This morning I signed the contract offered to me by YBM Sungbuk ECC. As I slipped the documents into the FedEx International Priority envelope, my chest swelled with a sense of completion, even though there are still many steps to take before I leave. Once the documents are received, I will be issued an E2 Visa number that I can give to the Korean embassy in San Francisco. They will take my passport, my picture, and give me approval to enter their country to work for the Sungbuk school.
Completion. Approval. I followed through on a decision I made last February, left my home, my friends, my Seattle family. I followed through. If you don’t know me well, this may not come as a shock. For those who have patiently listened to my years of dreamy, idealistic inaction, I hope you can share the pride that I feel. No, I did not go back to school to be a graphic designer, nor attend culinary school. I did not get a high-paying job in order to afford medical insurance by the time I turned 26. I did not blaze a trail across Seattle with my success and motivation.
Instead I am a survivor and opportunist. An opportunistic survivor, if you will. A lazy one. When I was laid off last October, I spent over a month idling on “funemployment”, doing art projects, creating this website, enjoying the break, running the numbers. I burned through all of my savings, freaked, and dug in my heels. By mid-November I was working two jobs, had moved out of my studio apartment and in with Alec and Jeremy, saving every penny so that I could find a place with Laura when she came back from Korea. I worked a lot, exercised more than I ever have, and was happy when I looked in the mirror, both for what I was accomplishing and for actually doing it. Desperation is certainly a driving force. Amidst the stress of change, I found my strength.
My initial decision to go to South Korea was fueled by a similar desperation. I had just left one job and been promoted at the other, but despite my love for what I was doing every day it was hardly making ends meet. I was, I am, sick of living paycheck to paycheck, worrying about money constantly. And yet… cooking is the most creative job I’ve ever had and I can honestly say that I love it. I’m good at it. It makes me feel empowered. If only what I love could empower my bank account! When Laura suggested a year in Korea to save up, I was intrigued. Her experience sounded so wonderful, and while I wasn’t ready to go with her the year before, something inside me had changed. I felt stronger, more capable. Ready for an adventure. I wasn’t running from anything, instead I was running towards what I wanted my life to be. Ultimately, the thought of waking up at thirty in the same boat scared me more than the prospect of moving overseas for a year. So I told myself I was going.
Telling yourself and actually taking the steps to make it happen are two very different things. I’m great at the former. A real pro, actually. I have self-delusion down pat. Tomorrow will be chores day. Yeah, right. This week I’m going to eat well and exercise. Sure. Uh huh. I think I’ll go to graduate school. My inner self just smiles and nods.
With Korea, I knew things had to be different. Maybe that’s why I actually followed through: I came to the decision with a list of past failures and was unwilling to accept another. I waited awhile before telling my friends. I knew it would be difficult to say I was leaving for at least a year, and I wasn’t sure I could take the shame of another “I’ve got my life figured out now; I’m going to__________!” only to later tell them with averted eyes that that plan had flopped. When I told my dad, he asked questions and I could tell he didn’t quite believe it. When I told my mom, she said in a very I know you voice, “You better follow through with this, Em.” That’s probably another reason my signed contract is in the mail. Damn it, I’d rather just floss than get the lecture from the dentist! Sometimes it sucks having people who know you so well. In the end, though, it always saves me from myself.
So the year went by, and Surprise! I procrastinated. I sent in the fingerprints for my FBI background check later than I should have. I got my sealed transcripts from University of Washington literally the day before I left Seattle. In every case the actual process was simple and straightforward; I was the only one making the process difficult.
Even more hindering was the job offer I received a month before leaving Seattle. The restaurant I was laid off from wanted me back, at a high salary and with benefits. It was tempting, being able to stay in Seattle and make over twice as much as I currently was. I could still save. I could buy a car. I could continue dating that tall, handsome redhead I’d met a year before. I could see my friends daily. But when I was really honest with myself, I knew it wasn’t the right decision. And luckily, I made that choice before the offer fell apart. (Long story short, they wanted to hire me back to save the business. When I tried to have them put the offer on paper, they said they had found buyers. As far as I know, the business is now closed and still for sale.)
So, onward! I got my paperwork in order, confirmed the date I would leave Seattle, and gave notice to my job and my landlord. Once you make those moves, it all gets real. And now, a month later, I’m sitting at Cole Coffee in Rockridge, right on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, celebrating with myself the fact that my contract is in the mail. I have my laptop on an outside table, am drinking a cup of fresh-brewed Sumatra, and reveling in the familiar smell of rain in the air. Mentally patting myself on the back for completing something, and telling myself Life is what you make it.
I’m definitely starting to believe it.