American writer-journalist Emily Esfahani Smith tells us that purpose is one of the four pillars that gives us meaning in life. The other three are belonging, transcendence and storytelling. To me, discovering purpose has been the quintessential pursuit of my happiness and fulfilment in life. I find meaning through my sense of purpose and using my strengths to serve others.
I’ve always known that, while animals are driven simply to survive, we humans crave more from life than mere survival – survival for the sake of what? German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” Indeed, when we know our why, we will then have the courage to take the risks needed to move our lives onto more challenging and rewarding paths.
I recall, when I was in medical school, countless nights of studying into the wee hours and constantly missing out on social events, all in the name of mastering human diseases and tedious treatment algorithms that determine the best outcomes for patients, depending on the stage of the disease. At the time, I would have attributed my drive to my passion for medicine and love of the human body.
Later, as a junior eye doctor-in-training, while my peers were motivated to use their holidays for leisure, I was driven to seek out hospital attachments in various cities of the world, so that I could have access to the clinical strategies and surgical techniques employed by some of the greatest minds in the field. With some persistent negotiation and a good dose of luck, I managed to arrange hospital attachments at almost every travel destination – Sydney, China, Toronto, Vancouver, New York, London and Germany. If asked why I spared no expense at scouring the globe, I would have said I was driven by my desire to be (in my mind) a confident, greater than competent surgeon for my patients by bringing back the best clinical practices from each part of the world to them.
After finally stepping out into private practice and using my hard-earned skills to treat those who sought me, I somehow felt the need to take a step further and bring eye care to those who cannot afford it. While I knew I had to make money to keep the company afloat, I was never driven by the money. Within the first three months of opening my new clinic, without much care for the bottom line, I financed two charity trips for my family and team to under- developed countries to provide eye care in the rural areas. It was then that I discovered my passion for charity work and continued expanding the non-profit sectors of our company. Looking back now at the journey of my life, I realise that what drove me all this time was my connection with my patients and my desire to give them the best care and visual outcomes possible. Sitting squarely between my talent, skills, passions and values, my motivation and drive in life are simply to make someone else’s life better than it was before.
Dr Claudine Pang is the medical director of Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre and founder of EyeQ & Eye Care Without Borders.