see new places, and talk to new people. Deep inside I was so intrigued with what it must be like to live in Lithuania, but not wanting to ask any stupid questions, I held my tongue. Then my mind drifted and I wondered if I could travel there someday…hey..maybe teach English…
I saw something interesting in this whole group. They were full of life. Full of excitement. Full of motivation. The world was their oyster. They knew this was just the beginning. I asked them what they wanted to do after studying in Korea, and thoughts like ‘finishing school slowly’, ‘maybe moving to Berlin’, ‘maybe taking an internship in China’ all came into the conversations. Then they asked me what I was going to do after Korea, and I said I was going traveling for a few months, then my usual “I don’t know”.
Sometimes it feels like these problems are just in my head. An internal battle. Just confusion. Stress which comes in response to societal pressures. Other times, especially while around other like-minded people, I feel like it could be something having to do with our generation.
The world we have seen as we’ve grown up, and the world we live in now could be changing something within us. Maybe we want the twenties to be a time for something different than the usual track or maybe we’d rather it be as a time for exploration. Not of just borders, but of different jobs, different relationships, different cities. Not all of us want to just be “getting it all out of our systems” in order to be happy settling down. In essence, using that phrase just diminishes the meaning of these experiences.
Maybe the problem lies with travel, and the fact that travel compounds on itself. For some of us, the more we travel, the more we want to see. With every country I go, I become aware of a new one to visit that interests me. It really comes down to: the more I see, the less I realize I’ve seen. The more I understand, the more curious I become.
I realize my feelings above may just be due to the lifestyle I’ve been fortunate to live. I realize especially to Americans, I make up a very small demographic. Travel or not, anyone in their twenties right now may have the same questions about how they want to live their life. I also realize everyone that reads this will have a distinctly different opinion. Some will reject these ideas, some will think I’m spoiled, while others may be able to relate.
I had a well-off childhood. I am so thankful for the life my parents created for me and I’ll never take that for granted. Yet when I ask myself if I am ready to create those same things for myself, I don’t think I’m ready. One day I want a stable career, nice things, and a fortunate family, but thinking about those things now seems so far away. Sometimes, I feel bad about that. “If I could just still be twenty-two or something, I wouldn’t have to think about all this” . I feel so young, but with the pressure to be so old. The older I get, the more immature I feel.
The contradictions in my head pull and release like a tug-of-war. So many things I don’t know for sure. All these paths I have in front of me should feel inspiring. I have been trying to feel excited about ‘life after Korea’ for too many weeks now. It still feels stressful.
So, maybe you are wondering. What do I want to do? If I could chose anything, having my mind in the present, with fears, stressors, age, money, homesickness, and status quo aside…
I’d say be happy, and make enough money to travel and continue to write about it.