It was going so well! After eight months of teaching English in Korea, I felt that I was really getting into the rhythm of life. My daily schedule had been perfected, my routines turned firmly into habits, I had tamed the choppy waters and was sailing smooth.
Then the boss calls me into his office.
In a 20 minute conversation, my world came tumbling down. I had lost my job.
In Korea, it’s particularly scary to lose your job because, for foreign English teachers, your visa is tied to you being employed and your employer owns your apartment.
But as Roosevelt said, “a smooth sea never made a skilful sailor.” The past few months have been pretty hectic, here are the nine lessons I learned.
I learned how to organise my priorities
When you lose your job you suddenly remember your priorities. The projects, work goals, and targets that you normally stress over suddenly don’t matter anymore. You no longer see the world through the veil of work.
Instead, what you see is what you really want, and are reminded why you had that job in the first place. For me, it was so I could live in a foreign country. For others, it may be so you can look after your family, or to be able to afford a house.
Once again, I saw what it was that I wanted from life, instead of focusing on how to keep my job.
I learned more about my skill set
As you start looking for another source of income you need to take a “bigger picture” look at your skillset. For example, although I’ve spent the last 8 months teaching children the skills I’ve learned are far broader than “teaching”.
I’ve realised that my job enhanced a ton of my abilities, including:
- Public speaking
- Effective communication
- Conflict resolution
- Keeping people engaged
- Getting people to work together
Through losing my job, I can take an objective look at what I can do, and how that enables me to perform well in other roles.
Similarly, I’ve learned which of my skills are more highly valued. For example, being an effective “teacher” is (strangely) a much less sought after skill than being able to get people to work together.
I realised the power of saving
In the past, I’d wistfully looked at my friends who eat at restaurants every day, or who buy the latest electronic gadget. Now I’ve learned that saving money in liquid assets is one of the best feelings in the world.
This year I’ve managed to save enough for six months of living expenses, and having that level of peace of mind is truly a blessing.
I’ve lost my job quite a few times, and each time has been a panic of emails, stress, and sleepless nights. No longer is this a problem! Because I’d been increasing the percentage of my saving each month (through lowering my cost of living) I not only knew I could survive for two months on my final month’s wage, but even if it took half a year to find a job I’d still be sorted.
It gave me the confidence, and the freedom to look for work that I wanted to do.
I learned about my options
In our “how to escape the rat race article,” I talked about choice. When we have a job that’s “fine” we become blind to all the other things we could be doing. When I was wrapped in the safety of mediocrity it made me less keen to leap into the prosperous waters of uncertainty.
Losing my job changed that. I was forced to take stock and look at all my options.
Hell! It was even fun thinking about all the things I could do. Would I:
- Change visas and start freelance writing again?
- Start illegally private tutor under-the-radar?
- Become a substitute teacher and visit parts of Korea I’d never heard of?
- Move to a different country altogether?
- Bring the travelling I’d been planning on doing forward?
I was no longer thinking about what I was contractually obligated to do, I was thinking about all the things I wanted to do.
I learned how complacent I was
The lessons I learned about my savings and my options showed me just how lazy I was being with my goals. I thought back to all the “wants” I’d spent money on and how if I’d resisted temptation and saved the cash, I could’ve potentially used that money to make money.
Similarly, I saw how a lot of my time had been wasted on doing things that I didn’t necessarily want to do. I saw how much time I’d spent on things that didn’t push me toward my goals, or things I’d done that pushed me away from my goals.
It reminded me that the “secure job” is a myth
The reason that most of us don’t leave our 9 to 5 is because we feel secure in it. However, the job only feels secure because you don’t feel completely in control of what you’re doing. In the same way a child doesn’t worry when their parents are around, you don’t feel the need to be as responsible for your actions.
In reality, having more control over your income i.e. being self-employed, is far more secure. This is because if you need more money it’s up to you to get it. If you work for a business you could be doing a fantastic job, but be hamstrung by departments or leadership decisions that you have no control over.
That’s not to say I don’t believe in the value of working for others, but it definitely puts what having a “secure job” into perspective.
I learned how to be more frugal
Even with my adequate savings, I still felt a twinge of “all hope is lost”. In order to deal with this, I managed to become even more frugal than I previously was.
In a response to the realisation of how complacent I’d become I started looking for more cost-cutting measures, which included:
- Actually using the sauce packets we’d stockpiled for some reason
- Regulating my portion sizes more
- Finding things I wanted to sell
- Being strict about my apartments energy usage
Due to slightly panicking about possibly not having any money I began to see more ways of reducing my living expenses.
I learned to negotiate better
When you’re desperate for something you’ll give anything to have it. This is not a good negotiation tactic.
Due to having saved, and cutting down on my expenses, I could look objectively at what I had to offer and actually take my time looking for a decent deal.
Instead of having everything to lose, I actually had nothing to lose (due to the visa and apartment thing I mentioned in the introduction). This meant that I felt comfortable in asking for more than I thought I would get.
Now I didn’t get what I asked for, but I did get significantly more than I thought I would in terms of pay, perks, and hours.
I proved my abilities to myself
The most important thing I learned was how capable I am. Being put in situations that seem scary or that are difficult to deal with teaches you what you’re actually made of.
Before finding work for myself I managed to:
- Negotiate a lease for me and my girlfriend’s apartment
- Get five interviews for positions that jobs that were better than my previous one
- Turn down several offers for other jobs that didn’t fit into my overall goal
- Draft two writing projects that both publishers wanted to pursue
If that list feels like I’m bragging it’s because I am! I never thought I’d be able to do those things. It was only because I was forced to do them that I realised what I could do.
One of our biggest problems is that we don’t believe in ourselves, so very few of us push ourselves. When you’re forced to you begin to see more of what you’re capable of.
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