Neon crucifix

A different kind of salvation.

Many moons ago, I worked at an abattoir. Now this abattoir wasn’t your run-of-the-mill mass-murderer of bovine halfwits, but rather a harvester of human souls. Its name was Barclays Bank. During my time in the slaughterhouse, I was responsible for an array of menial tasks more befitting a robot, and soon concluded that I’d been sold a dud when I jumped gleefully aboard the university bandwagon. “Dream Big. Achieve Little,” New Labour’s slogan for educational reform may well have read. I suspect the government of yesteryear might not agree, but it’s infinitely more catchy than “We wanted to blot out an unprecedented number of young unemployed and leave the Tories to deal with the fallout.” As the machine churned me out into the world of graduate employment, I was left to clutch at straws in a world that seemed so cruelly bereft of opportunity, coming to the brutal realisation that from then on, one day must necessarily blend seamlessly into the next, as must the months and years. I was treading water.

1. (Cliché alert!) The first step is admission

One can tread water only for so long before drowning becomes inevitable. Days turn to night, and night back to day. Over and over, ever onward. With each day that grinds painfully by, you’re left to mourn the death of yet another small fragment of your soul…

It demands a certain strength of character to admit that what you’re doing has only the remotest sense of purpose; but admit it you must, for failure to do so risks “total soul death.” As modern science has little offer on the topic of the human soul, I’m content to cite the following as fact until proven otherwise: The process of “total soul death” is irreversible, and, once reached, a person becomes, for all intents and purposes, a modern-day zombie, if you will; the lights are on but nobody’s home.

Now forget the horror flicks you grew up on, real zombies are a far more sinister ordeal than your young mind could ever have imagined. They don’t feast on the flesh of humans, the overwhelming majority can walk perfectly well and have their body odour in check, and they almost never moan. It is the latter that ought to concern you most. For if subjection to the most pointless of existences cannot coax out the meekest of grumbles, then quite frankly nothing will. Observe the undead and you’ll note that they have adopted a state of blissful ignorance and happily endure their “living coma,” embracing the boredom until someone bashes into the ground above them a slab of granite adorning their name. Flowers will later be left on the grave, going through an almost identical process of dying the most pointless of deaths in the most hauntingly poetic yet fitting of tributes. Need I remind you that you’re better than that?

2. Keep Moving

Pop-culture has much to teach us here. The work of Danny Boyle et al as taught us that the surest way to succumb to the zombie horde is to stay put. Armed with that knowledge, it’s time to formulate a plan, however rough. Way back when, my “plan” (term used incredibly loosely) consisted of escaping to the Far East, where I have remained to this day. Coming from banking, the world of TEFLing was, at first, a breath of fresh air. The days were shorter, my charge far more tolerable, and I was immersed in a vibrant expat culture for the very first time. I took a great sense of pride in my work and became frightfully close to actually caring. Two-and-a-half years on and I find myself in those all-too-familiar, rather uncomfortable shoes once more. I’m still in Asia, I’m still “teaching,” but the curse of sameness has taken hold again. I’ve had to learn to live with friends moving in and out like the ebb and flow of the tides, and I’ve seen right to the rotten core of the Korean private education system and realised that one can take no pride from whence there is none to be had. Life has lost its sense of adventure and once more grown stale. Such is the “gift” of hindsight, I realise the error of my ways: Staying put too long is to invite in apathy. When the grass always seems greener, it’s time to vault the fence. In other words, when your environment isn’t right, don’t allow it to become part of the fabric of life. Seek pastures new, be this by moving to the other end of the earth or simply taking a more fulfilling role nearby.

3. Plot Your Escape

We don’t all have the luxury of mobility or sideways steps. We can’t all pack up and disappear in an instant. If that sounds like you, it’s time grab a spoon and start digging, Tim Robbins style… Metaphorically of course. It’s a rare thing to become truly trapped; sure, your hands may be tied for the foreseeable future, you just have to see past that. In November 2014, armed with backpack and camera, I’ll be calling no place home for a while. Knowing THIS is exactly what gets me through the day and gives me the key to salvation: The light at the end of the tunnel. It has given purpose to what time I have left in Korea; putting money aside to be better able to chase my dreams. It’s all about perspective; and yours can be changed by simply choosing your future.

 4. Count your Blessings

You’ll find beauty in even the darkest corners of the earth if you care to look closely enough. I’d hazard a guess that you’re taking for granted what’s already on your doorstep; I know I’ve certainly been guilty of this for a time. I’d hardly scratched the surface of the embarrassment of natural riches surrounding my hometown in northeast England. A recent trip home had me falling head over heels for a region I’d perhaps never really connected with prior to that, all because I cared to open my eyes. I’ve returned to Korea reinvigorated and, spurred on by a sense of finality (this year will be my last here), find myself more determined than ever to discover what more my adoptive nation has to offer.

5. Don’t Allow yourself the Luxury of Time

The age old “Time vs. Money” debate rages on unanswered, and whilst my lifestyle choices might to some seem admirably time-centric or less monetarily ambitious, I must concede that I believe there to be no such thing as too much of the green stuff. The same cannot be said of time. Granted, we are not long in this world, and I’d always hold time in higher regard than its greedy nemesis – allow yourself the “luxury” of too much time, however, and you’ll likely waste it as easily as you would too much money. Keep busy and you’ll find a greater appreciation for what few minutes you have spare. Let me state explicitly here, though, that I’m not an advocate of taking on more “work.” Instead, dedicate more time to a passion. Allow yourself to take pride in it and have it shape who you are. My writing and photography keep me in constant competition with the clock, and while there are times my growing workload has me considering the merits of boiling my head, I no longer have time to sit and stew, reflecting on the monotony of my current predicament.