‘Damn these city people, never know how to take their time!’’
I’ve always realized that most of the things The Professor said were agreeable with me. But that curse was one of the most agreeable. We were at some traffic light in Amsterdam when the lights just turned green, and just as the Professor was kicking in the gears, the car behind started honking deafeningly.
‘’Where is he going so fast anyway? There are more traffic lights in front!’’, he asked me. A rhetorical question. I just shrugged. The car drove past us, and a few meters later we were next to him again, side by side before another red light. ‘’See?’’ The Professor said, satisfied that his prophecy was fulfilled. He was about to give him the looks, but his son warned him ‘’Careful dad, we might end up in a fight here’’.
His son has lived in Amsterdam for quite some time. He knew how the city people would react. The Professor has always lived in the outskirts, or in small towns where people are less aggressive and had more time. Living in Kuala Lumpur since I was born, I consider myself a city people, but I couldn’t agree more with the Professor’s philosophy about people always rushing around and getting nowhere. Two days spent in his house was enough to show me that.
The Professor is the author of several books in ENT, which are used as textbooks in medical schools around the world, he is invited to almost all the prestigious ENT society meetings and conferences in the world, he has a happy family with equally successful children in different fields (one was a ballerina who’s internationally recognized, the other was an economist for one of the largest bank in the Netherlands, and others I couldn’t recall), and he made some important discoveries in the field of ENT. Yet, his life seems so simple, seems to always have ample amount of time, sometimes you just have to wonder how did he became so successful. He has a beautiful garden full of flowers and every morning he would smoke cigarette (okay, this one is not a good example) in his garden and admire its beauty. Then he would come in, have an espresso, turn on some jazz or blues music and sit to read. When some idea sinks in his mind he would get up into his study to write. Then he would get to work. On evenings he would take his dog for a walk around the neighbourhood. At night he sometimes cooks for his family.
His favourite mode of transport is walking, second by boat (you can get to anywhere in the Netherlands through the canals) and lastly by car, and his car is the smallest Volvo I’ve ever seen (about the size of a ‘Smart Fortwo’), and he likes that car because it is convenient and doesn’t takes much time finding for a parking space and getting it serviced. I loved his sense of simplicity.
One of the evenings, as we were sipping coffee by the garden, he asked me about my plans after medical school. I told him the usual script, finishing medical school, undergo housemenship for 2 years, go on becoming an MO, then a specialist. ''Well that’s not very clever’’, he said. I wasn’t surprised, I got used to the way Dutch people tell things: direct and straight to the point. ‘’You’re still young, you know, there’s so much time left for you’’. He told me to learn something new. ‘’You can work when you’re older, but now at a young age is where you learn and let the creativity spark. You have much more energy’’. This idea might be so foreign to us, but that is how things are in most western countries. They take time to learn something new, take a year off to write, do research, get another degree not related to the ones before. I am not saying it’s the right way to do things, but it is very different from our culture of rushing from one phase of life to another. Finishing medical school ASAP, then finish houseman ASAP, get a specialist training ASAP, but in the end where are we going? Maybe taking a year off to work with some NGOs at the most desperate of places is more satisfying, or writing a monumental book that people will read long after you die, or do research that makes science forever indebted to you.
If there is a notion that busyness equals success, The Professor is the epitome of its fallacy. Maybe, in this modern world people always equate busyness with productivity. The busier you are (or you may seem) the more productive you are. Watching The Professor living his daily life begged me to differ. Some people strive so hard but are not going anywhere. Perhaps they are trying too hard doing insignificant things. Or maybe struggle too much in preparing things, but when the real moment that really counts: an interview, a presentation, or even a date, they falter.
In economics, there is a law called ‘The Pareto’s Law’ which states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In business, researches shown that in most companies, 80% of their sales come from only 20% of their products (cash cow products, as business people call it). Taking these principles into daily life, 80% of successes in life can be attributed to focusing on the 20% of efforts. Some people call this ‘The Law of Least Effort’.
How many times have you a heard about students who seems to know everything crumbled in exams? Maybe they focused on the 80%, but neglected the 20% really matters: The gist of the theoretical knowledge that can be uttered flawlessly during presentations and exams. Or perhaps they neglected to simplify their knowledge into meaningful words for a stressful peri-exam brain. Or maybe about the story where someone tries to satisfy each and every one of her friend and fans but in the end neglected the 20% of people who really matter in their life? Or about the people who work so hard every day but ends up with a heart attack for failing to include exercising and eating healthy food into the crucial 20% of his life?
Identifying the 20% of things we need to put our efforts into is not easy, and differs from person to person. Someone might say that writing contributes to 80% of their success while they only spend 20% of their time doing it. Some say it is it includes reading, attending courses, spending time with family, exercising or joining a cause. I guess it all comes down to prioritization. Once you’ve identified the 20% if things to be prioritized, you will find that you actually have an abundance of time. Spend time on the 20% of things that matters and the rest will come by itself. May you become one of the most successful and happy people on earth
For The Professor, his 20% is writing and researching. His papers and books made him well-known all around the world. He realized that, and continued to focus his energy on that small portion of overall time. Hence, he has more time doing leisurely things with people he cares about.
As we arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, he walked me to the departures. ‘’Well, it was nice having u to stay with us’’ he said. I don’t know how to thank him enough, but told him I appreciate his courtesy very much, and we waved goodbye. As he walked away, I can imagine him going back to his laid back life, taking his time, sipping coffee, having a laugh with family and friends, and some time when ideas arrive, he will be up in his study to write yet another masterpiece.