Graduate school makes me sigh so hard my chest hurts. It’s crushing to realize I’m starting my third year when academically, socially, financially, medically – basically in all aspects of my life, things haven’t improved or progressed in the slightest. I feel myself unraveling.
What’s worse is that Korean, which used to be an anchor of sanity for me, is turning into a type of anxiety trigger. It used to be the thing I could turn to when my day wasn’t going well or when I was feeling stressed out. In that way, I inextricably linked a cherished passion with my lackluster academic life. Now my Korean immersion actually induces stress because I’m beginning to associate Korean with all the negative emotions I have for grad school.
I’m finally taking a small vacation, and during the past weeks I’ve mostly avoided studying Korean. Thankfully, I think it’s so prominent among my interests that it’ll be impossible for me to cut it out of my life entirely. And of course, I have a lot of pleasant memories of Korean, which are collectively more potent than the grad-school-induced negativity I’ve come to associate with it. My language partner, for one, is the main reason why I still have a smattering of Korean in my daily life.
A while back, I was talking to my language partner (who is also many years my 선배) about all these worries – basically how my research was falling apart, how I’m doubting my abilities as a scientist, how I’m nearly a year behind my peers, she comforted me with this four-character idiom: 대기만성 [大器晩成].
Looking at the Hanja, we have:
- 大 [큰 대]: big
- 器 [그릇 기]: ability, capability, caliber
- 晩 [저물 만]: night; late
- 成 [이룰 성]: accomplish
큰 그릇을 만드는 데는 시간이 오래 걸린다는 뜻으로, 크게 될 사람은 늦게 이루어짐을 이르는 말. In English, the meaning amounts to: Great talents are slow to develop.
Regardless of the encouragements we may get from others, we’re all experts at doubting ourselves and thinking we’re not good enough for something. But just because something is a struggle doesn’t mean you lack the talent or ability to do it. It’s difficult, but I’m trying not to feel bad about how slowly my research is going and how many setbacks I’ve had compared to my peers. It may take considerably more time, but hopefully my efforts will pay off and there will come a day my abilities will shine.