Among the many people I had a chance to reconnect with while in Korea was a former co-worker of mine, Mr. Lee. I know Mr. Lee from my days working for the Busan-Jinhae governments where we were both part of the Singapore, New York, and Dubai delegations. It was wonderful to have the chance to catch up with him after all these years. Like me, a lot has happened in his life and career since we last saw one another.
When I saw Mr. Lee in downtown Seoul a few weeks ago, he told me how he was now entering a second phase in his adult life. “You know, a lot of Koreans of my generation are thinking about their next life phase and there are a lot of books out there dissecting the issue. Both my children are grown and married now, my wife and I have an empty home, and we are ready to start a new chapter in our lives.” He said this with such satisfaction that I couldn’t help but feel happy for him.
When I first met Mr. Lee, I had learned that he had a strong background in international business which was fitting given that we were both working in the international business sector with some government work intermixed. These days, he told me, he is now working as an independent consultant, a decision very much driven by his plans to begin this next phase in his adult life. While I never did fully grasp what type of consulting he was doing, it was evident that he really enjoyed it.
Just before we met for our mini reunion, he had been engaged in a very fascinating meeting with clients of his at Seoul City Hall. And just like everyone I spoke to during my trip, while his consulting work did not pay well, it did bring him great satisfaction. He liked what he was doing. He felt personally rewarded by his work and this new “second phase” of his life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Mr. Lee, Jae, and Ellie’s endeavors and the happiness their work brings them. After talking with them all, I walked away with a few lessons in happiness and work satisfaction. For example, one thing all three have in common (besides the fact that they all feel they are underpaid) is flexibility in their jobs. In fact, all three have flexible work conditions, which Jae openly admitted was one of the best parts of her job. Also, all three had some aspects of creativity and freedom in their work. Jae was able to develop her own lesson plans and curriculum; Ellie created her own sewing products; and Mr. Lee essentially created his own consulting brand. I found this common element of professional freedom in all three people’s work incredibly refreshing but also very revealing when it came to feelings people have toward their jobs.
I was quite inspired by their stories. And after some reflection, I now realize that I need to make some changes in my own life so that I too could have more satisfaction in the work I do. I definitely have a lot to do in that quest and future goal of mine. But I do believe it will be worth it in the long run. My friends have certainly inspired me.