I am a fan of Korean dramas. They are the best; the content is mostly PG, it makes Asian culture especially food look so cool, their scenery makes for a tourist haven and their gadget product placements make my dream of a smart home. They have password/pin door locks even in houses that seem not really middle class. Do they even have blackouts?! Then there’s their fashion and how they make oversized clothes look perfect. Of course, they will have the occasional plugin on why they are better than the North but they are still humble enough to make the jabs polite. For example, the couple of dramas that had a North Korean storyline had these honourable North Korean soldiers who needed help with or ended up taking down bad people in the North who took advantage of the divide. They also put it one or two mentions of the hope for reunification and a little bit about the causes of the stalemate. Basically portraying the two countries as friends who fell out but kind of want to get back together again. As you can see, I am cruising with the K-wave.
South Korea basically seems to have it all together. It is the poster child of capitalism done right with tech at the forefront. But then I came across this news feature talking about an exodus from South Korea. As pretty as it is in my precious dramas, South Korea has the highest rate of alcoholism and unrestricted work hours which is the reason behind its title of the suicide capital of the world. All that awesomeness on television is a reality that so many are trying to escape from. From the feature, it spells out that the biggest problem is the system of an extreme work ethic where the population is over-educated yet under experienced leading to a work glut. The feature follows educated and highly qualified people running to the US to pick pine cones or learning welding to go do the most menial jobs just so to live an average life without judgement. They say the pressure to be seen as successful is unbearable.
I found it so confusing that it was seen as a huge disgrace for her to aim for a job at the level that she had left off AND it was also shameful for her to lower her credentials to get a menial job. Seriously, what was she supposed to do?
The dramas do hint at these ills, especially the low birth rate and the employment rat race. In one drama, the lead was a lady in her mid-30’s who had a successful career then took some years off work to raise her child only to get divorced and have to start all over again. I found it so confusing that it was seen as a huge disgrace for her to aim for a job at the level that she had left off AND it was also shameful for her to lower her credentials to get a menial job. Seriously, what was she supposed to do? You also notice that their interview process is extremely intense. Every scene where there is a job hunt, there are rooms filled with men and women in black suits, rehearsing and panicking for the interviews like how we used to for our final exam. Then they go into the interview in threes. Seeing how panel interviews are a heady experience already, going through it with two of your competition sounds like it would drive anyone into alcoholism.
What has really got me reflecting about Koreans is the fact that your career peaks in your thirties. With the pressure to succeed most people sacrifice getting a family and generally having a social life for career success. In the clip I mentioned above, there is a doctor running his successful practice, even owning the building he works in but is shutting it all down to go pick pine cones because he wants to give his son a better life. He points out that he and his wife could only get a child in their forties now that their careers and bank accounts are ideal. My Korean dream is literally built on depression. There are a lot more clips on the real story behind the perfect Asian picture. Let me know if you want me to share any links.
Our careers last beyond 40. Heck, our peak years are in our 30s and 40s and we still add achievements well into our 50s and 60s.
The conversation on social media this week has been on changing the traumas we went through based on a Tweet thread by a guy who worked in a factory and shared how insane the conditions were. There was a divide between those who believe in the hardship and those who want to do better. As an African woman, I think we are on the right track to make it good. We can and do have it all. We can and do advocate for work-life balance. We build our credentials, businesses and industries to make it better for ourselves and those after us. Our careers last beyond 40. Heck, our peak years are in our 30s and 40s and we still add achievements well into our 50s and 60s. We are breaking glass ceilings and judgements based on a woman’s marital status or parenthood and constantly being pushed back. Of course, it’s not a perfect world, but there is recognition, mentorship, progress. We don’t have to run.
It is very easy to freak out about turning the chapter to a new decade, a new unknown. Taking stock and building my vision for the story I want to tell in the next year. What if there will never be that dream job? What if I had stuck to law? What if I had made different, even better decisions? What if I don’t know what to do next? By now I have gotten the memo that nothing is a given. I am grateful that I am still here, I can still explore, still learning, still grow and most importantly, compete with myself and myself only. Happy birthday to me.