명심 해야 할 속담

So I have a job and, aside from that, I have a million other hobbies.

Korean and Japanese are my more serious hobbies (I’ll be taking TOPIK for the first time this year!)  I’m pretty bad at sitting down and studying everyday but my everyday life is inundated with those languages.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But then there are my other hobbies – knitting, origami, blogging, writing fiction, reading, teaching myself how to code, designing websites – and when I get those rare pockets of time I have outside of the job, I’m literally scurrying from one hobby to another.  And, now that I’ve decided to take the 40th TOPIK exam, I feel guilty when I’m not spending my free time studying.

On the one hand, having a goal to work towards is great, especially since I’m this busy.  On the other hand, the more I throw myself into studying Korean, the less time I have to develop my other hobbies.  Maybe it’s the new year, but I just got back into writing fiction, reading again, and practicing Japanese conversation with an awesome language partner.

I tell myself that the timesink of preparing for TOPIK is short-lived.  Sure, I can get back to my random amalgam of hobbies after I’m done with the exam, but the fact of the matter is, well, it’s impossible to do a million things and be great at all of them.  Developing advanced skills, especially if you’re teaching yourself, takes a lot of practice, which takes a lot of time.  And time is limited.

I fear, as the old aphorism goes, that I’m turning into a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

Turns out there is a Korean 속담 that captures the sentiment of Johannes factotum quite well:

열두 가지 재주 가진 놈이 저녁거리가 없다.

Literally:  “A man with twelve talents has nothing to eat for dinner.”  어설픈 재주를 여러 가지 가진 사람이 한 가지 확실한 재주를 가진 사람보다 못한다.  That is, a person who knows many things superficially is less able than a person who knows one thing thoroughly.

Sigh.  But I want to know all the things!  Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the brain capacity to be a 만물박사[萬物博士] – that’s the Korean term for a Jack of all trades.  Considering the Hanja, literally, a “Professor of a Thousand Things.”

The thing is, having multiple skills or talents doesn’t mean you’ll be the master of none.  You can most definitely be the master of some.  The trick is prioritization.  That’s where I inherently had a problem with my thinking.  I wanted to be an expert on every single thing, so I couldn’t sit down and delve deeply into the few things really cared about, including passing TOPIK.

I know I can’t be the “master” of Korean and also 79879 other things I love to do.  But I can be the master of Korean and, perhaps, two or three other things.  Like blogging.  Or writing.  I have to take a long, hard look at the rest of my hobbies and decide what I don’t mind being mediocre at (a good example is knitting – I really only know how to knit a garter stitch and barely can manage purling) so I can shine at the things that really matter to me.  But I would never give up any of my hobbies, no matter how “bad” I am at them.

After all,

Jack of all trades, master of none,
Certainly better than a master of one.

생각하게 하는 속담

How can it be spring already?!

Thinking back to where I was a year ago, I likened my existence to the equivalent of being enveloped by a horrible black fog that followed me everywhere I went and overshadowed every single thing I did.

But the way I feel these days is so different from how I felt back then that it is almost difficult to comprehend it even happened.  I’ve gone from struggling to get out of bed and barely having the energy to shower to not only working full-time on my new thesis proposal, but also wholeheartedly taking on new leadership opportunities outside the lab.

Thus far, I’ve made and (most importantly) been able to sustain many positive changes in my life.  I now write and manage social media for a new science podcast called Goggles Optional, blogged briefly for the Biophysical Society, got chosen as a program leader for the Stanford Biosciences ADVANCE Summer Institute – which I applied for in hopes of inspiring the same type of positivity in our incoming first-years – became a website editor for the Stanford Biosciences webpageand want to start a biosciences outreach seminar series in the fall.  Not to mention, I’m connecting more with my classmates and labmates and have some special new people in my life.  (Read: SOCIAL LIFE!)

I realized I needed to create a life for me outside of being in the lab and I’ve really tried to seek out opportunities that I’m interested in and will help me work toward my dream career (as a science writer/communicator!) as well as make me a more well-rounded person.

But, as I sit here and read science articles and try to focus on my new project, my labmate voiced a concern that my own brain had been nagging me about for the past several weeks.

“Archana,” she said, “I’m worried about you having time to actually do your PhD project.”

Her well-meant concern did not surprise me because, honestly, I’d have to be stupid to have not thought of that before.  The exact phrase that came to mind is this Korean proverb.

걷기도 전에 뛰려고 한다.

Literally:  “Trying to run before even walking.”  쉽고 작은 일도 못하면서 더 어렵고 큰일을 하려 한다는 뜻.  That is, intending to do something challenging while being unable to accomplish something small and easy.

I wondered, am I – as the English proverb goes – biting off more than I can chew?  I am struggling to write a new thesis proposal, which should be my first priority, but also concurrently signing up to do a hundred other things that will take up time and energy.

That is not to say that my thesis proposal and qualifying exam (which has been my major source of stress and struggle for the past year) is something “small and easy” – but, relatively speaking, it’s a hurdle that many, many people have been able to face and overcome.  I can’t tell you how many times I have agonized over why I can’t do the same.

For the first couple years I was at Stanford, that hurdle prevented me from seeking out all these extra opportunities I’m now involved in.  I was putting extracurriculars on the back burner for when I was in a “better place” with my project.  But the fact of the matter is, that was never going to happen.  Stuff is always going to be happening in the lab – there are always going to be strange results to scratch my head over, complex analyses to be done, protocols to troubleshoot.  If I wanted, I could spend 14 hours a day/7 days a week in the lab – but to a severe detriment to my mental and physical well-being.

And when I really think about it, yeah, it seems like I’m doing a lot but the time commitment for these extracurriculars doesn’t even match up to how many hours I spend (and will continue to spend) in the lab on a daily basis.  All I’m doing is giving up the hours I’d otherwise spend on tumblr or  twitter or watching Korean dramas or, sadly, studying Korean or Japanese.

As of now, it doesn’t feel like I’m sacrificing anything because I truly enjoy these new activities, just as much as I love studying languages.  This isn’t goodbye, by any means, to this blog or to my pursuit of Korean and Japanese proficiency.  It’s just an acknowledgement of other things that I find exciting and satisfying in my life.

The Goggles Optional team (February 2014)

속을 보여주는 속담

(Here’s a beautiful instrumental piece that has nothing whatsoever to do with Korean.  Enjoy!)

I remember how I was four months ago and I tell myself that progress, while frustratingly slow, is being made.  And I’m not talking about Korean.  

A couple weeks ago, I made a decision that I thought would help me get back on my feet and, while I think it is helping in some sense, I also feel myself relapsing for reasons I didn’t anticipate.  Getting though each day seems like a tremendous accomplishment. 

It’s scary to admit that I’m going through something I arrogantly thought would never happen to me.  It’s scary to admit that I need help.  It’s scary to realize that I am, first and foremost, battling with myself.  It’s going to take time to sort this all out and it’s scary to even think about how to take the first step.

The biggest thing I’ve accomplished in the past few months is accepting that I’m not okay and reaching out to people for help.  These days, I’ve become pretty open about my struggles with clinical depression and anxiety disorder.  I’m taking active steps to help myself.  As a result, I’m sleeping better, going out and talking with people more, attending talks, waking up at a reasonable hour, and not spending 16+ hours in bed as I once used to.  But I still struggle with emotions that are difficult to write about here.

Anxiety, especially, still runs rampant in my daily life.  Naturally, I wanted to erase everything that triggered fight-or-flight, panic-attack-like symptoms in me – that meant not reading academic papers, not going to talks, not getting various academic forms signed, and cutting off communication from everything related to lab work.  Even a simple text message from my labmates evoked a physical reaction from me.  On two separate occasions, I went over ten days without checking my email because I just didn’t want to see or read anything from my program or related to school.

In a sudden moment of clarity, I realized what I was doing.

손바닥으로 하늘을 가리려한다.

Literally:  “Covering the sky with the palm of my hand.”  That is, I have been trying to deny the existence of the sky, by merely covering my eyes.  In reality, the sky is always there and I’m the pretending it doesn’t because I don’t want to face it or accept it.  I am ignoring the obvious.

It’s like those emails.  Because I didn’t want to deal with them, I never checked my email and it was as if they didn’t exist.  But in reality, they were sitting neglected in my inbox, growing in number every day.  Knowing that made me feel worse.  When I finally faced my inbox, it was so much more awful than it would have been had I just checked my email regularly.

In a deeper sense, I think this proverb reveals something about my life as a whole.  Something that I’m afraid to acknowledge about myself.  But that’s a battle to be fought on another day.

I talked once about Korean triggering my anxiety through negative associations with my academic life – it still does.  It makes me sad and frustrated because I can’t listen to the Busker Busker CD my friend gifted me with without my hands shaking and feeling sick to my stomach.  I feel like all the 욕심 I had for improving my Korean competency has been sucked dry.  But!  I’m experimenting with trying different Korean media – like I started reading more webcomics instead of novels, because I realized I didn’t have as much of a negative reaction to it.  Newer Korean bands and vocalists that I listen to don’t affect me as much either.  Overall, I’ve lost appeal for Korean dramas but, then again, I tentatively started 응답하라 1994 the other day and thought it was delightful.

So… I have confidence that I can go back to loving this language.  I don’t think I can ever permanently erase it from my life; I just need to remember the things I loved about it in the first place and not let the rest of my life get in the way of something I was once passionate about.

Sigh.  Tell me I’m not the only one suffering from a quarter-life crisis?  Best wishes to all of you battling your twenties.

힘을 주는 속담

In the course of this month, I came to the sobering realization that 1) I’m unhappy and 2) I don’t know how to fix it.  My academic life took a sharp and painful turn in mid-February and things have been really up-and-down since.  Despite the infrequent posts on this blog, Korean has been a constant source of comfort, not to mention sanity, for me in the past month.  Not a single day goes by without my doing something related to Korean.

This is one of my favorite Korean proverbs, and one that I think about often these days.

하늘이 무너져도 솟아날 구멍이 있다.

Literally: “Even if the sky falls, there will be a hole from which you can escape.”  As Korean Wiki Project puts it, “There is still hope in even the most desperate of situations.”

(I suppose the English equivalent would be “Every cloud has a silver lining” but the Korean version is so much more poignant to me.  ‘Silver lining’ implies that something good comes out of every bad situation; I don’t know how true this is in reality, and certainly, I doubt anyone would start off feeling this way.  The Korean version just sounds so right to me.)

Anyway, I think about this proverb almost every single day and tell myself:  As long as I am a healthy, driven human being, I can pick myself back up from every fall.  Nothing is the end of the world.  I can start over.

I can’t say I’m 100% okay at this point, but I’m slowly learning to let go of unnecessary worries and stress.  Hopefully things will look up soon.

(P.S. I missed you all.  I promise haven’t disappeared entirely off the interwebs.  In the interim, I somehow managed to gain a few new readers, so a special warm welcome to them.)