I’ve been thinking a lot about the trajectory of my life and how to make sense of it.
Like most Singaporeans, I take my career and work seriously. I was in the office for long hours and took on new assignments without complaint. I kissed my fair share of butts.
Then cancer hit. After the surgery and radiation, I returned to work in about 2 months, a relatively short recovery period.
It was very tough. By 4pm on a working day I felt exhausted. On top of that, I had lingering pain and sleep problems. I ignored the beating my body was taking, and I pushed myself to keep working.
I was grateful that my workplace was kind to me by giving me an appropriate job and good benefits. I wasn’t thinking about the future and just glad I could still work. If I just kept quiet and did my job, I’ll reach over a million dollars easy. I had investment income on top of my salary, which together was a five figure sum a month. I can finish paying off my housing loan and hit my CPF retirement sum in less than 5 years.
Besides the monetary benefits, I also depended on the feeling of being valued by others, and being seen as a good staff. My father was retrenched at a relatively young age, and I’ve seen what unemployment does to a man. Despite my fatigue, I had usually had done the work of 2 people by the end of the day. This was rewarded with slightly above average performance ratings.
At the same time, I felt very conflicted. Don’t I already have enough money for the rest of my likely short life? Am I honouring my cancer experience by keeping quiet and living exactly how I used to? When I meet God, what will I say if he asks me what if I did anything good with what I was given? In truth, I had lived selfishly and fearfully. I was selfish by not helping anyone but myself, and fearful of losing my sense of worth.
In the end, I knew that if I had a cancer recurrence while in the same place, I would be devastated. It would feel like I wasted my remaining good years doing something I didn’t quite see the value in. There is no point to accumulating a bit more money and I can’t take it with me. I also realised I’m not the sort who likes to hang on and be a leech. There is something inside of me that just refuses to do that, at least for now.
So I’m going back to school. I accepted an offer of a master’s programme in a local university. I’m not sure where it will take me, but its a good way to gain a new perspective and pick up some skills. In addition, I’m taking on another project that is meaningful to me and hopefully others. My helper will also be reaching the end of her contract, and I’ll be taking care of the house. I’m looking forward to this as it means I’ll be my kid’s main caregiver. It can get pretty tiring, but its something I know I won’t regret.
I didn’t imagine that my life would turn out this way. I expected to keep getting promoted, get pats on the back, and retire comfortably at the government-approved age. But I come to realise that life isn’t a straight line up. One of my favourite books, the Courage to be Disliked, described it as more as a series of dots or moments. Steve Jobs said it in similar terms, describing his life as series of dots that only made sense looking back.
Living life as a straight line with some distant goal misses out on life and ignores the present. It makes us sad when we don’t keep going up, and our career and net-worth becomes stagnant or goes down.
I choose to move on to the next dot in my life, and trust that it will all eventually connect.