I am tired.
I have been tired for a long time. It is not a tiredness that sleeping more or a few days of leave can solve. I know that because I have tried that, but still I feel unrested. The New York Times says it’s a legitimate mental health problem called “Languishing” – when one feels joyless and aimless in life.
I wonder how many of you feel the same way as I do?
It has been exactly five months since I’ve returned to Singapore from the United States, where I was finishing up my MBA at Northwestern University.
The year away had been a mountaintop experience in many ways:
- I was finally able to explore the side of me that really wanted to study and learn.
- I got into one of the very top business schools in the world and experience world-class learning
- I had the opportunity to experience a different culture and and way of life
The year away was also an opportunity to move away from the regular cadence of Singaporean living as a working adult: Wake, Work, Eat, and Sleep. Through that time, I was able to process things that I had stuffed away in the deep recesses of my mind – what I wanted out of life, what I desired from my career, and what I thought about my relationships. For a brief moment, I entertained the idea of staying in this land that I have newly discovered. How cool would it be to leave behind all my past worries and just immerse myself in this land of exuberance and endless opportunities?
Alas, we can’t stay at the top of the mountain for too long. Three weeks before graduation, I received news that my father had suffered a heart attack and had three major arteries blocked. He needed surgery immediately, and I was faced with the very real decision of whether I should fly back to Singapore before finishing my course and risk navigating all the COVID restrictions that we had back then. As if that wasn’t enough, we soon found out that my aunt had multiple clotted aneurysms in her head. The decision was written for me – I had to go back home.
I ended my time in Kellogg and the U.S. feeling sad that I had to leave my new friends and this brave new world, but I was determined to return to my homeland and my former employer to contribute my newfound knowledge and energy.
Return to Work
I landed in Singapore on 28 June 2021 to a strange world. Changi Airport was empty except for my fellow passengers on Flight SQ37. After exiting the Customs, I was ushered immediately to a PCR test and then escorted on a bus to commence my quarantine at JW Marriott at Beach Road. My work would officially start on 1 July, but I already had a meeting lined up that very day.
What followed was four crazy months of chasing after a product and brand launch timeline for a programme that my workplace was developing for families with young children. What I did not expect to be a major issue for me was the Work-From-Home order that all of us were put under. Used to walking around the company to see my colleagues for information instead of hiding behind emails and Teams meetings, I hated that my work now felt like orders coming in through the inbox that I just had to execute somehow. All the appeal of working among wildlife and nature was reduced to never-ending meetings where even going to the loo somehow became a luxury.
The deadlines did not help. We have a great team filled with people with a bias for action and who are willing to do what it took to deliver the product. We believe in the vision of what the Zoo could do to help do our bid to save the world by impacting children for conservation and sustainability. Yet, our personal lives were breaking down. Health issues, relationship issues, family issues emerged. Mothers blamed themselves for snapping at their children because there just wasn’t enough time to get work out and be a present mom at the same time. Others developed health issues. I found myself with dizzy spells and high blood pressure.
At the background of all these, I kept thinking – what will happen to my father and my aunt? What am I doing to help? What if I woke up one day and something had happened to them? I lost a close family member very suddenly in 2019, and it felt like I never got to spend enough time with him before he left. Now, I felt like I was in the same situation. What an awful son and nephew I am.
Was this all life is about? Wake, eat, work, die. I found it hard to find the silver lining. We eventually launched our product. We even won some awards for another product that was launched last year. But somehow none of these things brought with them the joy that they were supposed to come with.
The good thing is, my father survived three stent surgeries, and my aunt managed to successfully coil her two of her aneurysms. Neither of them are in the clear, but they are now in stable condition for the foreseeable future.
The major stressors are behind me, but I am still tired. I tell myself each day that I should celebrate the small victories to keep going, but I fight that battle daily.
Sometimes I think about what Jesus thought about when He was on the cross. We know Jesus now for his triumphal victory over death, his sacrifice for our sins. But what was He thinking about when he was in the midst of it all? Did His knowledge about the necessity of His work help him to rationalise the pain that He was going through?
Will God be able use my work, my stress and my pain and turn it into something beautiful? I hope so.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the endEcclesiastes 3:11 (ESV)
Unfortunately, this is a story with no answers. I can only say that we can only do our best to find rest in God and pray for the pandemic to come to an end, God willing.
Until that day, I will continue to find little victories and bright spots to be thankful for. I hope you do too.