Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The things that define us

Are you defined by your career?

When people ask me "what do you do?" - and trust me, that question comes up pretty often whenever I meet someone new - I find it easier to tell them what I spend most of my time doing. If I really think about whether it is really what I do, the answer is somewhat not so accurate any more. This is not about me being dishonest; rather this is about choosing the socially-expected answer. Plus it is also easier to explain, and it is also less overwhelming, or in other words, acceptable.

Am I defined by it? I don't know. Does it influence my lifestyle? Yes - because it dictates how I spend my time. But doing it in the first place is my choice, so it is not like I have to do it, it is more I want to do it. I have said this before, I actually like it a lot more than I confessed to. There are good moments, there are mundane ones, and it's ok because to me, it is pretty close to perfect for now. And yes, I am very grateful each and every day for this.

Are you defined by your major/school?

I am a doctor, but not the kind that medically helps people. I used to borrow Randy Pauch's mom's line of "not the kind that helps people" that initially brought a lot of laughter on my friends' faces, but over time, it stopped being a joke; it ceased being perceived as funny by the people that matters to me. Needless to say, they not only stopped laughing, but they got marginally offended. Reason being, it was not true; helping people is not confined within the medical sense: "of course you help people, just not in the medical sense."

The same people gave me (and some still do) give a lot of frowns as to why I am not on the conventional, "expected" career path for doctors (if there's such a thing). Why work so hard on attaining something that you end up not pursuing? That, or something along those lines, is the question that everyone has been asking. Some of them even said "but you are so good at it" - and I think this is because they were being nice, encouraging, concerned - all of the above. I never gave any proper explanation - until today. Because of this, a lot of people wrote me off as a spoilt brat with a strong sense of entitlement who could not commit to anything and could not decide what she wants. Yeap. Typical Gen-Y.

The reason I never gave any proper explanation is because I got the impression that as much as these people matter to me (and care about me), the real reason behind the question is merely their curiosity. Nothing wrong with that, of course, it is natural to be curious. Because I got such impression, I never felt the need to explain myself to anyone. Actually, that's not true. I explained myself to one person, and that is, yeap, myself. And no, I am not willing to share this explanation just yet. Maybe one day I will. Maybe, just maybe.

Back to the question - am I defined by my major and/or my schooling to date. The answer is leaning towards yes. I am happy that I underwent those years and persisted through the highest level of education attainable. I could have gone further towards post-doctoral years, but decided not to, and no regrets here. The great thing about being a doctor is that the foundations of my research skills are established during those years and this is a great tool to have in living life in general. Of course there are other skills that are useful and have made my life easier outside the classroom, such as, time management and stress management. Having a good foundation for these skills gives me the confidence to live life and face whatever may come. I mean, one of the most useful skills we can have is learning skill, because that quite literally means, you can learn to do anything, even when you've never encountered it previously. Things change, all the time, and we gotta equip ourselves with an ability to adapt to these changes (otherwise we become stagnant and irrelevant).

As to the fact that I got intimate with financial reports and accounting standards - well, that's just icing on the cake :-)

Are you defined by your (romantic) relationship?  

You know when people say that they know someone who loses him/herself every time he/she is in a new relationship? I always wonder why it is easier to spot it in other people rather than to spot it in ourselves. Because I think the answer to this question is almost always a resounding yes. I mean, if there is one person whose opinion matters quite a lot to me, then this person I am in a relationship with would be that person. Quite thankfully, he seems to think the best of me, especially when I am incapable of thinking that about myself. To have someone who loves you like that is pretty awesome. And yes, I got very very lucky in this department.

It is not a bad thing, no, to be defined by your relationship? Not defined in the 100% sense, but at least letting it have some influence in your life. Like your free time is not just about you and your friends any more, that it takes effort to synchronise your schedules so that you can spend quality time together. To have this one person in your life who matters so much, who loves you that much more than anyone else, whose opinion, undeniably, would influence your decisions that much more. I hate hate hate to admit this, but of course, your relationship changes you. It brings forth a new array of old familiar things that are experienced as new over and over again.

Are you defined by your friendships?

The friends that we have in this life time are very likely to be seasonal friends. They are some friends that we've been friends with for a long, long time, and these friendships have survived the seasons. They are very likely to have been tested and the bonds that we have with these people are something that we cherish on a regular basis, usually over a meal and one too many glasses of alcohol, some conversation of  a random topic that turns deep, somehow, and a great deal of exercising of listening skills. Yes, these are the friends and the friendships that define us. The friends who are workaholic to the core that we love anyway because we do see ourselves in them. The friends who are definitely not perfect, but we love anyway, for reasons that we are yet to comprehend, and as such, probably will never articulate. These are the people who drive us nuts, but we love them anyway precisely because they drive us nuts.

From these people we learn what it really means to love. From these people we learn what time really means. When we ask them "how are you", we would hear something more than the usual, polite "I am fine, thanks", we would instantly hear the new things that they've been up to, or the things that have been bugging them. When we ask "how was your weekend", we really want to know what they were up to. These are the people that we deem as worth knowing. 

Are you defined by money?
You do know that because this is my blog, this discussion is going to come up. I think a lot of people are defined by money but these people would never admit this in a million years. This is because for some reason, we as a society think that it is not good to be defined by money. But money does define us, to a certain degree. Back in the day when we were struggling students, our food budget was like err... $30 a week, and that's being generous. Most of us spend most of that money in the pub on Friday night when happy hour is on, while surviving on instant noodles the rest of the time. And now that we are working adults, we hopefully have more money and we would spend these funds differently. Well, for some of us, we still spend most of them in the pub, albeit the pubs are now funkier and subsequently charge a higher margin. Some of us inflate our food budget to include funky restaurants and the like while some of us dive straight into designer clothes. (Ok, some of us dive straight into the equity and property markets.)

Do you not feel good when there is money in your bank account? Maybe you don't see it that way but imagine, just imagine, if your bank account balance is displayed as close to zero, or even in the red, how would you feel when that happens? Yes, of course there are a lot of things in this life that money cannot buy, but there are a lot that money can buy.

[This writing falls under the general heading of what people would talk about if they would openly admit to the fact that life is actually hard and requires constant effort on our part to ensure that we are living the best life that we want to. Somewhere along the lines, we fall in love with the idea that life is supposed to be easy because we see life's representation in the media (all various forms of them) as beautiful, and seemingly easy. We got it into our heads that we are princesses living in invisible castles and we started to believe that we are beautiful not because of our efforts and merits but merely out of the power of our beliefs. While this blind faith is useful at times, I believe that at the end of the day, we have to be practical, otherwise, we will be spectators in our own lives, instead of being good drivers.] 

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