During your current trip to the USA to give a series of speeches in New York, D.C., Tennessee and California, you were delightfully blindsided by a job offer that would pay you more than three times as much as you are now making in South Korea.
A few years ago, after a health scare, you began reflecting on your life and decided that you would only do the things that you wanted to do. People who try to pressure you to do things you don’t want to do have a 100% chance of failing. As you tell such people: "I don’t have to eat everything put on my plate.”
People who give advice you reject are told: "I promise, I won’t stop you from taking your own advice.” You value every moment that you are alive, and will enjoy the rest of your life on your own terms.
For more than two years, you have been focused on helping North Korean refugees, typically using your own funds. You are lucky that Freedom Factory and the Atlas Network both came through with support last year, but the support was more honorary than monetary.
When you received that generous job offer, you had another moment to reflect on the things you do. You could return to America, make much more money than you are making now, helping as a donor rather than a busy-bee and organizer. You love the organizations that you are associated with, but the reality is that you are a one-man think tank with a desk at a start-up think tank. You raise the money to pay your own salary; you are your own editor; you do all of your own media; you are your own supervisor and employee; you go out of your way to praise the many volunteers who have joined up with you, knowing that you rely on them more than they could ever know.
You realized that the job you were being offered would give you the opportunity to have an organization support you fully. Your main task would be to become a talking head on TV, debating and discussing issues of the day. It would be more glamorous than the things you are doing now. As you often tell friends: "Being alive is the only thing more important than being on TV.” Instead of helping feature North Korean refugees and to provide them with assistance to help them find their own paths in this world, you would be featured, groomed to become a talking head. You would have an entire media team, production team, editors, probably a full-time assistant, and other (research, financial, structural) support.
The job offer that you received would pay you enough that you could easily do some of the activities you are engaged in, but do them first class with colleagues tasked with supporting you rather than what you are doing now in relying on donations, minimal financial support, and the many volunteers who have come into your life in the last few years. When you say that you are engaged in NK activism because you want to do it, you mean that. It is out of joy. You have turned down other great job opportunities. When people ask why you are doing it, why do you spend so much time helping North Korean refugees, you usually answer, "Because it should be done. And when I think something should be done, I either do it or find someone else to get it done.”
The ``interview” you suddenly had was certainly unconventional ― you were interviewing and examining them more than they were interviewing you. Job applicants are usually passive, trying not to trip up to eliminate themselves. Not in your case. You wanted to make sure it would be a good fit for you, and for them ― in that order of importance. Yes, they are the ones with the money and the job, but it is about your life and how you are going to live it.
Before the unexpected interview was over, you turned down the job offer. You will probably be more reckless and active when you return to South Korea. Next month, you will be starting your second year with Atlas and Freedom Factory, with the challenge again of raising your own salary and getting things done with people who happen to come into your life and answer your call for help. You will know that you could have returned to America, coasting as a TV political talking head, but you are at peace with that decision now and sure you will be fine with it a year from now when your latest one-year contract will be up.
The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Co-director of the Teach North Korean Refugees Project--monthly English Matching session|
|International Adviser to the Mulmangcho School (for adolescent North Korean refugees)|
|Speaker at "Road to Life" rally during 2013 North Korean Freedom Awareness Week|
|with my co-director Lee Eunkoo at a workshop on North Korean refugee issues.|
|Moderating a session with Shin Dong-hyuk and Blaine Harden of Escape from Camp 14.|