Pai, Thailand 2/19/2017
I sit in this cafe gazing at the sign next to me (below), and wonder if I’ve made this process too difficult.
The True Meaning of Life
“We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the meaning of life.” – His Holiness Dalai Lama XIV
For all the endless rumination about what I’m supposed to with my life, all my musings about how contribute to the world, all the therapy and career coaching trying to figure out what’s next, I now sit here feeling like, shit, this could be really simple.
Perhaps I’m overcomplicating things because somewhere deep inside I feel I must become something awesome, special, grand, and (maybe most importantly) successful, and goddamn that’s a lot of pressure.
What if being a neuroradiologist was the only thing I’ll ever do that will make people oooh and ahhhh? Or that was the thing I did that brought happiness and meaning to others? And there won’t be anything more. And now I become a welder or some shit basic shit like that. Actually, welding isn’t basic and seems kind of cool. It would be interesting to harvest scrap metal destined for landfills and repurpose it into art.
But I digress.
I’m fixed on the idea that I must be something grand because my whole life I have been told that I’m special (a millennial problem, I know). First by my parents, then by a society that tells all of us that we must strive to be exceptional, different, unique, excellent, etc. I internalized all of this and I held myself to this standard. This is effective for being a doctor but is problematic as a general life principle.
There is a good chance that I’m average, because I’m a member of the human species. And since most people are average (because of the mathematical definition of average), I most likely fall into this category as well. Maybe it’s the Thai air or the incense in this cafe, but that doesn’t feel like the hardest pill to swallow at this moment.
There is no specific reason, not even the career/life discontent of my adulthood, that exists for me to believe I’m being singled out for punishment. Along that same line of logic, there is no specific reason for me to think that I’m destined to fulfill some special life mission. So maybe I stop stressing about it. Maybe I stop telling people that I want to switch into something creative and instead, DO a creative or nurturing activity each day.
Like write this blog. Or meditate. Or teach myself how to code. Or travel. Or reach out to the people I love who need nurturing and support. Or reach out to those who love, nurture, and support me. Or cook, even though I hate that shit because it’s time consuming.
And maybe I subtract something from my daily life to create more simplicity. Like abstaining from alcohol most days. Limiting social media intake. Passing on meaningless activities like loud clubs with terrible music and terrible people who don’t interact with me or each other in favor of doin’ it for the ‘Gram or a future bragworthy story. Or donating clothing and other possessions I don’t really need. And foregoing fancy dinners with friends where we scream to hear each other over overpriced plates of too little food only to leave without feeling meaningful connection nor a new, shared experience.
Instead of introducing myself as a doc who quit her job to do something creative TBD, perhaps I should introduce myself as a person who thinks a lot and writes sometimes and is curious about herself and the world and wants to stay that way for the rest of her life.
That’s a bit woo woo or too ‘out there’ for some people but I’m tired of being put in a box, compartmentalized for the improved understanding of others. It’s not other people’s fault, nor mine. We parse new information into digestible elements on purpose. It’s a shortcut for our brains. It’s not that I’m such a unicorn that I can’t be labeled, it’s just that I’m tired of having to label what I am now or what it is that I am going to be so that other people understand. Because I don’t have a full understanding of myself.
All I need to figure out is how to pay for my basic needs without working full time. Food, shelter, quality time with family, quality time with friends, and travel. For a time, that will mean working as a freelance radiologist, but argh(!), unless I can work from home without a quota for under 6 hours per shift per day, that’s not something I can sustain for the long term. Volunteering is cool because at least then I can control when and what I read.
And so maybe I want to run my own business. If I have to work, (which I do because the jobless utopian society I desire doesn’t exist yet), I would like to be my own boss. I accept that this is just trading in my old problems with work (shitty bosses, being on someone else’s schedule, quotas, time/vacation restrictions, watching people die, limitation on earned income potential, etc) for a new set of problems (no profit for initial undetermined period, inconsistent pay, responsibility of self-marketing, networking, high time investment in sustaining business, etc.)
I have also realized that 8.5 weeks in Southeast Asia isn’t going to magically cure my burnout. And although I would love to be here longer (mmmm, those islands!), travel alone can’t cure burnout. At some point, extended travel can morph into an avoidance tactic and that is as detrimental as staying in an unfulfilling job. I’m months away from that happening, however, and I sincerely wish I bought a one-way ticket to extend this trip.
My routine is switched up. I feel relaxed and distant enough from my job to go home, do my taxes, downsize to a different apt, and simplify the fuck out of my life. Then, follow my curiosities wherever they may lead.
And even if doctoring was the only part of my legacy that made the world a bit better, that doesn’t mean that I should give up trying to find another way to leave this planet better than I found it.