If you can read through the end, I will share more about my personal experience on my thoughts on having a mind of your own.
I tried to reduce the length of the article but it is hard as I wanted to remember his story, and my story, in the many years ahead.
Brace yourself for a lengthy post.
This is gonna be a really random post (I know I’ve been very random these days) but there were some thoughts over the weekend after I watched some interview/podcast style videos with the 2nd – 2.5th gen KPOP artists.
Alright, fine. It was Nickhun’s interview with Eric Nam; a full 1-hour interview where he spoke fully in English (so comfortable for my ears). I really loved the interview as he shared the in-depth story of how he ended up in this industry when he had no talent or interest when he got scouted (I think he was 17/18 at that time) in the USA, for his looks. Anyway, it’s funny how certain opportunities just appear in life at the right timing (he was a bad student who skipped school to play badminton), where he didn’t really know what he wanted to do in life. Furthermore, his grandmother watched the Full House drama and knew that Rain was from JYP and that JYP was a big deal. Despite rejecting the Korean ‘scout’ at the Korean music festival (they initially wanted him to follow back to the hotel for an audition), he somehow left his number and they called him the next few days and asked to meet; this time, not in the hotel, but in his neighbourhood’s Starbuck store. What he thought was just a ‘chat’ turned out to be an audition where they set up lighting/filming equipment at the sidewalk of the Starbucks store. As awkward as it was, he was obedient and did whatever they asked him to: a self-introduction in whatever languages he knew (English/Korean) and he even had to sing (he randomly thought of ‘All or Nothing’ by O-town since it was the last song he heard) and dance (which was probably his greatest embarrassment his whole life).
It was a funny atypical way of entering the kpop industry and back then in 2006, kpop was not at the level it was today so he was pretty much ‘stepping into the unknown’ back in the days. He just seized the opportunity presented to him at the right timing and suddenly, he set his foot in Korea, for the first time in a country where he did not know the language nor the people.
Kpop training is known to be very tough (tougher than army I heard), and even for people who started from a young age or people with talent, they often struggle to upkeep with the 12-16 hours of hard work which was both physically and mentally draining. He had been heavily criticized for having ‘no talent‘ (And at that time, he had the thought of: ‘you guys flew me here despite seeing that I had no talent (from the audition video which he screwed up badly), so why are you criticizing me now?’; but of course these were all thoughts that had to be kept private as Korea has a high level of ‘respect to elders/seniors’ culture).
Furthermore, he was training alongside other people who dreamed and trained hard to be a K-pop star for their whole life, while he was still out there ‘discovering himself’. Competiton was real and scary plus he didn’t really have a ‘predecessor’ he could seek advice from. He was probably one of the first few (or the first) ‘foreign faces’ who made it big in K-pop back in the early days. For their debut ‘reality show’ elimination, he knew he had kind of been pre-chosen due to his looks, but that does not mean that he could slack off. It only meant that he had to work harder to prove that he is more than just his looks (but I got to admit that it was his looks that first attracted me to him). At times like this, you may think that good looks is an advantage but at times, it could be a huge burden too. Ah, the contradictions of life.
2PM debuted sometime in Sep 2008, and they became pretty much of a BIG DEAL with their iconic acrobatic dance stages. Apparently, if you wanted to ‘debut’ in 2PM, knowing and having the ability to ‘flip’ (not just cartwheels) was necessary. The more successful 2PM (and himself as an individual) became, the lesser the control he had over his life. During those busy years, he described himself as a robot, with no mind of his own, and he was simply just doing whatever the company wanted him to do. Uh. This statement kind of struck a chord in me as I’ve heard so much about how toxic the entire K-pop culture was but I guess when you hear it from the mouth of someone that you supported, the feeling makes me a little uneasy. The ‘idol’ I once chased actively (2011-13) was nothing but a character/persona scripted by the entertainment company. It makes me wonder how much were they suffering under the mask back then. Perhaps the ‘me‘ eight years ago would have been angry and probably feeling cheated by the deceit but somehow, the ‘me‘ now, having gone through the past eight years of ‘youth‘ could totally relate and seek empathy with his emotions.
And so the story goes – he reached a ‘turning point’ in his life which was the ‘burn out’ point. There was one particular concert (JYP Nation in Japan) where he felt totally empty (from the fatigue) after that performance, it came upon him that if he were to continue his crazy schedule, he was not gonna be accountable to his fans (if you don’t have the energy to pretend that you could give a 100%) and he also couldn’t be accountable to himself (for not having the energy to do his best) and.. was there more to.. life? In that year alone (I think it was 2014), he clocked more than 100 work-related flights, shuttling between Korea, Thailand, China and Japan for his activities ranging from filming, recording, dance practices, appearances, commercials and many more. It was then he gathered ‘the courage’ to speak to his company and informed them that wanted to reduce his schedule. At that point in time, he would probably have paid off his debts to the company which gave him the bargaining power, but now that I think about it, his family was pretty rich (rich enough to send him abroad for studies) and he could have ‘quitted’ on this lifestyle anytime if he wanted to. I guess there was something that made him persevere on and the politically correct ‘answer’ would be his fans (aka me). ha.
Relating to my own personal story (which I have been sharing verbally to my friends and the people I met in New Zealand), I had been in that situation 2-3 years ago where I was so stressed out with work. I had a prolonged cough which lasted a few months and it was the type where I coughed till I puke. Now that I look back, it seemed more of a stress-induced illness than a virus. 2018 had been an extremely tough year for me as something unfortunate happened in Dec 2017 and I was feeling pretty down for a long time. Furthermore, I had many pre-planned vacations in Feb and March, but my work gives no shit about my own personal plans. I had to go on my vacations ‘coughing’ and keep up with an eventful itinerary in order to secure blogging content (what were my priorities? I’m pretty sure it hadn’t been health). Furthermore, I voluntarily brought my laptop on my trips and replied to emails/ work chats, almost instantly; as if I were not on a vacation. Even for my 18-days family trip to Africa, I couldn’t relax at all.
The stress level was so bad that I even thought of canceling my vacation but the thought of all the sunk cost (air tickets, accommodation, domestic flights) made me realized that it wasn’t an option. I ended up bringing brought my laptop along with me and powered it on every night and attempt to ‘work remotely’ despite the time difference. I couldn’t let go of my work and I had the anxiety that things would screw up during my absence. Looking back, It wasn’t that my boss threatened me to continue working or I’ll get fired or something. It was kind of self-inflicted stress and my ‘vacation’ totally didn’t felt like one at all; despite all that cool experiences with the safari animals. I struggled to sleep for many nights (partly due to jetlag) and I didn’t do a great job at packing either – essentials like hair conditioner and facial wash were forgotten. Apparently, I wrote a long note (in my iPhone) on the plane ride flying to Africa and I was writing about how guilty and jittery I felt for being away from work for such a long time. The plan had been to ‘nurse’ my cough and catch up on sleep; which failed bitterly in the trip.
Despite all that negativity, I did manage to sort out my thoughts and emotions on the 12-13 hours flight back home. Perhaps it was because I was alone (I changed my flight and flew back earlier than my family) or perhaps it was a night flight and the quietness and serenity gave me space to ‘think about life’. I spent quite a while ‘looking’ at the moon from the airplane window and somehow I had a vague memory which derived a conclusion for my ‘stress’. It was that I had too much self-pressure on myself because I didn’t want to fail/screw-up anything. Moreover, as my whole life had been rather smooth sailing and I had not faced any major setbacks before, I was not ready to ‘fail’ and I hated how myself for being unprepared/uncertain in my ‘tasks’. I comforted myself (in my head) and told myself that it was okay to screw up and it was okay to ‘fail’. No one is perfect and I shouldn’t let the fear of failing become the reason I fail. Things would be better if I could learn to accept ‘failures’ as part of the ‘growing up’ process and it should be able to relieve me of the (work-induced) stress.
(Sorry for the emotional outburst. It had been a while since I last thought about this ‘turning point’ of mine and looking at my situation now – quitting my job and taking a break for real – it does seem pretty amazing how things kind of work out eventually. The only thing that is holding you back is.. yourself.)
Okay, now let me continue with the story of Nichkhun. After that burn-out scenario, he concluded that health (both mental and physical) was more important than money. Then again, I’m pretty sure by that point in time, his money stash would have already been huge. He told his company that he wanted to cut down on work (mainly individual events/appearances), spend more time on upkeeping his mental wellbeing, doing things that make him happy (or perhaps his fans happy) plus spending a lot more time with his family – something that he had not gotten the chance to do so years ago. He made it a point to have a family vacation each year (usually in USA, where he was born). To be honest, I got to admit that his popularity now is nowhere near the older days where he was fresh and young. This year marks his 12th year in the ever so competitive entertainment industry and I’m glad that he is able to ‘slow down’ and find a comfort level where you can balance both health and wealth comfortably. But of course, I don’t know for sure how he is feeling (deep inside) as social media could be nothing more than a lie (not many people post when they are feeling down). However, I would love to believe that he is in a content state of mind, with a few goals to look forward to, yet being aware not to over-exert.
There was another thing he shared about ‘achieving goals’ and reaching milestones which bring about a never-ending chain of an “and then.. what’s next?” (to infinity). Back when 2PM first debut, they had the goal of winning the daesang award (the highest level of recognition for a music artist) in 2009, in their second year of debut. Then, they set their eyes on having a concert in Tokyo Dome, to perform on a huge stage with a capacity of >50,000 and they achieved that goal in 2013. and then.. what’s next? He briefly mentioned about BTS and how they fulfilled the first 2 milestones and went on the achieve #1 on the US Billboard charts (probably the biggest in the world). What’s next for them?
The story is a little true and relatable to our daily lives, but of course, in a different context entirely. Often, we are placed in the rat race, where we are often placed in positions of ‘competition’, be it direct or indirect. We were ‘ranked’ from our results in school and as we move on to university there was the ‘bell-curve’ which placed us in positions, comparative against our batch mates. When it comes to job search and interviews, we were ranked too – and of course, only the ones on top get ‘rewarded’. Even in the workplace, the appraisal creates this ranking culture and all these strives (or perhaps stress) us to achieve greater and more. The number game also hurts when it comes to comparing salaries, bonuses, the number of houses/brands and the list goes on. There are many things in society we cannot change because it is kind of essential to sieve out the good from the bad, the best from the good, and the top from the best. The only thing we can change is ourselves, and our mindset.
In the past year (or so), I started having more and more selfish thoughts where I prioritized ‘me’, above everything else. It was uncomfortable in the beginning as I was not comfortable with the idea of rejecting people (and their requests) and that ‘together’ was always better than ‘alone’. There are days that I learn to say ‘no’ and I learn to say ‘it’s okay to go separate ways’. When dealing with relationships or anything for that matter, be aware that it is okay to ‘agree to disagree’. You don’t have to be angry with someone for not being ‘accommodating’ enough as they have their own lives and you have your own. Learn to accept the differences, learn to be independent in your opinions (which comes with the responsibility of accepting the consequences). Even if you made a mistake, failed, or regretted, there’s still time to ‘recover’, adapt, and try again. No one owes anyone a living and you should be comfortable with having a mind of your own. If your ‘mind of your own’ concludes that you feel happier being a follower, by all means, DO IT. Only ‘you’ can judge yourself. Everything else should just be ‘noise’ in your ears.
Remember, the only thing holding you back is yourself. Life is really too short for regrets.
Adding some photos in case you’re curious and not sure what Nichkhun looks like. (After all, he inspired me to write this post)
Oh and this is my favourite photo of his. I had him as my handphone wallpaper for 8 years.
Okay I’ll stop the pictures for now, before I go overboard.