One of the things that I have to constantly work on is a feeling of discontentment. Don’t get me wrong, I am really grateful for my life… but my brain and my thoughts always go to places that imagine what it would be like to live an alternate reality- for example: what it would be like to win the lotto, or to come up with a lucrative business idea that would mean I wouldn’t have to work anymore and could spend more time on other projects. But as much as I give myself a lot of flack for thinking that way, I think that this propensity towards discontentment is an affliction of the first world. Our thoughts just happen to us, and when we have the luxury of free time, we are likely to think more- and it is human nature to always be thinking about the next thing, to always be wanting more, to romanticise about the greener grass on the other side.
But when I went to Bali recently, it gave me a new perspective on discontentment. I saw the third world for the first time and it was a rude awakening. Every person that we encountered- whether they were a driver, masseuse, waiter, hotel concierge- they worked their proverbial butts off. Honestly, the level of their enthusiasm and effort in their work is unmatched. You could take 5 random workers in New Zealand, extract all of their effort and I’m sure it wouldn’t even come close to that of 1 Balinese worker. If they were discontent- you wouldn’t know it… because these people made sure you were getting their all. They poured their heart and soul into everything. I thought about how if these people were given more opportunities in life, they would excel. But I also realised that in the developing world, there are fewer opportunities by way of simple economics: there are a finite number of jobs, and there are a lot of people who are willing to work hard. Everyone is replaceable. They of all people have every reason to feel discontent, ruminate in it and feel sorry for themselves. But they don’t. They don’t have the time.
I quickly realised that in this particular environment, I was the one living on the greener grass… And even though that seems like a good thing and I should feel grateful for it… I still felt discontent in a way. I truly felt the weight of ‘life isn’t fair’. Why did I deserve the life that I have over them? It upset me so much that the only difference between me and these people who look like me but who live in such poverty, is a matter of where we were born. It is literally a lottery of where you are born… and I was a winner… and I felt guilty about it. I felt uncomfortable and undeserving of the great service they were providing. I felt uncomfortable about the significant privilege I have.
Once I had seen what life was like there, I just couldn’t accept it. I felt like I couldn’t just dismiss it with thoughts like, ‘oh well this is a great cheap holiday and this is just what life is like for these people’. Not to sound corny like every other person who visits the developing world for the first time, but something in my heart stirred and I so wished that I could help. I felt this desire to make a meaningful difference that could be more than just a drop in the ocean, more than just a tip at a restaurant. I wanted to utilise the privilege I have, and amplify it for the greater good. This, I decided- was what I really wanted to do. I had always wanted more- to do something more, but I had never quite figured out what that would be. And I realised that perhaps part of my discontentment, part of the reason why I long for more- is the fact that I want to do something meaningful with my life- and I haven’t quite achieved that. At best, I feel like I am just a gatekeeper of medications, a cog in the wheel of a poorly designed and funded health system… I don’t know how I will achieve this ‘more‘, but this is what motivates me. And the feeling of discontentment now serves as a reminder that I need to keep going.