How to Win at Life

The other day, my co teacher finally got around to springing the “when are you going to start saving money to get married” question on me, and it ended up leading into a conversation on what one ought to do with one’s life. Based on this, other conversations, and the better part of my experience here in Korea, it seems that life here is generally perceived as a task with a very clearly defined set goal.

My two main co teachers, my principal point of contact with Korean culture.

First you need to get a good job that allows you to save enough money to afford to get married. 27 (Korean age – which is one or two years older than your ‘international age’ would be) is the age at which one is expected to have started saving, as one is 20 when one graduates high school, a university degree takes 4 years to get, and you have 2 years of compulsory military service. After several years of saving from the age of 27 onwards, one is to choose a husband/wife, of suitable practical compatibility, and soon afterwards produce children. It is essential that children are then raised and educated (studying in a private school after regular school til as late as 10pm every day) to a level that ensures that they will be able to go on and repeat the cycle themselves, so that that they’ll one day take care of you when you’re old.

For bonus points, be sure to appear to work harder (or at least longer) than everyone around you, conspicuously consume expensive items frequently in public, and for God’s sake, make sure no one ever sees you with a hair out of place!

Ok, have you made it? Let’s check. Are you old and financially established, with offspring to look after you? Congratulations, you have won at life! Why not reward yourself with a trip to the Norebang?

Apparently this is what I look like at a Norebang (literally singing room), one of Korea’s favourite pastimes.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if it actually had a defined aim?  I’ve met all sorts of people who have created a plethora of different criteria against which to judge whether or not they have won at life.

Some want to find their true love, some to hook up with as many people as possible. Some to amass wealth, some to become famous. Some to visit every country in the world, some to never leave their house if they can help it. Some to attain salvation or enlightenment, and more than a few fall in with the Korean model that I just outlined – though we may be less obvious about it back in the west.

The Dalai Lama visiting the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala, India, where I saw him in 2009.

I personally love the Dalai Lama’s conjecture that the purpose of life is to be happy.

I recently told my friend Adam Brown that he will officially have won at life once he can play a ukulele while he’s riding his unicycle.

Adam Brown, the animator on a few of my film projects, has been setting himself to master the art of unicyclery of late.

I’ve always struggled with the fact that I have no idea what I should actually be doing with my life on an almost daily basis! After a bit of thinking, I’ve managed to form some sort of guiding statement that seems to work:

Follow your enthusiasm, and light this place up everytime you find an opportunity!

Ok, that might not be the most practical statement in the world, but maybe life just shouldn’t be that practical? Maybe the trajectories of our lives are meant to be changing liquid things. Perhaps the best strategy is just to adapt, meet each moment in good faith, and see where you get swept off to! It’s certainly worked so far and taken me to some pretty goddamned interesting places!

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