Awesome Worldtrip is about more than only our travel experiences, it’s about a lifestyle we pursue. From leaving everything behind and start travelling the world to settling down on the other side of the planet. It’s about the choices we make to live our lives differently and stay close to our true selves.
The picture above is taken five years ago. I was standing in the bathroom of a large hospital where I was doing my medical internship. I was wearing glasses because my sleepless eyes couldn’t cope with contact lenses anymore. I was in my 4th year of becoming a doctor, with two more years to go. I took this selfie because I knew this would be the last time seeing myself in my doctor’s coat with a stethoscope around my neck. Seconds after this, I went to my superior and announced I was going home. Because I no longer had the desire to become a doctor.
Right now, I am living on the other side of the earth. I am working for a health-tech startup, trying to change healthcare by building useful technology for hospitals. The startup is facing to fail because hospitals aren’t ready to pay for it and investors don’t believe in it. Meaning I have no income to pay my apartment. My working visa is soon to expire, meaning I might have to leave the country. No, this is not another awesome story of how I became successful in a few easy steps and made billions. This is about how I chose a different path, a path that belongs to me. And a path that I will continue to walk.
My future had always felt kind of predestined: “Become a doctor and save lives”. Growing up in a Central Asian family, your answer to the almighty question of what you’d become when you’re an adult was either an engineer or a doctor. Since my older brother already had reserved the first one, I was left with the latter. Though my parents never pressured me and my brothers into anything (now they actually regret they didn’t), I stuck around with it. This became so serious that when my first application at the medical university was unsuccessful, I redid my last year of high school to achieve higher results to get accepted the next year. I succeeded in this and finally started working towards my goals.
I started my Bachelors in Medicine and to put it lightly, it wasn’t how I imagined it at all. When I started studying there, I felt I had the weight of society on my shoulders in becoming someone that I was expected to become. But my fellow students weren’t these highly motivated future lifesavers and the school didn’t feel like this superhero academy I had imagined it to be. It was like any other university: partying students who drank too much and everything was about passing your exams rather than becoming this future Nobel prize winner. I must admit, I was kind of relieved I was going to have a normal life.
The more time had passed, the less I felt home. I was shocked about how little my fellow classmates cared about actualities or the news. Never did I hear a cafeteria discussion about something bad that happened on earth, always the same BS about how much someone got drunk the night before. The only interactions I had with doctors were these classes where highly stressed “teachers” rushed in to give a lecture, sometimes completely unprepared, and leave the room as soon as possible. The medical curricula were not focused on triggering and stimulating rational thinking, but to memorise large blocks of text. It didn’t feel like a challenge to get high grades, it was merely the time-consuming process of memorising which medicine or procedure is for which disease. I missed passion, excitement, relevance and most importantly, inspiration.
In my last Bachelors year, just before I would start the medical internships, I continued my search for inspiration. I wanted to know more about the hospital world, about policy, law and everything that was related to health. I was in search of aspiring individuals that could convince me that what they were doing was helping or saving the lives of others. I scheduled meetings with clinicians, a professor in public health, a health economist and the head of a hospital department. While asking my highly confronting life-decision questions about why they chose to do what they are doing today and how it relates to their life motto or vision, obviously it made them extremely awkward. But little did I know I would get astonished about how little they had thought things through. Some accused me of giving them sleepless nights with my confronting questions. Ironically, a week later I found out through Linkedin that one of them had resigned and moved to a completely different place. Without finding the answers I was searching for, I chose to start my masters anyway.
Surprisingly, I liked my medical internship of walking around a hospital as a doctor in training. The hours were bad, my social life was almost non-existing, but I liked the interaction with patients. Again, the more time had passed, the more I was stumbled by how old-fashioned the hospital was running. The lack of technology adoption wasn’t the worst problem, the whole system was malfunctioning, leading into the delivery of bad patient care. I developed a strong vision of how things could be done differently, how it could be innovated. But the stronger conservative culture forced me not to act upon it: “It wasn’t my duty as a doctor”. During that time the whole internet was occupied with “thinking differently” and “changing the world”, which gave me the feeling I could do so much more for patients from a different perspective in healthcare. I knew this wasn’t going to be possible as a doctor, I had to become “more than a doctor”. But how, when and why I would stop my secure future of becoming a doctor, a dream that so many in the world have, I hadn’t figured it out yet.
Eventually, what triggered me to change course was an unusual interaction with a patient. I had to see a terminal patient, meaning someone who was about to die and couldn’t be treated. I remember it was one of the most awkward things to do, what was I going to say to him and his family? While we were talking about how to make his passing away as comfortable as possible, I was distracted by his eyes. His eyes felt so hollow and spiritless as if I was literally staring at death. It was like something I had never seen before. While being deeply touched by this incidence, I re-started to contemplate about life and death. With Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement speech words of how “Death gives you the option to choose” flowing through my mind I suddenly knew I had to make a choice. Why would I live a life that didn’t feel like mine while I could be of more help living another? So I made that choice, I was going to change healthcare to improve lives of many people over the world. I thought I had to do it through new technologic innovations. I was going for the unbeaten path.
Fast forward to where I am now, living almost broke in a country I might have to leave soon while working for a failing startup. Eventually, I started another Masters focused on entrepreneurship in healthcare, married the love of my life, started travelling the world together and settled down in one of the “Health-Tech” hubs in the world. You might say a perfect Disney “happily lived ever after” ending right? Guess again. The only thing I chose for was an uncertain path. Because the real struggles come later on. As a health-tech entrepreneur, I can’t easily find a job, because I can’t be fitted into a simple category like a doctor, developer, etc. Right now I feel the industry isn’t ready for my personal vision, making it difficult to sell my ideas to customers and investors. I chose to go for adventure and start living abroad. With my working visa running out within a couple of weeks and not being able to fund housing, it is forcing me to leave the country. I am currently in a situation where I literally live by the week, not knowing what will happen the week after. As adventurous as it might sound compared to my medical doctor friends at home working 50–60 hours per week, at least they know they have a roof over their head and food on the table the next week. Although these aren’t first world problems and I am lucky to say I still feel blessed to be healthy and safe, I can’t ignore the fact that this amount of stress does take its toll on you. So don’t assume that drastically changing your life to a path that suits you more is easy. But if I could do it all again, I would do it right away. Because the fact that I am not where I want to be today doesn’t mean I can’t be there tomorrow. I am still fully confident to change healthcare and to improve the lives of other people. I just know that this life suits me better and not the life that I was destined to have.
Having shared my personal story with you, I hope I can inspire you to ask yourself the right questions. As much as society tries to lay a path for you to walk on so you become “what is expected”, the fact is that eventually, we are emotionally driven animals and not constructible with building blocks. I believe this is why we currently see an enormous rise in depressions, burn-outs, and divorces all over the world. You are not like a million other people, so never try to be. You can only be yourself and be the best in becoming yourself. I don’t believe I have a better life than others, just like I don’t believe others have better lives than me. I have a life that suits me and only me. But be aware that when you make choices, life is going to test you. You are going to have many hurdles on your path. It might be one of the most difficult things to do in life, to fight for becoming the person you want to be. Because I know how we are all pushed by factors to directions we don’t want to go to. But (wo)man up, step up your game and continue to fight for what you believe in. Because we only have one life. Don’t waste it by living someone else’s.