Tuesday, April 17, 2012

just a job

As I fill out hundreds of online job applications and tweak my resume to fit everything I can find, I'm struggling with what, to me, is a very important question.

Do I need to have a job with purpose, or will a meaningful life suffice?

I could go right back to Cincinnati and the temp agency that hired me before would take me back and find a desk for me to fill. I can join another company that doesn't so much need employees as trained typing-monkeys and use the money they give me to pay my bills while I live the dream. But the dream doesn't ever have me wondering who stole my stapler.

I've always been a huge proponent of "don't live to work - work to live!" Back when I was desperately low on cash and trying to find any possible way to pay my bills in Cinci, I would have taken nearly any job. As long as my job gave me enough money to pay my student loans, I reasoned, it didn't need to be the most fulfilling job in the world. I just wanted to make enough to go bowling when my friends did.

Now, however, I'm standing on the edge of that same cliff, wondering if automatically deposited checks are enough. My job in Korea wasn't my favorite; hagwons are all kinds of messed up and I'd much rather be teaching Macbeth than Old MacDonald. But I knew every day that what I was doing mattered, that my efforts caused noticeable changes in the lives of my students. On top of my 9-5, I was involved in so many things that made my life exciting and left me feeling full. That job gave me the freedom to eat out with my friends after church and travel to Thailand during the summer. It was pretty much a win-win.

So the issue that I'm faced with is whether I want to return to a job where I'll basically have to tune out during working hours. I want to teach again, but I want to teach in an inner city school with underserved kids who maybe wouldn't have the opportunity to go to college unless someone can help them. Is it enough to just teach in any old school? Could I live in a nice little suburb and teach polite-ish kids who are automatically on the fast track to superficial success? What if I have to go back to a temp job in a cramped office? One year from now, will I be glad I stayed in America or will I wish I'd returned to my home-away-from-home?

Granted, if I go back to Korea, I'd be teaching the same little rich kids I had before in the same affluent area I'd gotten used to. However, in Korea it was more about what I did on my evenings and weekends than how I punched a time clock. I could go back and volunteer at an orphanage again. I could work at the soup kitchen again. If I went back, I'd really like to get involved with North Korean refugees this time around.

Can I make a life here that's just as meaningful as my life there was?

When people ask me what my favorite thing about Korea was, I tell them I liked who I was there. I liked that even when I was eating ramen and watching Friends, I was on an adventure overseas. I liked that I made a concerted effort to love others in whatever tangible ways I could offer, teaching English or ladling kimchi jjigae. I like that I always knew exactly how much time I had left there, so I made sure never to waste it. I'm scared I won't be as good at that here.

So that brings me back to the question I can't figure out. If I happen to be offered a job that doesn't offer any intellectual stimulation and doesn't make the world a better place, can I still be content knowing that my only opportunity to make a difference lies in my extra-curriculars?

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