I’ve pretty much changed my whole life around with one concept. But before I get onto that, let me give you some context.
I spent my whole life doing everything you’re supposed to do. I got good grades, I went to a good university, and I got a degree approved by Asian parents across the globe. I considered myself a regular Hermione Granger and I validated myself with academic achievement. Most of my younger years and the bulk of my university experience revolved around studying. It sounds a bit dorky really, but I didn't mind, because it was all leading up to one thing: becoming a dentist.
And after many years, I finally became a dentist. My first day should have been the culmination of long-held anticipation and excitement. Instead, I felt empty. I wondered, "is this going to be my life for the next 40 years?".
Two thoughts then ran through my mind as I came to this realisation:
1) what on earth am I going to do next, when this is all I’ve ever known?
2) How did I miss this? How did I not realise that I didn’t actually enjoy dentistry when I had spent the larger part of 10 years working towards it?
And that last question really changed everything.
I realised that I had spent those 10 years laser-focused on an end goal. I was chasing and I would have done anything to get to the end of it. But because I was chasing a goal, I didn’t slow down long enough to ask myself how I was feeling.
And this is the very concept that changed my life: slowing down.
As I slowed down, I connected with myself. It was like I was getting to know myself all over again. I started a Youtube channel, not because I knew where it would take me, but because I just wanted to. I got really into creativity, I learned new skills, I connected with people who were similar to me for the first time in my life, and I found something that I loved. I even managed to leave my job as a dentist - something that I hadn't planned but it happened away.
I'm convinced that more people need to resist the fast pace of life.
Maybe this sounds familiar. You’re always putting pressure on yourself to get things done and you feel the need to constantly be switched on. You're constantly wondering what to do next and have this underlying tone of panic when you see what other people are doing. You feel like you're missing out on a key part of the equation in life. And you're not sure if you're even happy.
Most people have negative connotations with the word “slow". Often people think of is as the opposite of productivity, but slowing down can actually help you to go further:
1. You become intentional with what you’re doing and where you're going.
Sometimes when we set new goals or habits, we’re just reacting to what we see. We get swept up in what everyone else is doing and we aimlessly move forward. We don’t stop to consider whether we’ll be happy with the final destination.
2. You find your true sense of self-worth.
If we’re productive, we feel good. If we’re not productive, we feel like we’ve wasted a day. It becomes difficult to take time off - we say we’re having a lazy day if we do, and if we want a holiday, we feel like we need to earn it by working harder beforehand. I used to really define myself by my achievements. It’s only as I've slowed down that I've begun to value myself for who I am and not just what I can achieve in a day.
3. You better your relationship with productivity.
We associate slow with lazy and fast with productive but I actually think slowing down helps with productivity more. A lot of us are trying to do everything faster- read faster, type faster, have a perfect time management system. But then we use those saved minutes for more to-dos. But this isn't what productivity is about. Productivity is about making time for what matters and slowing down helps you to remember that.
4. You think and feel more clearly.
When I'm rushing, my head becomes cloudy. I become clumsy, forgetful, erratic and I just can't think straight. This makes it difficult for me to come up with ideas or function in an intentional way. That’s why I think it’s important for us to stop switching from one app to the other, checking emails evert few seconds, or scrolling through social media at lightening speed.
5. You avoid stress and burnout.
I'm sure you've heard of the hare and the tortoise story? The hare is overly confident about winning the race against the tortoise so he falls asleep. The tortoise, who goes slow and steady, ends up winning. This is a great tale but I think the modern version is that the hare is always going so fast that he never stops. By the time the race comes around, he experiences burnout and has no choice to stop.
6. You better your relationships.
I didn't have any friends at 18. As a coping mechanism, I decided to focus on myself and where I was going. I was trying to disconnect myself emotionally and run away from my fears of being alone. I rushed towards my goals, hoping that it would bring me closer to happiness. The problem is, when you’re going fast, you don’t stop along the way to say hi to people. If anything you get frustrated when anyone gets in your way. That's why we get so impatient when someone is walking too slowly in front of us - they're preventing us from getting to our destination any sooner.
On my way to becoming a dentist, I didn't make many friends for this very reason. Slowing down isn't just about stopping to smell the roses. It's about slowing down long enough to see who’s on that journey with you. Since slowing down, I've been able to nurture and form more connections. I’ve become more open to other people. And that has brought much more value into my life than reaching goals any sooner.
There's more you can enjoy in life when you go slow. And when you go slow, you can still go far.