Chasing Dreams is a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
I’m typing this as I look out of my window, watching the community cat lying down on a patch of grass, admiring the 7.20am sunrise (or at least I’m imagining that he is). It’s National Day today and I’m on leave; one of the rare days where I don’t have to be at work before the sun rises, and it’s a welcome and much-needed break from the pace and intensity of the past few months.
I’m an anti-workaholic
I’ve been working in a hospital for the past 3+ months, and that hospital is known among doctors as being the place for high-flying, passionate & dedicated workaholics who wish to climb to the very top of the career ladder and excel in their field. I consider myself an outsider of sorts, as I’m posted here for only 4 months (with half a month remaining), and in those short months, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned towards such a work culture but ever more confident of my decision to flee the rat race.
As someone who is fiercely protective over personal time and maintaining a healthy work-life balance (despite the rigours and insane hours of Housemanship, which I’m writing about in my year-long House Elf series), I do not wish to partake in such a work culture for a prolonged period of time for multiple reasons:
- It doesn’t align with my values and life priorities. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been judged for saying I don’t wish to undertake postgraduate training and just want to enjoy a calmer pace of life after Housemanship. To most doctors in this hospital, they aspire to excel, and while I respect their choices and drive, it’s just not my cup of tea.
- The unspoken expectations and others projecting their values/priorities onto you. I feel this especially acutely as I’m a junior/at the bottom of the food chain here, and it’s naturally assumed that doctors don’t make plans after work because ‘work never ends’ (as one senior doctor told me).
- The loss of individuality and personal identity. If you spend too many hours a day working, the opportunity cost is a life outside of work, and you’ll inevitably end up making your work a significant part of your personal identity. But I can’t imagine introducing myself as just a doctor. I want to be known for my hobbies/interests and the life I lead outside of work, because all of us are worthy and deserve better than being just another worker bee.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a beauty in living life simply instead of mindlessly chasing the ‘successes’ that other people are chasing or hankering for things that you can’t take with you when you die. I absolutely cannot relate to those who spend a ridiculous number of hours working, or spend their time outside work thinking about work, but maybe they’re just really passionate…well, more power to them, but that lifestyle would be a pure nightmare for me.
on Cһіոа’s ‘lying flat/躺平’ movement
I recently came across the phrase ‘lying flat’, or ‘tang ping/躺平’ in Chinese on the Simple Living subreddit, and it felt like I had finally found my tribe. Quoting this article, it’s a ‘phenomenon among young people who, instead of striving for higher pay and social status in life, choose to simply lie down and give the bare minimum.’
I know I haven’t been exactly living the simplest life, and have ?wasted? over half my short life in this stupid rat race, gunning for med school foolishly since I was 13 and an over-idealistic tween. If I had a time machine, I would slap my younger self until she came to her sense and didn’t pick this path. I have a fancy degree that cost $125k, and a 5-year/$525k+ slave bond (pls donate some money to set me free…), so it’s hard for me to truly lie flat at this present moment, but I’m envisioning a future where I have no major obligations and can just focus on enjoying the feeling of being alive.
The lifestyle was beautifully described by one Chinese youth as “allowing me to listen to my heart more and enrich my inner being. Now, I live to experience the essence of life.” Just like her, I have abandoned all ambitions of career progression, wealth, settling down, or achieving the worldly definition of success; I just wish to lead an unobtrusive life, helping people in my own small way, and just focusing on freedom and personal wellness.
I acknowledge that this lifestyle is not for everyone, and not everyone can have the privilege of saying they want to drop all responsibilities and just lead a peaceful life. Some have children to care for, elderly parents to support, or financial obligations that are insurmountable, but I’ve chosen to be single, child-free and have no plans to undertake any major financial responsibilities at the moment, so I have the luxury of being able to plan for a future of living simply/within my means and enjoying the gift of being alive to the fullest.
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a byproduct of the Asian rat-race, or if I truly have some greater purpose that I’m meant to endlessly run towards. Either way, I’m just so tired and burnt out from years in this Singaporean rat race, but I’ll keep on running at my own slow pace until I find some alternative life path that I feel called to pursue.
I’ve decided that the greatest form of happiness and biggest blessing in life is just being able to accept your current place in life and be contented, so that’s what I’ll be.
finding simple happiness & being contented
Time is a finite resource, and it would be arrogant to assume we’ll live until ‘retirement age’ or have good health until we reach that hallowed milestone where we can finally enjoy life. It’s better to set an unassuming, unambitious goal in life that you’re at peace with, rather than aim ridiculously high and spend your life chasing after some lofty notion of ‘success’, ‘happiness’, or ‘having made it at long last’. Because circumstances change, life priorities might change, your health might take a turn for the worse; if you peg your identity, self-worth and happiness to material things, what happens if you lose it all?
I know it’s easier said than done, and I too am all too guilty of feeling discontent and greedy at times. I need to detox and recalibrate my relationship with money/materialism, having spent all my years in med school dreaming of a life with a 5-figure salary once I’m in my thirties. While such a salary may no longer be possible once I make certain conscious changes to my life/work (such as working shorter, more humane hours instead of 80-100 hours a week), the tradeoff will be well worth it, as long as I live within my means and not compare myself to my peers, who I’m sure will have long, illustrious & prestigious medical careers. I hope they’ll be genuinely happy…
At this crossroads in life, and while I’m still young, healthy & relatively commitment-free, I am making the conscious choice to say that after years of living a life that goes against my values/priorities, I’m finally choosing myself, I’m choosing self-love, I’m choosing time, and I’m choosing life over all of that. No amount of money can justify the sacrifices I would have to make to sustain a long-term career in Medicine – my physical health, mental wellbeing, precious time with family/friends, just to name a few.
I’ll leave you with this lengthy quote by the pretentious Henry David Thoreau: “Love your life, poor as it is. You may perhaps have some pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poorhouse. The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the almshouse as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its doors as early in the spring. Cultivate property like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts… Superfluous wealth can buy superfluities only. Money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul.”
Thanks for coming to my TED talk, and hopefully some of you will join me in this path to a simpler but more contented life! See y’all around, and be sure to follow me on Instagram or like my Facebook page to be updated whenever I post something new!
P.S. I don’t make any money from running this blog, so if you’d like to support my writing and help me bring even better content to you, you can buy me a coffee/donate on Ko-fi!
If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series