I work in the private English education industry in South Korea; basically, I write assessments for an after-school English program.
Last month, I went on a business trip to observe a campus and see how their staff is doing. While walking around the campus’s small library full of books like The Magic Tree House and The Chronicles of Narnia, I found myself feeling a bit sad and jealous. I turned to my coworker and said “I can’t wait to one day have a room for all my books.”
My coworker replied, “I think that’s every millennial’s dream, to just have a house.”
At twenty-five, I thought I would have a lot more figured out. A career, a nice apartment or house, enough money to travel and still live comfortably. Instead, I have a job I’m unhappy in, a studio apartment paid for by my company, and I haven’t traveled outside of Korea in over a year because I can’t afford to. I can barely afford to do anything outside of my apartment.
Everywhere I go I see advertisements for things I can’t afford, stores stocked with beautiful clothes and interesting objects I’ll never buy. On television and in movies I see people in large stunning mansions, or small cozy cottages, which are all worth more than I can fathom making at this time in my life.
I’ve decided recently that I’m moving back to the states soon. I don’t have everything I thought I’d have figured out by now, but I am determined to get there, and doing so means getting a job in the career I want. That also means taking terrifying risks for myself.
With a few years of experience in an industry most people don’t understand, a B.A. in History, and six figures of debt, I am trying to pursue my dream of working in the publishing industry, which is notoriously underpaid, yet operates almost entirely in the most expensive cities in the world.
I am scared of so many things that could come from this action. I may end up working an even worse job, never able to get into this industry I so want to be a part of. I may get a job I want, but find myself unable to make living in a city like New York or San Francisco possible with all of my debt, even with a second job. I may end up working a full-time job and a part-time job simultaneously to make it all work, and never have time to finish writing my novel, which is my biggest dream of all.
The last possibility is also how I currently view the best-case scenario unfolding.
There are so many things that could go wrong, but I’m still pursuing it for the sake of everything that could go right.
I’m pursuing it because as scared as I am of all of the bad possible outcomes, I’m more scared of what would happen if I didn’t try.
Every day I see other millennials, at work or with friends, who feel stuck in their jobs because they aren’t qualified to do anything else and can’t get themselves to take the risk of trying. They aren’t happy, they aren’t even entirely content, they just don’t know what else to do.
We were told to dream big. We are the special snowflake generation that was told that we could do anything. It’s the American dream and it’s here for us; we are all capable of changing the world. All we have to do is want it, really want it, and then go out and get it.
We grew up in a recession. We were told we had to get college degrees, so we all did; now we all have student loan payments and equally unimpressive resumes. We have been told that we should feel grateful for any job that we can get, and we do, so we are scared to find one that’s better. We are told we are entitled and lazy, and so we’re hesitant to seek employment from those who spread those sentiments.
As children, millennials were brought up to do anything, and as adults, we were punished for having this attitude. And from here, many of us don’t know what to do.
But still, I’m moving back to the states, and I’m terrified. If I don’t make it work out financially, I will have to choose something that makes me miserable, because the ramifications for missing payments on student loans are too high – did you know that student loan debt is one of very few kinds of debt that is not erased if you file for bankruptcy?
Between my fear of defaulting on my loans and causing my family undue problems, and my fear of settling for a job I feel miserable in, it’s hard to tell what to do.
I’ve often said that the only way I will regret my student loans is if I end up working a job that I hate in order to pay them off, and that’s the biggest motivator I have for leaving Korea. This world was not set up for me to have the audacity to seek a degree I was told I had to get but could not afford and also a career I’m told I am not qualified for. I don’t care. I’m scared, but I don’t care. There is no second option for me; I refuse to let the system I was pushed into beat me down into a miserable existence of doing just enough to get by.
And so I’m moving back to the states, and I’m terrified, but I need to pursue my dreams for a bit.