What to Do When You Feel Stuck in Life

In Stories, Vietnam by Nick10 Comments

This is a question I think most people ask themselves at least once.

First of all, don’t worry. I haven’t converted One-Week Notice to a self-help blog.

I won’t be reviewing Vietnam’s life coaches, converting to Buddhism or unveiling a new vagina.

But I didn’t wind up here by accident. I want to look back at what led me down this path; with any luck my experiences will help you get out of your own rut.

Today marks my one-year anniversary in this sweaty slice of paradise. I’m not even being mostly sarcastic when I call it paradise, either. Coming to Vietnam was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Let’s make a few assumptions here.

I’m going to assume that I’m not the only person in the entire world who felt immense dissatisfaction with how life turned out. Work, school, relationships, whatever; maybe you hate your life because the Redskins won’t win Super Bowl in the foreseeable future.

I’ll spare you the excessive details. Suffice it to say that I was a fevered Google search away from heading down the path to eternal Walmart servitude.

I’d been back in college for 2 months grasping at straws with a second degree AND ROTC. Going back to school for another degree just a year after graduation was silly enough; returning to my alma mater for round 2 was pure lunacy.

Expecting to get something out of ROTC, knowing full well I hate being told what to do, naturally avoid large groups of people AND think running is worse than ebola? Dumb.

But anything was better than working at Walmart.

I’d worked for and quit Walmart three times. Those knuckleheads just never seemed to learn and both parties kept coming back for more.

Goes to show their desperation when they pull up my profile and see:

  • Disrespects immediate supervisors;
  • Frequently calls out of work;
  • When he does make it to work, traffic was always “a mess” or “[redacted];”
  • Never smiles;
  • More than once told customers not to return;
  • Accused customers of being drug addicts and to take their illegal prescriptions elsewhere;
  • Liberally interprets Walmart’s dress code;
  • Conservatively interprets Walmart’s company values;
  • Grossly overestimates what constitutes as a “15-minute break;”
  • Occasionally spends hours walking around the store listening to the NFL playoffs;
  • Somehow manages to have mandatory computer training every single day;
  • Takes “air breaks” when supervisors or co-workers take “smoke breaks;”
  • Hides merchandise from Black Friday shoppers in order to keep it for himself;
  • Refers to female co-workers and supervisors as “toots” and “boo;”
  • Refers to male co-workers as “you son of a [redacted]” and “[redacted]”;

…and their first reaction is “Get this man a name tag and a box cutter STAT.”

Get Nick suited up for his third tour of duty. His methods are unorthodox, but damn it, he’s the best we’ve got. -Walmart Personnel

Time Spent at Work (1)

After two months of drifting through my new degree just like I drifted through my old one, the prospect of becoming a slave to a minimum-wage, thankless job for the rest of my life was terrifying.

The other alternative—waking up early and exercising for the Army—was just as unappealing.

What’s a guy to do?

I remember Googling some variation of “what to do when you feel stuck in life.” I can’t remember the exact search term, or even the first website I clicked on.

Whatever site it was, I remember the blog post clearly. It advocated spending a year abroad teaching English.

EDIT: Found the article. It was buried in my favorites bar from long, long ago. Big shout out to Alexander Heyne at Milk the Pigeon for accidentally changing my life.

Wow, sounds perfect! You get to:

  • Work with kids!
  • Speak in front of a large group!
  • Be respected as a professional!
  • Make boatloads of cash!
  • Spend your one day off every week taking in the sights of beautiful Chinese metropolises such as Wuhan, Xi’an, Xiamen and more late-alphabet names than you can shake a stick at. Hope you like the letters W, X, Y and Z!

“Where can I sign up!” you scream with unabashed glee.

My brief stint as an English teacher is a story for another day.

You already know I didn’t wind up in China; slightly further south, actually.

I’m really cheap, and I wanted to work somewhere with the highest salary relative to cost of living. That ruled out Korea, Japan, Thailand, and most “livable” Chinese cities. Vietnam remained.

Admittedly, talking myself into Vietnam required some doing. But do I did.

I can’t say for sure what I expected to find out here; originally my plan was to teach myself web development on the side. Or something. My exit strategy from teaching English wasn’t coherent.

Maybe I’d just wind up one of those grizzled expats wearing a sweaty, ill-fitting suit; a professional teacher, I’d go online to bitch about “fake” teachers coming to Vietnam and ruining it for the rest of us.

Or possibly I’d get named ambassador to Vietnam, and the chairman and I could smoke cigars and make jokes about the middle class and colors that aren’t red.

I’d figure that out later. Actually, I think it’s vital to mention this here…

Even if you don’t have a solid plan, it’s OK to wing it.

I often found themost success when Ithought,(Results may vary with auto repairs and pole dancing.)

Odds are your parents built you up your entire life to shelter you from failure. But many of my best recent decisions came about following some version of “Let’s see what happens.”

So many people are paralyzed by the idea of failure that action becomes impossible. Sticking with what you know—no matter how shitty your lot in life—is preferable to taking risks.

Hey slugger, wanna flirt with that girl in your fingerpainting class? Nah…

  • What if she has a boyfriend?
  • What if she pretends to have a boyfriend?
  • What if she laughs?
  • What if she’s out of my league?
  • What if I make a fool out of myself?

Want a raise? Well, yes but…

  • What if I’m not worth as much as I think?
  • What if my boss decides to replace me?
  • What if my boss starts to resent me?
  • What if my coworkers get jealous?
  • What if I suck it up and make do with what I’ve got already?

What if a ceiling fan falls on your head and kills you because you’ve been sitting in the same spot for so long, avoiding confrontation and danger?

Make no mistake, inaction is not the same as progress. Sometimes trying and failing means taking one step forward and two steps back; but often it can mean taking a giant leap forward.

Complacency is worse than failing—while you’re standing still, everyone else is moving past you.

So I wung it. Winged it. I improvised and boarded my first flight out of the country to a place I’ve never been before, where the people spoke a language I knew nothing of, and to perform a job I had no experience with.

I didn’t die or get kidnapped. My kidneys are still inside my body. A gang of neo-Nazi transsexuals didn’t attack me with crowbars when I stepped off the plane.

I’ve eaten a ton of great food, discovered coffee, driven a motorcycle without a license or a care in the world, seen monkeys for sale on the roadside, inhaled more incense, exhaust and canal fumes than I can remember, eaten baby ducks with a hunchback, drank rice liquor under a bridge with wasted fishermen and sailors, played with many dogs, and wondered why the KFC near my apartment is nicer than half the restaurants in my home town.

I can now also say—both when people ask, and to make myself feel important—that I’m a writer.

(There’s not really an easy way to say I write online in Vietnamese, so people assume I write books. There are worse reputations than “the foreign writer.”)

Next time your boss asks you for those TPS reports and you fly into a blind rage, why don’t you actually book that ticket to Nepal and become a monk like you wrote on Facebook? Why not move your work entirely online and clock in from a hammock in Hawaii? Why not sell all of your earthly possessions and start a shelter for abandoned guinea pigs in a remote region of the Andes?

Nobody can take the first step for you.

Anyone out there in the same boat I was? Anyone manage to take the first step and make a big change? How did that work out for you? Am I just full of shit? Let me know in the comments below; your opinions are appreciated.


  1. Beth q

    I especially liked your quotes. Do you think anyone could do this or only certain personalities? I knew you would do well. I think I would stress myself into a heart attack if it was me.

    1. Author

      I think anyone could do it, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with personality but rather prior commitments. A guy with a wife and three kids and all that jazz is going to have a hard time packing up and moving across the world…although people HAVE done it.

      Guy and his pregnant wife move to Bulgaria.

  2. Dominic

    Really enjoying your blog,

    Yeah, i’ve done it. I went t canada when I was 25, for two years but had to leave because my visa expired. I’ve lived in a few european countries, England, Spain and Italy.

    A have their own charm, but now i’m in a place where it’s in essence the same no matter where you go in the west, hard work, shit money and same shit different day.

    So now i’m 29 and was considering going back to university in Ireland. But then i realized i’ll be broke for 4 years, have shit weather for 4 years and i’m ony going back because I don’t know what else to do.

    So , now I’ve decided i’m going to vietnam in 12 weeks. Low cost of living, new culture, new society with new values, better pay/cost of living ratio.

    Right now, all i’m going on is s few blogs and online forums here and there, and I can’t be sure how it’ll work out.

    But worst case scenario don’t get any work teaching English, or make crap money doing it and just come back here.

    At the end of the day, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    1. Author

      Fuck it man, just go for it. There are a lot of things to love about Vietnam. You will almost certainly be able to find work, although without a degree your options will be more under the table. On paper, the government is cracking down more on fly-by-night English teachers, but in practice I haven’t seen it yet. 12 weeks, you have nothing to lose. Most of these places just want a white face to put in front of a classroom. Good luck to you, and let me know if you need any particular advice.

      1. Author

        Also stay away from cesspools like Dave’s ESL Cafe. They are nothing but bitter old men and women, hives of negativity and bullshit.

  3. Lumbergh

    er, yeeeaaahhh if you could just come back to Walmart with those TPS reports that’d be great.

    1. Author

      Triggered. We didn’t have TPS reports, but we did have our amazing Walmart cheer, which usually sounded more like a cult initiation than anything.

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