[2017 Year in Review] Unemployed to landing the dream job
by Guest Beanie
Because This Life Is Our First
Before writing this, I read some of the wonderful published posts, and it’s deeply endearing and comforting to know I’m not alone. 2017 was not my year. I ended up watching a lot of dramas in a futile attempt to escape my life and live in someone else’s. A huge struggle for me has been “finding my calling.”
Looking over my favorite shows of the year, many of them involved a character losing their way, either by losing their job or feeling the pressure to conform to society or familial expectations. Many young Koreans use the slang term “Hell Joseon” to describe their unemployed state in a country with seemingly limited opportunity. I first learned of this in Drinking Solo where students attending a Noryangjin cram school shook their skinny fists at the injustices of the world. The show beautifully showed that a lot of their angst was self-created, and distraction that was self-inflicted. They could pass the civil service exam if they had prepared enough, or abandoned studying if they had the tenacity to follow a different goal.
The level 9 civil service exam has been mentioned so many times across various shows that it’s a constant to have a character listlessly preparing for the exam for years. Their raw, unrefined desire to survive in the world felt ubiquitous and relatable. Sometimes knowing what to do with your life isn’t easy. While saddened that these characters feel like one path can guarantee success even if they don’t CARE about the job itself, I understand. Parents readily push their children to follow the tried and true path. Why risk the chance of unemployment? Why risk the chance of living with less or uncertainty? They mean the best, but the best means safety for them.
When you are a chaebol in dramaland, safety means carrying on your family’s legacy. It often involves working as a director under a patriarch or unraveling schemes set up by jealous siblings. In Strongest Deliveryman, Oh Jin-gyu and Lee Ji-yoon refreshingly rebelled against their families’ expectations for them. Honestly, I watched little of the show other than their storyline. Yes, their romance was super cute, but their determination, especially Ji-yoon’s (yas strong female characters), to carve a path without their parents inspired me.
Jin-gyu initially self-sabotaged himself in an effort to be incomparable to his older brother. While he inherited his father’s business acumen, he realized that his talents needn’t be wasted on a family that never saw or supported his true potential. Alternatively, Ji-yoon felt oppressed by her mother’s high expectations for her. She wanted a normal life working as a preschool teacher. Small dreams are dreams too.
Of course expectations aren’t just for the rich. In Fight My Way, many characters never had the luxury to follow their dreams due to their family’s “situation.” Dong-man and Ae-ra found themselves in a rut at 30, working jobs they hated. The show depicted the dark side of knowing what you want to do in life, but facing a wall of impossibility. Dong-man and Ae-ra wanted to follow their passions but thought their age and lack of wealth and connections were holding them back. Beyond the friends-to-lovers romance, the show’s major arc of overthinking less and doing more struck a chord in me. How many times do we find ourselves doubting ourselves when that time could be spent working?
Fight My Way
Maybe the right word is not doubt but duty. Overthinking one’s duty, what one owes one’s parents, can take a toll. Such is the case for beloved Su-ji in Because This Life Is Our First, who bites her tongue and works in a sexist environment. Out of affection for her mother, she wanted to guarantee her mom’s comfort even if it meant tolerating dirtbags. But she never quite forgot her dream to become a CEO. She busted out of her comfort zone with encouragement from her mom and friends. The crude comments she faced at work even became a source of inspiration. I enjoyed Su-ji’s go-get-it attitude. Even when she was indecisive about starting the business Ji-ho suggested, even when she hated her higher-ups so much, she gave it her all.
K-dramas kept things real for me this year. They showed me the sky. Dreams don’t need to end when I wake up. Hard work and discipline can pay off. All these wonderful hardworking characters that showed the pains and joys of following a dream spur me forward. Of course dramas also made me think, laugh, and love. Through their plots I realized there isn’t one way or one reason to stick to a certain path. There is no shame in following what one’s parents expect nor is there shame in venturing on one’s own and failing. These are all aspects of life, not roles for me to fit.
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