Finding contentment in what we do

It seems that my current state is what my younger self had always wished for.

As far as happy ending goes in rom-coms, this is the part where the guy holds the girl’s hand and they walk into the sunset. Or in Disney cartoons, the happy-ever-after.

I am married to a loving and supportive man and we are blessed with the most beautiful and alert baby girl I can ever ask for.

I am also lucky enough to be able to take this crucial time off from work to care for her 24/7 in the first year of her life. We live in one of the most desirable cities in the world.

So why is it that while I was washing the dishes one night and my husband was holding our baby, I found myself wondering, now what?

I used to be wildly ambitious. My life had always carried a goal, and I thrived on competition and achievements.

I had a voracious hunger for life and the profound need to make something of my finite time on earth. Because of these tall dreams, I had the tendency to focus on a glittering future where I would have finally found success, and as a result, I was constantly frustrated that I was not there yet. 

This ambition took a hiatus while I was pregnant, when the cocktail of maternal hormones swimming inside me made me focus on childbearing. As a result of natural labour and breastfeeding my baby, the off-the-scale level of oxytocin and endorphins in me created feelings of deep relaxation, love and bonding. I was content to be consumed by baby love.  

But after three months of a repetitive cycle of feeding, changing nappies, caring, and putting my baby to sleep, I started to miss having the freedom to do things for me.

If I were in Malaysia, some “me time” may still be possible as my mum and dad would very happily take care of my daughter. But as I mentioned in my previous column, living geographically removed from my family meant I’m operating solo on most days.

For centuries, women have been fighting for equal rights. In spite of their work and qualifications, women are ultimately still the main provider for her child, with their husbands having the societal-given right to resume work.

In some cases because of financial or personal circumstances, some mothers resort to giving up their careers to become stay-at-home mums. And for those who resume work after a period of maternity leave, it’s a challenge to strike a balance between caring for their child and advancing in their careers.

Make no mistake, I love being a mother and I have an incandescent love for my child.

But the fire in my belly, the deep unsettled need to live on top of the world is still burning strong every day.

And being a mother has not changed this desire. It has, however, changed my attitude to these aspirations.

The pre-baby me had never really been content living in the present. When I was in secondary school, I couldn’t wait to turn 18 because I thought that it was trendy to be 18.

Then, when I went to university I was striving to get that scholarship and experience living abroad.

When I moved to England, I was looking forward to finishing my studies. After my PhD, I had the vivaciousness of someone entering workforce for the first time and I wanted to try everything — writing, science, linguistics and modelling.

As I was ascending the career ladder, baby Raphie arrived and she marked the completion to what I thought I had always wanted. I feel content and yet I have not forgotten those ambitions.

I realised that some of us go about our way in life aspiring to be somewhere else all the time, and never truly feel contentment at being where we are.

When we arrive at a landmark in our lives, whether it’s starting a relationship, getting married, having a baby or job promotions, we are immediately thinking of the next destination.

Why can’t we just take a break and enjoy what we have right now?

As Oprah Winfrey said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.”

  • Samantha was born and raised as a typical Malaysian but it all changed when she received a scholarship to study in the UK. More than a decade later, she reflects on the time in between, peppered by detours and a renewed understanding of her homeland.

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