After retreating from my locked apartment in defeat with nothing but the clothes on my back, I slunk into my classroom for some refuge from the swirling island winds.
But before I slipped into sleep, thoughts flitted across my mental sky like shooting stars.
“You should let someone know. Maybe they can call a locksmith, or at least let you crash in the on-site dormitory for the night.”
“Do you really want to bother anyone this time of night?”
“There’s a couch right there, man. Your alarm goes off in 8 hours. Just steal some winks and figure this out tomorrow.”
“But it’s cold.”
“Turn on the heater, dummy!”
So drunken congress ended with a resolution – curl up on the classroom couch and tell the supervisors in the morning.
Curling up was a generous statement. A couch proved to be more of a half-loveseat as my legs splayed over one arm, gently nudging a rolling whiteboard out of the way.
And so I slept – a shallow, yet dream-rich sleep. Never have I remembered so many disparate dreams from a single night’s sleep.
I snuck into a dark coffee shop in Mokpo to take a nap only to hear footsteps down the stairs and see a light turned on. As a trespasser, I woke up in a cold sweat, drool pooling on my pig-themed throw pillow.
I skulked through a congested city alleyway in search of a cot to lay down on.
A trainee began sulking during a topic-based conversation session and squatted in a refrigerator in protest.
Ghosts picked up the nearby bridge and smashed it through my classroom window.
After eight hours of vivid dreams and bouts of restless tension, listening to the gurgle and roar of the classroom’s central heating, fearing discovery, 5:30 a.m. mercifully arrived.
After sleepwalking through my Friday morning workout, I informed two of the supervisors of my stubborn door.
I wore the same clothes. No one noticed. People don’t think about you 99% of the time – a fact I often forget.
My supervisors called my landlord who called a locksmith who charged my landlord, who charged me. But 30,000 won (27 USD) is a pittance for access to food, clothes, and a bed.
As I leaked details about my sleeping arrangement during office scuttlebutt, my co-workers responded with a cocktail of surprise and disappointment.
“You should have called me, Ian. I have a spare bedroom you could have used.”
“Let me know next time. I could have let you sleep in the dormitory.”
(“But hopefully there is no next time.”)
“I almost cried thinking about it.”
No less than five people expressed such sentiments.
And no conversation was more uncomfortable than when my coordinator entered my classroom.
“Why didn’t you call anyone,” she asked.
“It was late. I didn’t want to bother anyone.”
“You could have called any one of five different people and they would have put you up for the night.”
“Did you just come into my classroom to lecture me?”
“It is Jiyeon and I’s job to help you when you have problems with your apartment. I feel like we missed an opportunity.”
She paused and then continued.
“You do so much to help us. Let us help you.”
This sobering insight forced me into reflection.
I could drum up countless excuses for why I didn’t call anyone that night.
My phone was dead.
It was 9:30 at night.
It’s not a big deal.
I’m already at work. What a convenient commute!
I pride myself on enduring minor hardships.
I don’t want to bother anyone at this hour. Would you enjoy someone calling you while settling into a book in bed at 9:30?
Don’t be a burden.
The optics of being locked out of your apartment while intoxicated are terrible. Imagine the reputation and rumors.
But my coordinator’s words blew through that thin veneer of rationalization.
The truth is, I suck at asking for help.
The truth is, my narcissistic obsession with self-presentation never disappeared. It assumed a new form.
“Talk about how awesome you are” transformed into, “Always appear competent.”
Even worse, I twisted the worthwhile advice of “always be giving” into the perverted converse of “never approach people from a place of need.”
It’s not only an impractical mindset. It’s also inhuman.
We are social creatures – the most tired but essential of cliches. In some ways, denying people the opportunity to help you is a selfish act.
Helping others feels great. I always appreciate the opportunity to feel valued and of use to others. There is great comfort in knowing you have a role to fill in the interconnected web of society. It’s the bedrock that forms our reason for living.
And the sad truth is that people who lack (or ignore) this sense of connection and purpose are prime candidates for suicide.
Who am I to deny others the opportunity to help me in a time of need? Why allow self-consciousness to interfere with foundational human connection?
I recall a recent conversation with my therapist over BetterHelp. I spoke about feeling self-conscious and almost guilty about talking too much in conversation. While I still believe that great conversationalists listen to speak at a 70-30 clip, I often air on the side of caution and sometimes descend into 90-10 territory.
She suggested I reconfigure what speaking in conversation means. You’re not just talking. You’re “offering yourself.”
“Offering yourself.” What a beautiful and necessary context in which to consider our social relationships.
Brené Brown is famous for saying that vulnerability is courage and courage is “allowing yourself to be seen.”
Sometimes I feel closed up – a realization that forces me to reconsider my perspective towards being a son, a brother, a friend, and a teacher.
Seeking help in moments of need may very well be a lifelong struggle for me. But I hope my locked-door-classroom-couch-surfing experience will help me recognize and reconsider the next time I choose to skip out on opportunities for connection in the name of selfish grandiosity.
Sometimes the greatest gift we can offer is the chance for someone else to feel valuable.