By Sunghee Tark (2015 Byron Fellow)

sunghee 2My summer before Byron was like a calm sky before a storm. I was calm on the outside, but I was nervous, insecure and vulnerable on the inside. I was about to start my last year of college and had just returned from studying abroad in Spain. Perhaps, like many other final year students, I felt lost. Everything that I had envisioned for myself seemed irrelevant and less important to my life then.

My inner voice said “if I were to follow my dream and find my ways to contribute in the field of international development, would I be really happy? How can I also achieve my dream of leading a happy life if others around me are not happy with what I do? My family will want me to come back home with a reputable title on my business card. The society will point its finger at me and say I have wasted my time abroad to not have found my place in an institution that pays well. I want to partake in the grassroots movement towards a more sustainable economic development. But, what about the expectations from my parents, family and others? They will be disappointed… I won’t be able to make them proud if I fail. My head was filled with “buts” and “howevers.” In order to cope with my doubts and fears, I kept myself busy with activities that I thought others wanted me to do and avoided personal reflection.

As a result, when I arrived at Byron, my head was full of self-doubt and fear of uncertainty. Although I was welcomed warmly by a cohort of remarkable leaders, self-criticism and self-doubt lingered by my side. This state-of-being even led me to doubt my worthiness to be part of the community of inspiring leaders.

Then, on the first day as I waited to serve myself a lunch in the cafeteria line, I shared my fear of being consumed by my self-doubt with Gabriel (co-founder of the Byron Fellowship) and how I felt that it had come from my inability to meet the expectations of my family and loved ones. He looked at my eyes and said: “Sunghee, do you really think your family won’t be happy to see you happy? I suspect they would love for you to be happy and that being happy yourself is possibly the only path that will allow you to contribute toward their happiness.”

Although it was something that I have read and heard through multiple self-help books and lectures, it did magic at Byron. During the week, I spent hours thinking about what it is that I want for myself; something that I truly want for myself and not for others. I became aware of my less than helpful thoughts and had numerous powerful conversations with myself and others. Surprisingly, I could no longer pin-point a job or a school that I was sure would make me truly happy. I realized how, all along, I was planning my future based on what kind of recognition it would bring into my life rather than the pure happiness and satisfaction within myself. Not having a plan set in stone made me feel more vulnerable than ever.

The support and love that I felt from the Byron community gave me courage to accept that it is okay to feel that way. It is okay to be vulnerable. It is even encouraged at Byron. Accepting my own vulnerability allowed me to face my life as raw as it is. As much as it sounds like a cliché, it also allowed me to realize that it is not a job title or the name of a prestigious school in my resume that will make me truly happy, but it is my mindset that will.

Writing this one year after my Byron experience, I am still the girl who wants to lead a happy life. Yet instead of “howevers and buts”, I have initiated an exciting project in Costa Rica with the potential to make direct impacts on multiple coffee farmers in improving their standard of living. Along the way, I have also received a great opportunity to continue my study at a graduate school for the degree that I longed for a while.

Nevertheless, I still feel vulnerable and have moments of self-doubt. Moreover, as far as I know, this vulnerability for the uncertain future may accompany me for the rest of my life.

However, at Byron I learnt how to ride this uncertainty wave and enjoy the process. Furthermore, what I can say with confidence is that, ever since I embraced my own vulnerability, I have become a lot closer to my vision of living a happy life and contributing positively to my surroundings.

Learn more about my project in Costa Rica, Bean Voyage “Brew Your Coffee, Cultivate Dreams”