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Living Your Dream Dr Aruyaru Blog Post LIVING THE DREAM

Living Your Dream

On a chilly morning as I cascaded down the undulating landscape of Murang’a county, I listened to an interesting conversation. It was an episode of Slo Mo by Mo Gawdat. I was en-route to Meru from Nairobi for work. The gloomy weather deeply curtailed visibility despite the car’s fog lights. But the fog could not clog the clarity and illumination spewing from the podcast conversation.

Mo was hosting a former senior UN employee who had quit her well-paying job. Reason? To travel the whole world learning different dances.

It was an intriguing conversation to listen to. Like to any similarly inclined question, the answer by the podcast lady on why she left her job was that she felt an emptiness inside. She needed to pursue something she had fancied for long.

It turns out she had been saving for this eventuality. Now everything made sense. Someone saved so that one day she could resign and chase a dream! I was thoroughly challenged.

When I took up the toastmaster role during my next toastmasters club meeting, I used this as a theme: ‘What if Money wasn’t an issue?’

I posed that question to all role takers and speakers in the meeting. My goodness me! I had opened a can of worms. Nice worms of creativity, magnanimity and charity.

I will not reproduce all the answers to my question but the consolidated thematic responses were as follows:

                ✓            Think, dream, experiment, write, invent.

                ✓            Learn new things (languages, skills, places).

                ✓            Leave on an Island away from everyone

                ✓            Drill a borehole, set up an irrigation for the community (this respondent ails from a dry part of Kenya)

                ✓            Give more (money, skills, time, knowledge) to those in need.

                ✓            Stop working/Work for fun.

                ✓            Travel and experience the world.

I have not managed to share this list with someone who has all the money to find out their reaction. I wish my club mates and friends all the money so that they can achieve their desires and impact society.

I have been a great follower of Steve Bartlett, a top UK billionaire and investor on Dragons den, through his podcast – The Diary of a CEO. Two recurring things I have taken from him. First, he always wished to be a young sexy millionaire (he has a book by that title). He dreamt of being physically fit with a six pack, having all the money and driving a black range rover sport. He got all that. Then he sold the range rover and now abhors designer clothes.

Second, money will not make you happy. He quickly gives two disclaimers every time he makes this averment. That you have to first make all the money to establish that money doesn’t make you happy. A millionaire can say that but not someone without money. You then have to appreciate that money is important in fixing the basics: you can drive into a hotel and take a delicious meal without checking the price tag, you can order clothing, you can have good shelter and everything you need to live a comfortable life.

Mo Gawdat himself speaks of how he would park top luxury cars in his garage and still feel empty. He is an enthusiast for 10$ black T-shirts now. Not because he does not desire those things but because he has been there, done that.

If I was miraculously to guarantee all the money to the respondents to the above question, would they still have those desires are their ultimate goal in life? Perhaps some would change. Would you?

Looking at the above thematic answers, let us try to extrapolate them to what underlying issues they speak to.

Travel and experience the world.

Time and money. Too little money to travel the world. And too little time since you need to work.

You can still travel and experience the world while working. In fact, being employed will Certainly make it easier in processing relevant visas as most embassies, consulates and high commissions will need proof of employment and a recommendation letter from the employer.

I have travelled five countries due to work (attending conferences) and only one for vacation. Moral of the story? I need to travel more for vacation, you are right. But I could also say I can utilize conferences as opportunities to travel. When I get lucky to secure a sponsorship, I squeeze some time to tour the city and tick all the recommended tourist attraction sites on travel sites.

If you constantly feel the desire to travel more, could it be because you are busy at work all the time or because money is the limitation? Taking work trips and conferences or workshops while at work is one way to travel the world while money is still a problem. Of course the other, as borrowed from the podcast lady is to decide how much to set aside per month so that you can travel once in a year. Over time, say in 40 years’ time, you may have travelled to 40 countries of the world. That will be a step in the right direction. Maybe if you look keenly, ‘travelling the world” may actually mean “travelling to select priority countries based on historical or touristic recommendations”.

Work for fun/Stop Working

Feeling like you wish you could just work for fun? What could probably be the reason for this? Either your work is not enjoyable or the environment is not pleasing.

Deriving pleasure from work is multifaceted. There is a whole body of literature on making work enjoyable.

In my blog post titled “Fuel only the passion side of your work” I argue how it is important to minimize the non-exciting parts of our work as much as possible. As a medical specialist, I still find aspects of my work that I do not like. It may be related to my skills set, professional inclination or place and time.

The only way to avoid bedside nursing is to upgrade“, a nurse manager once told me when I shared some observations about a colleague of his who had found bedside nursing as a challenge. When we specialize, we drift into the things we love and therefore we should enjoy going to work every day.

Yet with every day you encounter things you dislike, a certain condition or procedure for a surgeon, certain work arrangements etc.

Over time you can isolate and focus only on the areas you like. Specializing comes with time. Slowly focusing on areas you love comes with time, especially in settling in the right supportive environment.

Do we work for money or for meaning? If you got all the money and you were left with money but doing nothing, you would feel empty. Trust you me! Depression in retirement is a discussion in every sector.

Most of us work to make money. But we also work to find meaning in our lives. The answer to working for fun then is finding the balance where you work more for the impact and output and visceral feeling more than (or as equally as) the money. Now it sounds irrational! I know. If I am arriving at financial freedom, that will make me negotiate my next job looking at other parameters besides salary. How am I facilitated to enjoy my work becomes a priority as compared to the take home figure?

Think about your social media posts. Unless you are an influencer, you are not paid to post. But you post because you derive all those pounds of satisfaction. If money was put to it, would you still do it? Probably the money would spoil the spirit and now you would find yourself doing it ‘because of the money’. I always think if I took up a non-clinical job outside a hospital, I would still look for a way to join my colleague in theatre to perform surgeries. That would be working for fun.

Give more (money, skills, time, knowledge) to those in need.

Do you have to be rich to give? Yes, most of the times. No, most of the times.

If you answer in either direction you still get to justify your stand. The problem with saying you can give when you are rich shifts the focus from yourself. It makes it a deliverable pegged on a moving target. ‘Money is never enough’ is a statement we keep hearing.

If you say no, you can then ask what you have in plenty that you can give. The things special to you. When I am called to motivate a group of students (a very difficult ask), I often find myself sharing my story of how I went through high school. I am the richest person in the world when it comes to sharing my life story. We are the richest people in the world when it comes to offering ourselves (personas) to those in need. All those sharing of experiences to motivate another person, sharing our life stories are given from a vantage point of immense ‘wealth’. But there are resources that the world has given in equal measure to all. Such is time. Each living creature has 24 hours a day. If you give 10 hours in a month to someone who needs them (this goes with your persona, experience and skills too), you will already be sharing a percentage of your ‘wealth’ with those in need.

I find myself intrigued by blood transfusion. Blood transfusion saves lives. I have seen countless patients benefit from this rare but free human tissue. As I have quipped before, “blood is the only commodity I have to borrow from a pauper to save a tycoon’s life”. As it were, I have been wrong on that quote. A blood donor may be a slum dweller but with regard to the matter at hand, that donor is the tycoon. And the tycoon is the beggar. Each one is needy in their own right, at different times.

‘From each according to ability, to each according to need’

– Karl Marx

For sure you can give more if you had money. But what are you giving now? How many of your 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 720 hours a month are you giving to the needy? How many units of blood have you donated in your life time?

It is okay to wait until money is not a problem. But for now, blood is not a problem to most. Neither is time. Neither is a select life experience to inspire another person, stir another generation. 

Drill a borehole, set up an irrigation for the community.

The respondent in this case hails from lower Eastern Kenya, an area with spells of rainfall failure and challenges with water.

In another context, someone from an area ravaged by early marriages might want to set up a CBO for girl child empowerment. The premise is identifying a lived need and offering a sustainable solution (not just a borehole but an irrigation scheme) targeted at one’s community.

It must be a general feeling to all of us. There is a pool to do good when we are able. It is a good thought to entertain and hopefully sustain. Because in due course, my friend might meet a donor looking to sponsor such an initiative. 

This has challenged me deeply. I have harbored similar thoughts at a different angle. This meeting helped me hear out people voicing what I thought was peculiar to me. I know the same applies to you. The question then becomes, what have I done about this, besides thinking about it?

Leave on an Island away from everyone

Does this mean solitude? I think it does. But from the responses I got, it was more of just stepping out and doing something you love. Some of the respondents wanted to just be themselves and stop adjusting to external expectations. Others wanted to seek solitude in order to achieve something deep. Deep work has been written about by Carl Newport. 

Carl Newport espouses four strategies to employ in order to key in hours or days or weeks of deep work. These are monastic, bimodal, rhythmic and journalistic. Monastic means you go into seclusion and detach from the world. It is borrowed from the life of monks who have to spend time in the monastery. Bimodal strategy means you carry out your usual duties but take leave or sabbatical to distance yourself from the day to day work and engage in an uninterrupted stretch of time to do something deep. Obama did this to write one of his books. My colleague took a month off and flew to a foreign country to analyze his PhD research data. Then there is the rhythmic strategy where, as the name suggests, you create a schedule in your life. It may be Friday mornings for five hours where you switch off your phone, lock yourself in the study and just read, or write, or code. The final strategy is the impromptu creation of time and concentration to put in some hours to engage in deep work, just as journalists have to do to create incisive news features while covering evolving crises.

Is it possible to leave on an island away from the rest of the people? Probably it is. Probably after some time, the social animal in you will wake up and demand company.

“So you literally ran away”, my wife replied to my WhatsApp text. I had sent her a photo of a table within a club’s lounge. What was on the table? A steaming cup of coffee, my MacBook and my pen. I had strayed into this neighborhood establishment to squeeze two to three hours away from the house.

Getting enough ‘me time’ is very important to me.  A train of thought can be distracted by an innocent ‘let me ask you’ from a family member.

May be before we get to create that private island from the rest of the world, we can allocate ‘me time’ once in a while and guard it jealously. We will come back rejuvenated and focused.

Learn new things (languages, skills, places)

Everyone loves to learn new things. Jay Shetty, a former Monk and author of “Think Like a Monk” advises that each year you must LOVE SOMETHING, LEARN SOMETHING and LAUNCH SOMETHING. Quite an undertaking!

I find myself reflecting on new things I could take up. The bad part is that this only happens not so frequently. In those ‘me time’ moments. The ugly part is that I do not get enough of those.

You can see where this is going? That elusive time off work and distractions.

I have a new year resolution titled “Learn French”. It is now mid-September. Do I know a sentence in French? You guessed right! (The year is not over, be kind to me).

Think, dream, experiment, write, invent.

The line is the same. It speaks of deep work, doing things you are not paid to do, having a lot of time to do your own things aside from the salaried work.

I have a confession. It is corroborated by Ann Lemont in her book ‘Bird by Bird’. I ever tried to set aside a couple of days to write some chapters of my book. It ground to a halt. There was no inspiration. Ideas did not flow. Instead, they roamed far away out of reach, only for them to creep back in the middle of busy schedules, sparked by the usual flow of daily mundane chores.

Next time, I will not take a retreat to write. I shall just take a retreat and see if writing will happen.

Thinking, dreaming and experimenting are nice. They are characterized by depths of mental engagement. But they are sparked by our daily experiences. This is an interesting confession you make once you have tried.

If you get to that point, where you set aside time to write and innovate, do not go in free handed. Dependent only on your mind. Go with collected chapters of the book roughly 70% done, so that you can dig in and join the pieces, the 30%.

Write, even if money is a problem.

Now, the question still lingers, what would you do if money was not a problem?

Let me know in the comments section.

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About the Author

Dr. Stanley Aruyaru

Dr. Aruyaru is a Consultant General and Laparoscopic Surgeon and a Healthcare Manager. He has solid experience in managing busy surgical units and leading clinical teams to deliver in the lines of quality health provision and evidence based surgical practice.

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Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise. - Alice Walker

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