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This is part of an ongoing monthly series capturing the highs, low (and everything in between) in my life as a freelance doctor working in Singapore. If you’re interested in finding out about medical/non-medical careers or getting answers to doctoring-related questions, check out my Chasing Careers series!
Happy 25th, which means it’s time for yet another monthly post! I have a sinking feeling this series is going to spiral into a deranged ship captain’s log, with increasingly mundane monthly musings, as I steer a boat lost at sea. Nevertheless, I’ll write on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
sorry I need to stop quoting from Gatsby
In last month’s post, I wrote about the anti-hustle culture. This month, it’s all about slow productivity, finding a sustainable work-life balance, and choosing whether to pursue money or lifestyle (or a bit of both).
I was inspired to write about this after a conversation I had with my friend, a former surgical resident-turned-aesthetics doctor. We were commiserating about the rising costs of housing and raising kids in Singapore, but ended up digressing to our plans for escaping the rat race and seeking alternative fulfillment.
not letting money rule your life
We debated how and where we should draw the line between having ‘enough’ and ‘too much’ money, in the context of being able to scale our income proportionately if we choose to work longer hours or more days each week. But as mentioned in last month’s post, I’m an advocate of anti-hustle culture, and firmly believe in finding work you’re passionate about (even if it pays less), rather than just burning time on chasing money.
We agreed that after our income crosses a certain threshold, we would be financially comfortable. And yet, we’d likely still be constantly plagued by the feeling that we’re not earning enough, especially when comparing against our peers or seniors with eye-watering incomes. Next to our investment banker friends earning upwards of $30k/month, or top private surgeons raking in millions a year, we’re earning a pittance.
There’s always going to be someone who’s richer or poorer than you; comparison is the thief of joy, and it rings most true in the context of money.
Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way. That was a true proverb of the wise man, rely upon it: “Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure, and trouble therewith.”Benjamin Franklin
It takes prudence and self-control to say ‘enough (money) is enough’. After all, there’s no point having all the money in the world if you’re a miserable candle being burnt from both ends.
why I’m not chasing money
I fully recognise my privilege in being able to say “I don’t want to chase money”, as I was born into a financially comfortable family, and didn’t grow up with a scarcity mindset. Others might have to chase money just to pay off loans or support their families, but this bit is strictly in the context of those earning comfortable salaries (and who are considering hustling to earn even more).
Everyone will have a different number or definition of ‘enough’ money/income, but I’ve personally never felt a strong urge to ‘hustle’ towards a number on my bank balance for the sake of it, partially because I live rather frugally (avoiding lifestyle creep), and also because I don’t want money to become my main motivator in life or work.
Lifestyle creep/lifestyle inflation is ‘the common pattern of spending more money as you earn more money, getting used to higher levels of luxury and convenience as your new normal’. It’s a vicious cycle I’ve seen a fair number of my friends fall victim to – they began eating out regularly at fancy places, upgrading to a new iPhone with every launch, or toting luxury bags.
I’ll admit that I too, have fallen victim to mild lifestyle inflation, permitting myself to consciously indulge in some expenses that increase my overall quality of life, like sword-fighting classes, artistic hobbies, travel, or dinners with friends (but I still unfailingly head to the discount rack in supermarkets :P).
I credit my parents for my current mindset towards money. Growing up, they always prioritised quality time, family and physical/mental health over money or material goods, values which I’m still firmly sticking by today and have helped me develop a healthier relationship with money and
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.Epictetus (clearly a dude who had really great self-control and no access to online shopping)
Even nowadays, when I casually ask my mum if I should take up an extra locum shift on a weekend for spare cash, she tells me to just enjoy the time off. My parents (certified as the Coolest Parents Ever) always remind me that they broke my bond so I would have time to discover my other passions and live the way I’ve always desired – a slower-paced, healthier, carefree and more family-oriented life. :’)
slow-productivity and seeking sustainability
In this insanely tiring rat race, how can we hope to find or create a sustainable work-life balance? How should we balance the desire to achieve in our careers with the sacrifices made in our personal lives? How do we avoid burnout (from doing too much) or feelings of inadequacy (from doing too little)?
I recently read an article titled The Rise Of The ‘Slow Productivity’ Movement, that accurately (albeit slightly idealistically) summed up our current dilemma:
In the past two years, productivity demands have increased, outpacing even the most efficient workers’ ability to keep up and do quality work. Employers are realizing that no amount of gym memberships or meditation apps can compensate for the increased stress and decreased quality of life. Employees today are looking for something more–more humane policies, more aligned leadership, more connectedness, and more meaning.
It went on the explain that the Slow Productivity movement ‘aims to provide a harmonious environment that allows work and home life to flourish’, and offered some food for thought on how this movement might be the panacea, if we’re able and willing to change our mindsets towards productivity:
- In what environment do you produce your best work?
- What practices support sustainable productivity (think marathons vs sprints)?
- What kind of work are you doing and does it demand speed or thought?
Before you write it off, here’s some evidence to back up this movement. 2015-2019, Iceland ran two large-scale trials (2500 people/1% of their workforce) of a reduced 4-day work week (35-36 hours) without any pay reduction. Unsurprisingly, the data reflected a dramatic increase in workers’ wellbeing (perceived stress, burnout, health & work-life balance), partly attributable to increased time for socializing, hobbies, and more flexibility in tackling domestic chores.
While I was drafting this post, T sent me a surprisingly timely article about anxiety & burnout in the tech industry and how there exists (broadly speaking) two contrasting camps – Optimisers and Balancers.
Optimisers are dubbed as ‘those who seek to increase their efficiency and productivity in every aspect of their lives’, and are extremely driven with punishing work ethics. Balancers, on the other hand, value ‘low toxicity, high compensation, good work-life balance’ and value-aligned work.
Sounds familiar? Well, this dichotomy – more realistically, it’s a spectrum – isn’t exclusive to the tech industry, and reflects varying attitudes towards the ever-competing desires of achieving greatness in work and seeking sustainability/avoiding burnout.
Tragically and yet comically, the article astutely summarised that ‘amid all the financial and pandemic instability, the Aesopian grasshoppers are just as bummed as the ants. Optimizers wish they could balance; Balancers feel guilty about not optimizing. Both are failing. Nobody’s happy, and everybody’s burnt.’
As a former overachiever-turned-Balancer, I struggled with feelings of underachieving and guilt over not maximising my full potential career-wise. But my experience with severe burnout forced me to reevaluate my career trajectory and life priorities, and I’ve since decided that I rather take life slow, and it’s okay if I never achieve conventional career success.
Overall, I’m happy with where I’m at in life right now. I’m finally living a life closely aligned with my values (wellness/family/passion), have found a pace of work that won’t cause burnout, devote enough time for the people & things that really matter (because let’s face it, no one on their deathbed wishes they had worked more), and most importantly, am open to changing my mindset when new circumstances or opportunities arise.
I’m a firm believer in the mantra ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’, and make conscious efforts to pace myself appropriately so that I’m sacrificing neither my health nor ambition. Is it idealistic? Perhaps. Is it achievable? Well, I’d like to think that I’m currently on the right track (but we’ll see how it pans out in the long run).
Anyway, that’s all for this month’s post!
In honour of the Conan Gray concert I attended earlier this week, this month’s song rec is People Watching, one of the most relatable songs off his Superache album:
But I wanna feel all that love and emotion
Be that attached to the person I’m holding
Someday, I’ll be falling without caution
But for now, I’m only people watching
I’ll be travelling in the UK for the better half of March — unlimited off-days is the biggest perk of being a freelancer/locum — so there won’t be a Locum Lokun post in March (but there will be a few travel blog posts), but either way, be sure to follow my Insta or like my Facebook page to stay up to date with my life!
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!
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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, 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
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