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[Herald Interview] Mentor’s advice: Invest time, money, effort in self

Professor Kim Rando stresses discovering true potential and pursuing dreams

Kim Rando, professor of consumer studies at Seoul National University, calls himself a consumer scientist.

His current research focus is on the Chinese consumers, and he plans to publish a book on the subject next year. But Kim is better known as an author of his best-selling book, “Youth, It’s Painful.”

Due to the soaring popularity sparked by the essay collection, Kim is the most sought-after mentor among Korean college students and top-notch author in the publishing and media sectors, thanks largely to his captivating appeal to the public, specifically the younger generation. 
Kim Rando, professor and best-selling author, at his office in Seoul National University (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Kim Rando, professor and best-selling author, at his office in Seoul National University (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

Kim, in a recent interview with The Korea Herald, said he did not expect his book would bring such a huge impact.

“I’m still dazed,” he said. “I did not expect a success like this at all.”

The book’s publisher Sam & Parkers was more optimistic, projecting the sales would top 50,000 copies. Before publication, however, Kim thought the goal seemed too high.

“Even the sales of 10,000 copies would be a huge success, and my book was not fiction, nor a title in the business and management section, so it’s unlikely to sell 10,000 copies. And I thought they (publisher) were bluffing,” Kim said.

Upending all the pre-debut expectations, the book emerged as the biggest title this year since its publication in December 2010. The sales recently surpassed the 900,000 copies mark and it’s a matter of time before the book hits the 1 million milestone.

As for the unprecedented commercial success, Kim said the reason lies in the book’s strength in striking an emotional chord among Korea’s young people, many of whom struggle to find a channel to share their agonies and worries.

Unlike other tip-filled books targeting the younger generation, Kim’s book, officially dedicated to his son, does not preach at all; instead, Kim places himself in the shoes of today’s younger generation faced with a number of challenges amid growing uncertainty about their future due to the shrinking job market.

In his spare time, Kim meets up with his students frequently and tries to communicate with them. His students include those at other universities, an effort to broaden his channels with students from different background and situations.

When Kim interacts with students and listens to their worries, he maintains a stance that his primary role is not to bring in changes to them but to help them bring out answers on their own.

“It’s not right for a counselor to set a direction for other people’s life whose course is totally unknown,” Kim said.

Likewise, instead of amplifying and exaggerating his role, Kim presents himself in an honest manner in the book. At one point, he explains that there is a type of students who want to hear what they want to hear from professors concerning their future course, and when he comes across such students, he picks out the answer they really want to hear.

“I want to evoke sympathy from students and one great strategy is to be honest, and this is why I have described my experiences a lot, and the point is that I underwent the same difficulties that today’s young people are struggling with,” Kim said.

Korea’s college students confront a tough job market amid intensifying competition; however, they find it increasingly difficult to find a mentor, or anyone who is willing to offer guidance about how they get about with their life and move forward. The lack of experienced mentors is one factor that boosts Kim’s status among students, and Kim said there is a critical function that completes a true mentor.

“Mentors should be able to allow students to realize their own potential. If I quote my own book, mentors should help students have a dream and help them realize such dream,” Kim said.

Dreams, Kim said, are different from pipe dreams. Thinking about competing in a television song contest is a mere daydream; attending a music school is a step toward a dream. Unlike a fantasy, preparations and training are needed for a dream, and mentors’ job is to help turn a pipe dream into a real dream, Kim said.

The problem is that many Korean students, as in the past, are now preoccupied with state exams, as if the narrow path is the only dream available. In the book, Kim criticizes students who blindly seek to pass the extremely difficult exams that often result in a waste of years in one’s prime time.

“In the original draft, I was much more critical about those who aim to pass the state exams, but I did not tone down my criticism to sell more copies but to provide room for students who stake everything on the exams,” Kim said.

Kim’s underlying view is that a number of students start preparing for the state exams without pondering its implications.

“They jump into the course so easily, largely because other people are doing it,” he said.

Kim himself was a student who threw himself into the fiercely competitive path for government officials, judges, prosecutors and diplomats. As explained in the book, Kim attempted to pass the state exam, only to face failure, not once but three times.

Kim stressed that what’s crucial for today’s youth goes beyond the issue stemming from the fixation with the state exams. “Whether it’s state exams, business projects or preparation for landing a job, many students are wasting their precious youth, extremely precious time,” Kim said.

The troubled job market in Korea is driving many talented young people to waste away their youth, and Kim said he encourages students to build up a unique qualification. The majority of students falsely spend time hitting all the advantage points instead of focusing on a single point that can accentuate their core strengths, Kim said.

“Ducks have a balanced qualification: They can swim, walk and fly, if necessary, for a short distance. But when it comes to flying, hawks are supreme. This misconception about aptitudes results in potential hawks training for swimming, not for flying,” Kim said.

The importance of having a dream, therefore, is closely related with the ability to identify one’s true potential, and pursue what they really want to do, Kim said. Of course, discovering one’s strength is easier said than done. Kim’s advice is to experiment with it for a while.

“I practiced playing saxophone for one hour a day in 2004, dreaming of a day when I could perform on a stage. If I did not try then, playing saxophone would remain just a pipe dream, but I now know how I could go, though I haven’t given up on the dream yet,” Kim said.

A quest for one’s strength, therefore, should start as soon as possible in the forms of academic endeavor, travels, dialogues and various experiences, Kim said.

Handling competition and frontrunners constructively is equally important. “You must feel uncomfortable when you see other people excelling in certain fields. You could deal with your sense of discomfort in two ways. One is to attribute their success to their background, the other is to recognize their excellence as they are. If you recognize their strength, you get motivated,” Kim said.

Once motivated, one should begin working on a task right away, he said. Putting off a task is a typical sign of rationalization that clears a sense of discomfort. Such immediate action, however, does not mean one should expect an immediate return or instant result. In fact, Kim said, the opposite is often true.

“Kim Yu-na has everything in her early 20s, but the former President Kim Dae-jung reached a peak in his life at the age of 76. Whose life is better? I think both are great in their own way, so don’t get impatient about success,” Kim said.

To that end, Kim said he encourages today’s young people to invest time, money, and efforts in themselves.

“To be more specific, don’t invest in other things, such as luxury items or cars. Too many people waste away their time playing games and surfing the Internet. The precious time should be wholly invested in their own future,” Kim said.

By Yang Sung-jin (


<한글 기사>

[단독] 김난도 '시간 돈 노력을 투자해라'

최근 100만 부를 돌파한 “아프니까 청춘이다”의 저자 서울대학교 김난도 교수는 코리아 헤럴드와 단독 인터뷰에서 본인의 책이 인기를 얻을 것이라 상상도 못했다고 소감을 밝혔다.

김 교수는 출판사가 책이 출간되기 전 목표를 5만부로 정하였지만, 본인은 소설도 아니고 경영 서적도 아닌 자신의 책은 1만부 만 팔려도 성공이라 생각했었다고 말했다.

젊은 세대들에게 전하는 에세이로 이루어진 그의 저서는 최근 대중에게 커다란 인기를 얻으면서 한국 대학생들은 그를 가장 존경하는 멘토로 여기기도 하였다.

김 교수는 “오리는 헤엄도 치고, 걸을 수도 있고, 짧은 거리도 날 수 있다. 하지만 비행은 매가 훨씬 잘 한다. 하지만 여기에서 매에게 수영을 가르치는 것은 잘못이다” 라며 취업 전선에서 자신의 재능을 낭비하는 오늘날 젊은이들에게 조언 했다.

또한 “김연아는 모든 것을 20대에 이루었다. 김대중 대통령은 76세에 인생의 전성기를 보냈다. 모두 각자의 방식으로 훌륭한 삶을 보냈다. 성공에 대해 초조해할 필요가 없다”고 말하면서, 김 교수는 젊은이들은 스스로에게 시간, 돈, 그리고 노력을 투자하라고 당부했다.
(Herald Online)
<관련 한글기사>

김난도 서울대 교수 ‘아프니까 청춘이다’밀리언셀러 등극
김난도 서울대 교수의 ‘아프니까 청춘이다’가 밀리언셀러에 등극했다.출간 8개월만에 이뤄낸 초고속 밀리언셀러다.

출판사 쌤앤파커스(대표 박시형)는 ‘아프니까 청춘이다’가 18일 현재 97만부를 출고했으며 다음주 초 100만부를 돌파한다고 밝혔다. 

소설이나 자기계발서가 아닌 에세이로 밀리언셀러를 기록하기는 법정스님의 ‘무소유’를 제외하곤 2000년대 이후 처음이다. ‘아프니까 청춘이다’는 최근 해외7개국에 수출되는 성가를 올리기도 했다.현재까지 일본 디스커버리21 출판사를 통해 판권이 팔린 것을 비롯, 중국 대만, 태국, 네덜란드, 브라질, 이탈리아 등 7개국에 팔렸다.

‘아프니까 청춘이다’는 지난해 12월 24일 출간돼 3주만에 베스트셀러 1위에 올라 돌풍을 예고했다. 청춘의 고민을 꿰뚫는 날카로움과 위로와 격려의 진정성, 소통하고자 하는 저자의 노력이 통하면서 입소문을 타고 출간 1개월만에 10만부를 돌파했다. 

‘아프니까~’는 8개월 내내 줄곧 베스트셀러 1위를 지켰다. 신정아의 폭로 에세이와 소설가 신경숙의 ‘엄마를 부탁해’의 영어책 출간, 문재인의 ‘문재인의 운명’ 등 사회적 이슈가 등장할 때 서너 번 1위를 자리를 내놓은게 전부다. 

이번 밀리언셀러 달성에는 트위터 등 SNS 몫이 컸다. 쌤앤파커스 권정희 팀장은 “아무래도 젊은층을 대상을 한 책이고, 저자가 트위터를 직접 하다보니 SNS을 통해 책에 대한 관심이 빨리 확산된 것으로 보인다”고 성공요인을 분석했다.
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