book authors

How Kim Soo-Hyun’s ‘I Decided To Live As Me’ encourages us to advocate for ourselves

Mika Geronimo

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How Kim Soo-Hyun’s ‘I Decided To Live As Me’ encourages us to advocate for ourselves

Chynna Basillaje

South Korean essayist and illustrator Kim Soo-Hyun discusses navigating adulthood and connecting with her Filipino readers during a recent book signing session

MANILA, Philippines – Saying that adulting is tough is an understatement. One moment you’re living life on autopilot as a child, guided by the watchful eyes of your family and school. The next, you’re a fish out of water, diving headfirst into uncharted territory.

Suddenly, there’s no routine, no fixed path laid out for you to tread. From here on out, life will unfold on your terms and your terms alone. But for South Korean author Kim Soo-Hyun, this could unfold into something quite promising.

Found in translation

Kim Soo-Hyun is the South Korean author and illustrator behind best-selling self-help books I Decided To Live As Me and Being Comfortable Without Effort. Her works have sold over two million copies worldwide and have been spotted in the hands of many bookworms – including BTS’ Jungkook. 

Both titles have made their way to Filipino bookstores thanks to Apop, a homegrown publishing company that translates Korean titles “for the English-speaking market.” I Decided To Live As Me also served as Apop’s first release.

On Friday, September 15, Fully Booked held the author’s first international Q&A and book signing session where she was accompanied by her books’ translators, namely University of the Philippines Assistant Professorial Fellow Dr. Kyung Min-Bae and Senior Lecturer Ms. Ma. Kristina Carla Rico. 

BRIDGING CONNECTIONS. Ma. Kristina Carla Rico (left) and Dr. Kyung Min-Bae (right) accompany Kim Soo-Hyun (middle) as her translators for the event. Mika Geronimo/Rappler

Adarna House VP for Sales and Marketing and Apop Head Agno Almario was also in attendance, sharing that he was first introduced to I Decided To Live As Me during one of his trips to South Korea.  After multiple conversations with Kim aided by Google Translate, the rest became history.

“When it comes to reading self-help books, there isn’t really anything that is left unsaid,” Almario told Rappler. “You can pretty much get all the lessons out there.”

He found that with Western titles in particular, the lessons tend to sound more like manuals: “It’s so common in Western self-help books that [they would say] ‘Oh here are the 10 things you need to do to be a perfect person. Make sure to follow them every day or else you fail.’”

“But with her [books], it’s not [like that].” 

For Almario, what set Kim apart was her more forgiving approach to the notoriously – and ironically – demanding genre: “What really struck me the most was the way she was saying it. It’s caring, something which will, to a certain extent, soothe you. Heal you even.”

As I sat there listening to the heartfelt testimonies of Kim’s avid readers, ranging from Korean pop culture enthusiasts, to young professionals fresh from clocking off that Friday evening, to mothers who have bonded over the book with their daughters – I realized that Almario was right. I found myself in the midst of something rather special.

PHOTO-OP. Readers snap a photo with Kim Soo-Hyun at her book signing on Friday, September 15. Mika Geronimo/Rappler
The philosophy of Kim Soo-hyun

In I Decided To Live As Me, Kim Soo-Hyun provides her readers with a loose “to-do” list of items for living truthfully according to one’s self. Each item refers to one-liners of advice she later expounds on in corresponding essays. Here she recalls vivid memories like school-related anecdotes, as well as insights from interactions and texts that have left a profound impact on her. 

I Decided To Live As Me reads as the kind of book you revisit as a pick-me-up, easily selecting tidbits of wisdom when life gets you down. As any other young adult traversing the “real world” would agree, is more often than we’d like to admit. 

However, try not to be deceived by the pastel covers and quirky illustrations. Make no mistake –  Kim Soo-Hyun isn’t afraid to get real. 

“When I was writing this book, I was in my 20s and I believe everyone has a dark phase that one goes through,” she opened up to the attendees in Korean. “I was always asking myself ‘Why am I feeling so painful?’ Then I realized that I was pressuring myself that I should be like this and like that. I was really trying to be a cookie-cutter [type of person].”

Prior to the warm reception, the South Korean author wrote what would be her well-received fourth book while jobless, a predicament that aggravated what was already an ambiguous time in her life: “I failed job applications, I really felt devastated. I realized I was really boxed in my own thoughts.”

While most passages of I Decided To Live As Me come across as light and comforting, Kim does not shy away from integrating social commentary and cultural nuances in her essays and illustrations. From corrupt figures to SNS (social networking site) culture, she delivers her more serious takes with a dash of undeniable wit. This brand of honesty is not only a breath of fresh air, but can be reassuring for those of us in the trenches.

While this may be considered her claim to fame, she has joked otherwise.

“I realized my books [became] really successful when I found out that I didn’t need any sidelines anymore,” she candidly told her readers, resulting in laughter and “Sana all’s (Wish that were me’s).”

How do I live?

For Kim Soo-Hyun, it’s simple.

Perhaps what draws readers – especially young people – to Kim is how she frames the universally turbulent journey of navigating adulthood. Rather than going by society’s endless standards and expectations, this time can ultimately be seen as an opportunity for self-discovery. 

Despite being a period filled with numerous questions and doubts, the only reliable thing one can hold on to is who they are as a person. That alone can be enough.

MEET-AND-GREET. Fan interacts with Kim Soo-Hyun. Mika Geronimo/Rappler

“Some questions [about] your life can really help. And I think all of you already know the answer, [regarding] how you should live,” Kim said. “If you really have so many questions in your life, stay put, stay still, and an Eureka moment will come.”

What allows her to become a source of healing for readers is how she liberates them from the idea that there are one-and-done, extraordinary solutions to adulting-driven woes, that being a “grown-up” doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done growing up. 

You don’t have to aspire to be the best, or your most shiny and unblemished self. Rather, true merit lies in being courageous enough to advocate for yourself – imperfections and all.  

“I think I’m not [a] special person and I’m not [a] noble person,” she told her readers earnestly in English. 

“You don’t need to be a special person. I think you [just] need to be yourself. I really want you to love just who you are.” –

Mika Geronimo is a Rappler intern.

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