Why I Gave Up an Opportunity to Work Abroad

A few months back, I applied for a copywriting job that was based in Munich, a city that I have never even set foot in. Since I don’t speak a lick of German or have any ties there, the thought of uprooting my life for the unknown was unnerving. But I took a leap of faith because it would be a great career move and there was no similar opportunity available in Singapore. I first eyed this position when it was listed about a year ago and decided to bide my time.

The audio version of this essay.

Now that another spot opened up, I wanted to give it a shot. Within one working day, I received a response to my application. Then, I proceeded to complete several stages over the course of a few weeks: a preliminary interview with HR, a writing test, and a second interview with the hiring manager. 

Before the final interview, HR arranged another call to discuss some matters with me. I spent days fretting over how to ask for a salary higher than the one I already indicated. After some calculations and seeking advice from friends of friends who were staying in Munich, I realized that the salary I stated in my application was insufficient. In the end, I did not even broach the topic because it turned out that the entire purpose of the call was to inform me that the initial amount that I had requested surpassed the salary range that was allocated for the role. As it would be a waste of both parties’ time if we were to proceed with the interview without reaching a consensus on the salary, I had to decide if I was willing to lower my expectations in that regard. 

Since the company hired employees from all around the world, I submitted my application with the hope that they would offer to offset most of the expenses that I would incur for the relocation. Maybe I somehow qualified for an expat package and my visa, accommodation, or relocation would be covered? Or maybe the salary would be enough for me to bear the costs. When HR broke the news that the company was not able to even offer the salary that I had initially indicated, my first thought was that I would have no choice but to withdraw my application. But I was not ready to cut the cord and also wanted to gather my thoughts, so I told the HR manager that I would get back to her as soon as possible. When I went to bed that night, my mind was made up. I planned to withdraw my application because no matter how I sliced it, it just didn’t make sense to pay out of pocket indefinitely.

Sad Girl Run

My conviction wavered the next day. The more I discussed my conundrum with my peers and mentors, the more uncertain I felt about my decision to withdraw my application. Looking back, I see that I deliberately prolonged my conversations with those whom I knew would tell me to seize the opportunity. They spoke with conviction that I wished I possessed: You should move while you’re young and live your life to the fullest! The experience would be priceless! You can always earn money later! By seeking their affirmations, I set the stage for the burgeoning disappointment that I felt across the day. One friend even gave me a pep talk and tried to convince me to proceed with the application process. She was optimistic that if I got the opportunity to dazzle the bosses during the final interview, they could help me get the higher end of the salary range that the company was willing to offer. But even in the best-case scenario, the salary would still be lower than what I initially wanted, which was already insufficient.

A few hours before my call, I was all over the map and still uncertain about what to tell HR. The only thing I was sure of was that I couldn’t bring myself to withdraw my application anymore. In hopes of clearing my mind, I decided to go for a run in my neighborhood. But right before I left my home, I suddenly burst into tears. Alarmed at how miserable I was, my parents told me to continue with the application if I really wanted the job so badly. Since they would very much prefer if I did not leave their nest, I essentially emotionally blackmailed them into giving me their approval. Yet, I could not stop the tears from falling. 

Breaking down was not out of character for me; I often do so when I feel angry, helpless, or misunderstood. But this time around, crying felt different because it felt less emotionally driven and more physical in nature. I didn’t know if my gut was trying to tell me that giving up this opportunity was the wrong choice. Or maybe I was simply mourning the death of my daydream to move abroad while I was still relatively young and unencumbered. Either way, I felt ludicrous as tears rolled down my face from the start till the end of my hour-long run. I even let out huge sobs after making sure that no pedestrians were within earshot. Only after taking a shower did I pull it together and get ready for the call.

In the end, I told HR that I needed to clarify all the expenses I would have to bear before arriving at a decision. Although the costs of rent, food, and transport were still up in the air, there were other fixed expenses that I could take into consideration, such as my health insurance, visa, and taxes. After the call, HR supplied me with a tax calculator and I was able to get a better estimate of my monthly expenses and savings. Finally sure that it was not financially viable for me to take the job, I was able to make peace with my decision to withdraw my application and stay in Singapore. My family and I even celebrated with wine. The following day, I informed HR of my withdrawal without an ounce of self-doubt.

On Stressors and the Stress Cycle

A few days later, I was still reeling from the emotional rollercoaster that I had experienced when I came across the concept of crying as a way to complete our bodies’ stress response cycle. Intrigued, I decided to read Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Co-authors Drs. Amelia and Emily Nagoski explain that since stress is a neurological and physiological shift in our bodies, dealing with our stress is separate from dealing with stressors (the causes of our stress). Even after we remove ourselves from stress-activating situations or find solutions to our stressors, our bodies are still in the middle of the stress response and require physiological cues to know that we are safe from potential threats. 

And physical activity, from exercise to crying, is the single most efficient strategy for completing the stress response cycle. My sob-fest was most likely a physical manifestation of the stress cycles that I had accumulated across the month-long application process. On top of the pressure of performing well during the various assessments, there were other stressors at work too. Having to navigate apartment hunting — in a competitive housing market — and other tedious administrative processes in a foreign language also weighed heavily on my mind.

Most stress-inducing of all was having to make a decision that felt right to me, one that I would not come to regret. While I would have liked to summon the courage to strike out on my own, I was also concerned about being reckless or idealistic. And if I had to give up this job opportunity, I wanted to be secure in the knowledge that I did not pick the path of least resistance out of fear. Even though I was perplexed by my dramatic outburst, it allowed me to momentarily leave all the considerations that I had aside. After dealing with my stress and regaining my composure, I was no longer paralyzed with indecision and was able to deal with my stressor, which was to figure out what to say during the call.

This job application process was, thus, unexpectedly revelatory in so many ways. Most importantly, it forced me to identify what I truly wanted for my life. Aside from being a valuable step for my career, the opportunity held a certain escapist appeal. Moving to a city where I did not have a social network would grant me freedom and large pockets of uninterrupted time that I could devote to my craft — I imagined my stay in Munich as a writing retreat of sorts. On top of that, I had hoped that leaving Singapore would liberate me from familial and societal expectations to get married, own a home, and bear children

But I’ve also come to realize that my current goals center around making art for myself: to grow as an essayist based on my own internal assessment; to be more disciplined about processing my emotions and experiences through writing; to have a body of work that I am proud of. Since they are more likely to be achieved through the work that I create for wildchild than with the copy that I write for brands, it was ultimately not worthwhile to forsake a relatively cushy life and live paycheck to paycheck in hopes of advancing my career in copywriting.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that my options were simply between uprooting my life and sticking with the status quo. And so, I decided that my next step would be to navigate the in-between of the two extremes. To switch things up, I will have to carve out more time for writing as well as invite some freedom into my life with experiences that take me out of my comfort zone. Starting a new life abroad is the perfect fantasy but this time, I chose to work towards my goals with the one that I’ve got right in front of me.

Feature collage by Sherryl Cheong

For more articles like this, read our column about work and jobs.

Sherryl Cheong

Sharer and carer of wildchild

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