Friday, December 31, 1999

canceling the apocalypse?

[Originally published on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, at 1:17 a.m.]

Another unpleasant conversation with Stu this evening. My basic position during our meeting was: I'm outta here. Bye. After a long, stony silence at the end of a rather useless exchange, we parted on a not-very-heartfelt note of "I hope you'll reconsider" from Stu. I can tell he dislikes me as much as I dislike him. Fuming, I walked back into the R&D office and spoke a bit with my boss, who leaned hard on me to stay. (Earlier in the day, his boss, a Mr. Kim, also did his best to persuade me to stay. Persuasion involved a lot of gentle wrist-grabbing and hand-squeezing while Mr. Kim said, in Korean and in the third-person singular, "Kevin has to stay!") Stu then walked in, probably after having eavesdropped a bit, and spoke with my boss. A few minutes passed, during which I tried to concentrate on my work. My boss walked back into the office with a grim smile on his face, and he told me that Stu was now willing to offer me the salary I had originally requested, and on a three-year contract. Do I thank my boss for this change? Do I thank Stu?

I almost laughed. This turn of events wasn't entirely unexpected, but the whole thing, since this all came to a head last Thursday, has played out as some kind of bitter comedy. I had already told both Stu and my boss that I was out of the Golden Goose—and I was sincere. Now, after the last minute, came the offer I had been wanting.

Here's my theory. Stu is enough of an arrogant dickhead to be afraid that, should I leave the company, he'll end up looking bad because he's the guy who pushed me away. I think this theory is very plausible, which puts me in a difficult position. On the one hand, it would be my utmost pleasure to give Stu a massive fuck-you and reject this latest offer. On the other hand, I know that, in doing so, I'd be throwing away a secure future for what are ultimately very petty reasons. My boss, after laying out Stu's latest offer, told me that, were I to re-sign under these new conditions, I wouldn't have to deal with Stu for another three years. That wasn't exactly reassuring, but I understood the spirit in which the boss was speaking.

Over the past few days, I've assumed that I'd be leaving the Golden Goose. I had already begun imagining life after this job—taking a long vacation, for starters: hiking along South Korea's east-coast bike path from Gangneung to Busan, flying to the US and France to see friends and relatives, taking up a university position sometime early next year, and working on book projects in the meantime. Now, I've been thrown back into turmoil because I suddenly have in my grasp the deal that I had originally wanted, plus more: a three-year contract to make it binding. While my job at the Golden Goose isn't my ideal métier, I don't hate what I do, and I like my boss and coworkers. Were I to leave, I'd be losing something good (although never seeing Stu again would be a huge boon). So: what to do?

I haven't operated, over the past few days, according to a grand plan. Although I'm not very religious these days, I do tend to go through life with the basic faith that the cosmos will provide if and when I'm in need. For that reason, I never worry too deeply about my future. This might be a mistake, if we heed Aesop's tale of the grasshopper and the ants, but it's an outlook that has kept me sane for years. Sure, like everyone else, I worry about and get stressed over quotidian matters. But fundamentally, I've always had faith that things somehow work out in the end. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. My point is that I didn't actively work toward forcing the company to present me with this latest offer. I wasn't deliberately holding out or trying to play chicken. Quite the contrary: I really had been ready to walk out the door! The fact that the Golden Goose suddenly folded and coughed up an acceptable offer is more the Goose's doing than mine.

Or maybe not: as the Tao Te Ching says, "The sage accomplishes everything by doing nothing." Maybe all I had to do, to get my wish, was to be Lao Tzu's Uncarved Block, just standing there while others reacted to it. Heh. It's a cute thought, but in reality, I hadn't actively worked toward this outcome.

So, now that the company has come around to seeing things my way, through no action of my own, perhaps I'll say yes and sign on for another three years. As of tonight, that's the way I'm leaning. I'm losing a chance to fuck Stu over by making him look bad, but in the big picture that is my existence, Stu is but a poor player that struts and frets his hour across the stage.

This will be a good life. Good enough.


Surprises Aplenty said...

I think you should stay.

You know how little I know about you or your situation. My poorly informed gut feeling is that you should stay.

John Mac said...

Actually, leaving now after getting the offer you wanted would make YOU look bad and give Stu an out. You called his bluff and everyone who is anyone in the company knows that. You've also been given the ultimate compliment--the company recognizes they can't afford to lose you.

So if you are having any second thoughts it ought to be "damn, I should have asked for more!"

Kevin Kim said...


Yeah, I'm planning to accept the deal and stick around another three years.


Good point. And I really should have asked for more.

King Baeksu said...

Broke: "Meet my expected salary or I walk."

Woke: "Demand HR tell Stu to stay in his own lane and get off my jock or I walk. Also, a nicer apartment and annual bonuses in lieu of stock options along with meeting my expected salary."

These people are fucking sharks.

Kevin Kim said...


No annual bonuses, but there are end-of contract bonuses that, as you know, pay out a month's salary per year of work. I'm coming off a two-year contract at the end of August, so I'm expecting a nice, two-month chunk of pay in September or October.

A better apartment is in the works. Your buddy, my boss, is working on that as a separate thing. I give him credit for having my back.

They are sharks here. I'm beginning to think that I accidentally stumbled upon the method for negotiating for something in the context of brinkmanship. As I wrote in the above post, I really was prepared to leave. I'm guessing that that's the mindset you have to possess if you're trying to get what you want. It's a bit of a Zen paradox, that: by dropping what I wanted, I ended up getting what I wanted.

Charles said...

I agree with John that it would have made you look bad had you chosen to leave (although, had you left, I suppose it wouldn't really have mattered, as long as you didn't plan on ever going back).

But I disagree with the idea that you didn't do anything to actively work toward this outcome (and your mention of brinkmanship negotiation in your previous comment tells me that you might be aware of this as well). Whether you were truly ready to leave or just bluffing doesn't really matter in this context--taking that stand is a very active position, and it pushed the company to react.

My only concern would be that brinkmanship often leaves a bad taste in people's mouths; how toxic will your working environment become due to your actions? From what you've told us of your workplace, I'm guessing that the answer is "not that toxic." If it is just Stu being a dick, while your boss (and perhaps his bosses as well) has your back, you're probably good--at least for the next three years. If I were you, though, I would try to have some options in place at the end of those three years, because Stu probably hates your guts now and isn't going to be easy to deal with. That's me, though. I tend to be the non-confrontational type. I suppose you could always up the ante and go in with guns blazing, making it an either-me-or-Stu proposition. If Stu is the CEO's pet, though, that probably won't end well for you.

Kevin Kim said...


My boss had advised me to "stick to [my] guns" and hold fast at the salary level I had requested. I ignored that advice in favor of telling Stu that I had considered the matter and had decided to leave. After my meeting with Stu, I told my boss that that's what I had done. Stu came into our office soon after, and he and the boss had a talk, after which the boss walked out triumphantly with the news that the hagweon was now offering me my original request, plus a three-year contract to seal the deal. So all those thoughts about brinkmanship came to me quite belatedly: I really had been ready to leave, and truth be told, I still am: since I have an F-4 visa, I can give my 30-day notice at any time, per the stipulation in my contract. (Of course, that would relieve the hagweon of any obligation to pay me, say, an end-of-contract bonus.) I'm thinking that the hagweon might try some funny stuff, e.g., adding new items, with new penalties, to my next contract. I'm going to ask Stu, when I see him again, to please give me the exact same contract I have now, with only the salary and effective dates changed. We'll see how that works out.

The boss calls Stu a "bottom-line kind of guy." He says he told Stu that, "With Kevin, it's less about money and more about respect," which is a fair interpretation of my stance. Yesterday, he and Stu talked over the phone about my situation, and now that I've accepted the newest offer, the boss says he told Stu not to negotiate with me anymore. I think I have to meet with Stu one more time. It's not going to be pleasant, but at this point, that's par for the course because neither of the first two meetings with Stu was pleasant.

This will likely be my final three years at the hagweon, but never say never, right?

Kevin Kim said...

Update: Stu is off to Vietnam as of today. He told my boss that he'll talk to me on Monday.