Standing at the Crossroads of “Should I or Shouldn’t I”

This is a translated version of Ko’s second essay of a series “Where Does the Courage to Take On Challenges Come From?”

Ko in 2016

A Collection of Bold Challenges

Happily Becoming a Fool

In 2016, during my senior year of college, an interesting project appeared in my department’s Facebook group. It was a hackathon where I’d team up with exchange students from France and Germany to create a simple game in three days. As someone captivated by game development through consecutive semesters of related courses, I knew I had to be part of the event. But there was one problem: I had severe English anxiety. This hesitation lasted until the application deadline.

I thought sending the application would bring relief, but instead, my worries intensified. I had nightmares about being mocked for my poor English. During the day, I debated calling the department office to cancel my application. Then I convinced myself, “Let’s just be a fool for three days. What’s the big deal?” With this mindset, I joined the program.

Handling everything in English was harder than I imagined. I didn’t understand half of what my friends said and sometimes lacked the courage to ask for clarification. But no major issues arose. No one made fun of me for struggling with English. Most importantly, I realized that being a fool wasn’t as shameful as I had feared.

Quitting a Job After Two Weeks

In the summer of 2017, after the job-hunting period, I started working on a large corporation’s new business team. The team’s culture and tasks were far from what I had envisioned. Each day of forced attendance felt like a waste of time. I began to regret not applying to a different company I had considered months earlier. It was a startup in my favorite field, but I didn’t apply because the company seemed too nascent.

I visited their website and realized I could still submit my resume and portfolio. However, I thought of my parents’ joy when they heard I got the job. None of my college friends had taken paths other than large corporations, media companies, law school, civil service exams, or graduate school. “Am I the only one straying from the norm? What if I regret leaving this company after all the hard work to get here?”

After several sleepless nights, I emailed the small company. Eventually, the startup marked the beginning of my career. Despite having only three colleagues, an uncertain future, and a low salary, I felt a sense of fulfillment from making a choice that suited me.

Lessons from Compiling My Bold Challenges

Looking back at my past through the lens of “courage” was a first for me. The experiences I gathered don’t typically come up when I introduce myself, so they felt unfamiliar. However, I realized this collection of somewhat awkward and foolish challenges might show my true self better than a resume.

Many memories came flooding back beyond the two written here. It seems I fear: 1. exposing my vulnerabilities, 2. straying from the expected path, and 3. facing uncontrollable uncertainties. Many people have likely stood at the crossroads of “Should I or shouldn’t I” for similar reasons. So, what decision makes a person courageous? What was the right choice for me?

Honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered what decision I made. Whether my 24-year-old self backed out of the program due to English anxiety or my 25-year-old self stuck with the big company, the effort I put into moving forward despite my fears would remain the same. It wasn’t the decisions themselves but the struggle between fear and courage that transformed me.

So, it’s okay if you choose to stick to the familiar path after much deliberation. Even if the result of your courage seems trivial or doesn’t meet societal standards, it’s fine. Facing your fears and making decisions without avoiding them is already brave. Even if it doesn’t lead to visible changes or significant achievements, I call the inner battle with fear and anxiety a “challenge.”