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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
The Great Resignation: Part 1 (not rushing into Med School at 19) | Part 2 (the prestige trap, cognitive dissonance, risks) | Part 3 (seeking purpose, procrastinating happiness) | Part 4 (post-sabbatical thoughts, Proof of Concept) |
Steve Jobs once said that “You can only connect the dots looking backwards“, and over the past 3 months of my sabbatical, I had plenty of time to mull over past decisions, as well as come up with ideas on how I might like to spend the next few years of my life.
I bet you’re wondering if I’m about to say that I regret resigning and lack direction in life. Well, the latter is true (and not necessarily a bad thing), but resigning was one of the best and most well-timed choices I could have made, so I’ll never regret it.
So, was my sabbatical just a guise for me to travel for a ridiculously long time (oops), or did I actually reach some form of enlightenment? Well, reader, you can decide for yourself after reading this post.
If you’ve not yet caught up to speed, you can check out all 3 parts of my Great Resignation series here!
s/p resignation and sabbatical
*for non-med readers, s/p (status post) refers to a patient’s status after a procedure or treatment
If I had to list the top 3 benefits from quitting the system (despite the hefty price-tag) and going on a 3-month sabbatical, they would be:
1. 5 years of my life. Everyone puts a different ‘price-tag’/opportunity cost on each year of their life that passes, but I tend to catastrophise and have adopted the mentality of living each year like it’s my last. Since I was in a blessed position where my family was able to help break the bond and I would be able to find work to recoup the cost (in under 5 years), I decided I would be doing a disservice to myself by staying in a job I couldn’t enjoy because of how it drained my physical & mental health.
2. A new lease of life and health. This was the starkest and most significant difference. Being able to set my own daily routine and maintain a regular 8-hour sleep schedule (without having to do calls or stay up overnight) has done wonders, and I feel like a whole new person – or rather, I’m finally returning to who I used to be before Medicine sucked so much health
and happiness out of my life.
3. New opportunities and openings. If I had stayed, it would have been 5 years of biding my time and trying to survive posting after posting, call after call. Since I’m still not entirely convinced that doctoring is the only path I’m meant to take in life, quitting has afforded me the time to begin upgrading my professional skills in areas outside of Medicine, explore alternative ways of life, and travel (solo or with friends/family) for extended periods.
- An act of resigning from a job or office.
- The acceptance of something undesirable but inevitable.
If I hadn’t resigned, I reckon I’d have epitomised the second definition of resignation, and become just another jaded young doctor beaten and eventually worn down by the system…
We all know how toxic and unsustainable the system is + how mental wellness & physician suicide/attempted suicide are often swept under the carpet
like a recent incident, so I’m not going to belabour the point.
And even then, I’m not completely detoxed from the system. My heart still sometimes skips a beat (in a bad way, of course) when I get a phone call, until I remind myself that no, it’s not a nurse calling me to see a patient, update a family, or a senior telling me to see the new admit. It’s almost always just a scam call, for which I am strangely grateful for.
liberation, self-doubt and directionlessness
After 18 years of being molded by Singapore’s education system that doesn’t exactly encourage freedom and curiosity as much as it does rote learning and grades-centric learning, I feel like a bird that’s been released after having been in captivity all its life.
Being given permission to be free is terrifying and liberating in equal parts. What am I to do with all this freedom? How do I start narrowing down my options? How can I be sure I’m not making the wrong choice? What if I regret this?
The self-doubt is very real, especially now that I’ve set myself down this open-ended path. Sometimes, at 5am in the morning, I get the ‘scaries’ and wonder if I derailed what could have been a great career in medicine, just for the sake of improving my physical and mental health.
But then I recall all the other 5am nights in the past year where I was on my 23rd hour of attending to patients in a half-dazed state, or the other nights when I lay in bed just praying to find a life path that I could thrive in (without sacrificing my own health for), and I don’t have any regrets at all.
The next question is then, am I going to be a General Practitioner in the long run? While GP-ing is definitely an easy and obvious career choice for now, I can’t say for sure if I see myself stuck doing just one job for the next few decades. Will I further my studies or jump into a different line of work entirely? I might if an opportunity arises, because life is short and I’m a huge believer in ‘why the heck not’.
Even though I am directionless (for now), I’m finally feeling excitement and hope at all the possibilities that my future work and life may hold, which is more than I could have said this time last year. And that’s more than enough (for now).
proof of concept
It’s scary when you’re trying to create your own new blueprint on how to live your life, because you’re literally your own proof of concept. It’s even scarier when you’re the only one in your Medicine batch (so far, but hope to see more of y’all being set free over the years) to have struck out . And to add another layer of pressure, I’m sharing about it in real-time, for everyone to read/judge/form opinions. Yikes!
Proof of concept (POC or PoC), also known as proof of principle, is a realization of a certain method or idea in order to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle with the aim of verifying that some concept or theory has practical potential. A proof of concept is usually small and may or may not be complete.Wikipedia
In work/life, it’s important to try a bit of everything that you think may interest you or may lead to a better life path, and it’s okay if that doesn’t work out – something that you took the time to prove wrong is better than always wondering ‘what if’ (while you’re stuck in a situation that isn’t remotely close to second-best).
I also made lots of new friends and connections while on sabbatical, and it’s been inspiring meeting and exchanging ideas with people who truly love and are excited by their work (mostly techies with excellent flexi working arrangements or self-employed business owners), a far cry from how all of us were commiserating miserably back in hospital…
Ever since stepping out of the system and regaining some space, time and clarity, I’ve found myself enjoying my work in clinics more than I ever did as a House Officer/Medical Officer, and it got me thinking, maybe we don’t hate our jobs or regret choosing Medicine, but just hate the frustrating circumstances/long hours/annoying limitations of the overstretched system that we were forced to labour under.
Since I’m still not really fixated on any life particular life path, I’ve decided to devote the next year – or as long as it takes; I am a work in progress – to trying out various styles of work, until I find that sweet spot of (1) a job that challenges me sufficiently, (2) affords me enough time outside of work to maintain a social life/fitness/hobbies/non-med studies, and (3) the flexibility to travel whenever my friends/family happen to be on leave and invite me to travel with them.
connecting the dots
My best friend sent me Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, knowing full well that I’d lap it up like the idealistic dreamer I am. She’s my #1 source of motivational content, and this is another gem she sent me a few months back – How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham (which you might recognise from a previous post, but it’s always worth re-reading).
I’m paying her favour forward, and sharing five excerpts from his speech that truly spoke to me (and perhaps will resonate with you too):
- Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
- Our work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
- Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
- Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
- Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thanks for sticking around till the end of yet another long post (I apologise for the long-windedness), and good news – I’ve gone back to work this month and will be resuming my regular monthly doctoring series in November, so stick around to read about what I’ve been up to + my future plans! 🙂
Being a lifelong Swiftie, Taylor Swift’s Clean captures how I felt the first morning after I resigned and left M0HH/Master M behind:
Rain came pouring down
When I was drowning, that’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning
Gone was any trace of you, I think I am finally clean
I have plenty more posts (about careers and life as a GP) planned for the upcoming months, so be sure to follow my Instagram or FB page to stay up to date with my posts! 🙂
P.S. This blog is my passion project and self-funded, so if you enjoy my writing and want to contribute some spare change towards my annual WordPress Premium plan, why not make a little donation here? 🙂
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If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, doctoring, psychology, random musings), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a 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
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