Principles for a better life

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Principles for a better life

Who said studying was easy? Having begun a doctoral program this semester, I can say that it is truly challenging. My research capacity, memory and concentration have declined, and I don’t have time to hit the books even after minimizing socializing, hobbies and even sleep. Every day I feel under pressure from the accumulating documents to read and homework to hand in.

I stayed in through the night last week to prepare for a presentation and had a terrible headache and nausea on my way to school. “What am I studying for? Maybe I shouldn’t have started,” I couldn’t help but complain.

“Just give up,” said a little voice inside my head. “No one asked you to do this.”

Then my other self stepped in and reminded myself that I’m just complaining and am not about to give up yet.

“I did a good thing by starting the doctoral program,” I told myself as I walked through the campus to my classroom. “Whenever I’m reluctant, I should go for it.”

Everyone faces moments of reluctance in life. But what do we do about them? I have a few set principles based on my experiences with reluctance and choices. It makes it much easier to distinguish what to do and what not to do when I am not sure.

I’ll share three things I must not do and two things I must do. Firstly, when I debate whether to buy or not, I don’t buy. Secondly, when I debate whether to pack something for a trip or not, I don’t pack it. It is often something that would make things more convenient but I can do without. I can’t take everything I want to have in my suitcase on an airplane, a truck, a ship or even a camel to a faraway site for relief.

Thirdly, when I debate whether to eat something after 10 p.m., I don’t eat. I know the sweet temptation of the late-night snack. All Koreans know the luxury and privilege of ordering fried chicken or cooking instant noodles at night.

But I shake off the temptation by reminding myself of the swollen face and muffin top the next morning.

On the contrary, two things I always do when I am reluctant are traveling and taking strolls. From an overnight trip to a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood, I always go. I feel refreshed from the walk, rather than conflicted about whether I should walk or not.

Whenever I get a chance to experience nature despite my busy routine, I never fail to seize it.

Another thing I always do is learn something, from an instrument, to sports, to a foreign language. It’s challenging but fun. I enjoy the wonder of learning something I didn’t know yesterday and doing something I couldn’t do yesterday. The gradual growth comes bit by bit or all at once.

But some people ask me what I can do with all the new skills at this age. Many of them are my peers. It is regrettable that age becomes a factor. It may be too late to learn Chinese and become a professional interpreter, but we can still enjoy the process of learning a new language. Even if you quit in the middle, you have learned that much anyway.

At my church, a woman in her 80s became the oldest person to join a Korean-language school last year. She was illiterate all her life, but she made up her mind that she would not die like this.

As she learned to read, it was simply amazing for her to be able to read the signs on the street or the words in the Bible, and she regretted being reluctant to sign up for the program. Nowadays, she copies the New Testament to practice penmanship.

She said, “Many people ask me why I learned to read and write at this age, but my hard work will pay off if I can use it from now on to the next 10 years.”

Isn’t she amazing? Taking on a doctoral program in your late 50s is a wonderful thing, according to her logic. Those who are reluctant to learn something should pluck up the courage and begin now. Let’s encourage each other for a better tomorrow.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 29

*The author is a relief worker.

by Han Bi-ya

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