25 Korean Years Old & My Premature Quarter-life Crisis
According to the Lunar New Year, I turned Korean age 25 over the weekend… and boy did the quarter life crisis hit hard. My newsfeed was chalk full of engagements, sonograms, toddlers, wedding photos, and anniversary posts… It probably wasn’t actually any more so than usual, but it sure did seem like it. Seeing my friends running through all of these massive life events like it’s some sort of race sometimes makes me wonder when all of these things are going to happen for me.
The truth is, at times, it really sucks not having someone to share my experiences with. I feel like maybe I’ve made the wrong move, and feel guilty for being so far away from my family. I wonder when I should join the rat race and get a job, a retirement plan, a car, and, I don’t know… maybe settle down with a boyfriend or a dog or something.
Then, I snap the hell out of it.
After a well-deserved long weekend of relaxation and running (rather, sliding) around the freezing city, I’m going in to February with renewed vision and a sense of clarity.
This Lunar New Year holiday was the first time since moving to Korea that I have not gone on a trip during a school vacation. The combination of not having plans, and being stuck in the arctic tundra that is Seoul, sent me spiraling into a bit of a funk.
To paint a picture of this funk, I spent the first evening of the break with wine, Netflix, and a huge bag of popcorn. I binge watched a show that’s entirely in Portuguese… and finished the whole first season. The massive bag of popcorn? Well, it is now half gone… so perhaps when I said I was in a “bit” of a funk, that was a bit of an understatement.
Saturday was spent attempting to adult. I did laundry, cleaned my apartment, and got rid of more clothes to my pre-backpacking purge. I spent the rest of the day and night with a couple girlfriends. I love them to death and had so much fun, but, as they’re both happily in serious relationships, my Single Sally, quarter life crisis funk got worse. I drudged through the weekend feeling cold, lonely, and tad a bit sorry for myself.
Finally, I decided that something had to give. I planned to go for a hike Monday morning, as, in my experience, the best remedy for feeling low is to get high… and in Korea, the only legal way to do that is to climb a mountain. Then my friend messaged me about going sunrise roof-topping, and I figured that’d be even better… a not so legal way to get high. Just before the crack of dawn on Monday morning, I channeled my go-to “freezing hobo” aesthetic, put on several layers, and skated through the black ice filled streets to the train station.
Jason and I met outside the subway station, looked both ways before riding the elevator to the top floor of the building, snuck up the fire escape, then, despite the cold (and my lack of gloves), I clutched the freezing rungs of the metal ladder, and climbed from the first level of the roof to the top. Hiking and roof-topping are nice de-stressors… because I’ve found that the higher I go, the smaller my problems seem. The closer I get to the edge, the clearer I see things. Slightly dangerous (and possibly illegal) activities are where I find my zen – sorry, mum.
For a good portion of our time on the roof that morning, I wasn’t taking photos or climbing things (which is totally uncharacteristic of me). Jason kept laughing and commenting that I looked like I was waiting for something. I wasn’t waiting for anything, (other than for the feeling to return to my fingers and this dreadful winter to end). I really just like being up there, and was in deep thought.
With the beginning of my Korean 25th birthday came recollections of grade school days past. When young Kirst was asked what she’d be doing at this point in her life, she always imagined that she’d have it all figured out – that she’d be settled in to a life with a handsome husband, a cool job, a house, and a couple dogs. This prediction could not be further from 24 (Korean age 25) year old Kirst’s current reality.
Ya see, I’m more single than a slice of American cheese. I have no car and no pup. In a month, I’ll be jobless for the first time in 9 years, and homeless for the first time in my life. As excited as I am for this backpacking journey, and whatever the next chapter of my life holds, I’d be lying if I said the uncertainty of it all wasn’t a bit unsettling. I guess that’s one of the most redeeming parts about the 9-5, get married, buy a house, have babies path of life... It’s comfortable and predictable… but, at this point in my life, I don’t want predictable.
I realized on that rooftop that I love this crazy, random, life. I love living on the edge of it, taking in all it has to offer, making the most of my days, and spending them the way I want to. Sure, it can get lonely… but I’d rather spend time figuring things out for myself than to spend it in bad (or wrong) company. Kid Kirst thought she’d surely be a wifey by now, but smarter, slightly older Kirst wouldn’t settle, and had dreams of seeing the world. I’m glad that I’m living a life that would make my older, wiser kid-self proud.
Pictured below: A very young, but very wise, Kirst with her priorities totally in order. Ain't nobody got time to eat cake batter like a dainty princess. Grub now... clean your face later. (Not much has changed on this front).
It’s really hard being so far away from home… but when I dove out of my comfort zone and in to life abroad, opportunities arose that I never could have imagined. I realized just how much I’m capable of, and that I can achieve whatever I’m willing to work hard for. I’m thankful that I made the decision to create my own path, and to do it alone, even though it may be uncomfortable.
The clarity I regained on that rooftop Monday morning was reinforced this afternoon in my grade five literature class. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our curriculum had us reading Aesop’s fable, “The Dog and the Wolf.” For those of you who may not be familiar, it goes like this:
There was once a Wolf who got very little to eat because the Dogs of the village were so wide awake and watchful. He was really nothing but skin and bones, and it made him very downhearted to think of it.
One night this Wolf happened to fall in with a fine fat House Dog who had wandered a little too far from home. The Wolf would gladly have eaten him then and there, but the House Dog looked strong enough to leave his marks should he try it. So the Wolf spoke very humbly to the Dog, complimenting him on his fine appearance.
“You can be as well-fed as I am if you want to,” replied the Dog. “Leave the woods; there you live miserably. Why, you have to fight hard for every bite you get. Follow my example and you will get along beautifully.”
“What must I do?” asked the Wolf.
“Hardly anything,” answered the House Dog. “Chase people who carry canes, bark at beggars, and fawn on the people of the house. In return you will get tidbits of every kind, chicken bones, choice bits of meat, sugar, cake, and much more beside, not to speak of kind words and caresses.”
The Wolf had such a beautiful vision of his coming happiness that he almost wept. But just then he noticed that the hair on the Dog’s neck was worn and the skin was chafed.
“What is that on your neck?”
“Nothing at all,” replied the Dog.
“Oh, just a trifle!”
“But please tell me.”
“Perhaps you see the mark of the collar to which my chain is fastened.”
“What! A chain!” cried the Wolf. “Don’t you go wherever you please?”
“Not always! But what’s the difference?” replied the Dog.
“All the difference in the world! I don’t care a rap for your feasts and I wouldn’t take all the tender young lambs in the world at that price.” And away ran the Wolf to the woods.
The moral of the story is that no amount of comfort, or good food, is worth as much as freedom. And so that’s where I’m at – (even though I do miss my mum’s cooking). For me, the mark of a collar would be the mark of an engagement ring on my finger. The chain would be a mortgage or car payments… and *shudder* children *shudder.* Again, these things are right for some people, but not for me. Not yet. Right now, I’m perfectly cool with loving on my kindy kids, and sending them home to their parents at the end of the day.
Truth be told, a certain level of sweetness comes with loneliness that I’ve, until now, made out to be a negative thing. If I want to get sushi for dinner for the fourth time in less than a week, I can. If I want to take an impromptu trip to Japan, it’s fine. Eat sushi there too, home girl. Having a last minute girl’s night in a city over an hour away? Cool – you don’t need permission. Wanna go sunrise roof-topping with a guy friend? Sure, why not! Bring gloves this time, ya dumby.
I can spend a day being super productive and running errands around the city, or a night in drinking cheap wine and watching an entire season of a Portuguese show on Netflix. The fact that I choose how I spend my time, makes me accountable for this time, and for my life. If it’s a bad one, I have no one to blame but myself.
I do look forward to the day that I find someone I want to share this journey with, but, for now, I am young, and I’m loving all the places this adventure is taking me on my own. There's just one more month ‘til I continue the adventure of a lifetime... and I cannot wait.