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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone.

I got a call from a former student the other day who was talking about the job she is working now, and how miserable it is making her, and how she’s not sure whether it’s better to quit in a year’s time (for the sake of her resume) or now (for the sake of her boss who won’t be able to retrain someone in time for the big project that will be thrown into crisis if she quits by then).

After carefully telling her that I thought she had other options in terms of income (she has experience and skill in an area that is actually in demand, if you’re willing to work freelance now), I told her nobody can tell her what to do, but that she should stop and ask herself whether she feels she is using her time wisely.

The funny thing is that the advice I give my students is also the advice I’m trying to follow myself, most of the time. The dilemmas in life are pretty consistent, depending of course on what kind of society you’re in. And in this case, the situation we’re in is pretty much universal to anyone living in an urban center in a modern consumer-capitalist society: do I do stuff I don’t want to do, to make money? Or do I fight to find a way to do something that feels more meaningful with my brief, limited time on this Earth?

Or, the question that I posed to her when she was talking about whether or not to take the job in the first place: “What do I want to do?” It’s funny, she’d basically decided to take the job at that time, and asked me, “What do you think?” My response, “What do you want to do?” send her into paroxysms of grief, and she said, “I knew I should have called you earlier.” It turned out that of all the many people she’d asked before me, not one person actually asked her this question. There were tons of “It will be good for your resume,” or “It’s a great chance to get some work experience,” as well as dismissive comments about the Working Holiday Visa in Canada she was considering getting. But when she asked for advice, nobody bounced the ball into her court and asked her what she really wanted to do.

(I alluded to this in passing, in terms of the “(often misery-inducing) advice of… friends and families” that students so often seem to get in Korea. Seriously: sometimes it’s as if people are making a conscious effort to sabotage the happiness, life-satisfaction, and health of everyone who asks them their opinion on something.)

Anyway, that was what I urged her to do: “Think about what you want to do, and then do it.”

Good advice, I think. I’m going to try follow it myself. I hope that’s something everyone can do, just a little bit more, this year.

To being happy and productive in whatever way we want hardest, in this fine year of 2011.

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