Scaling Back to Propel Yourself Forward in Work and Beyond

“Your work is to discover your world and with all your heart give yourself to it.” ~Buddha

Let me paint a picture for you, instead of clouding this post with emotion. To be more specific, I think I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and even if I wanted to cloud it with emotion, I would probably fail to convey the correct ones.

I was born in Zimbabwe to well-educated and financially comfortable parents, which is as lucky a background as some people on this continent get to have. Unfortunately, my parents were also incredibly emotionally distant, and my earliest memories include several instances of domestic violence.

Fortunately, they very rarely lived in the same house at the same time; we were usually a two-household family.

My father, in the end, died of AIDS, and I’m not in contact with my mother or any reatives because they don’t want to talk about the abuse, the disease, or anything that happened within our family.

I’m happy to accept that they are uncomfortable talking about it. After several years of struggle, I have learned a lot about my parents that teaches me what amazing people they were—and I am grateful to have been born into this family, because there was an incredible flip-side.

Although my parents were emotionally distant, they pushed me intellectually more than any parents I have ever met.

My mother relates a story of having purchased a VHS player in the United Kingdom when we lived there. At the time I was apparently around two or three years old.

I pestered them about where the cartoon characters were, because I wanted to play with them. They dismissively told me that the cartoon characters lived inside the video machine. I waited until they were gone, and I remember painstakingly prying that VHS player open, so that I could have someone to play with.

Instead of being annoyed or angry, my parents were amazed. From then on, they pumped me full of intellectual material. I remember reading Hemmingway and Cousteau to my mother while she obsessively cleaned the house before I was even in middle school. It was incredible.

It wasn’t surprising, therefore, that I chose to study medicine, or that I succeeded.

Sadly, my motivation was that the subject matter promised to be difficult. I was disappointed. I managed to pass my courses without attending lectures, and I spent most of my university career locked in my room, trying to drown or smoke my bad childhood memories away while playing computer games.

Even when I graduated, which was considered a sort of miracle by my lecturers, I walked into a world that was not where I wanted to be.

It was harrowing. Instead of feeling proud of myself, I hated the fact that I had to stay awake because people couldn’t be bothered to take care of their own health.

I hated being mistaken for a nurse because I was female. I hated having to do rectal exams. I hated being insulted by every single patient because I was native African, but can’t speak an African language.

In fact, I spent most of my time outside of the hospital getting high and teaching myself Japanese as a way to escape.

After two years of this, I figured I would be better off in an IT job. After all, I had spent my childhood in front of a computer—I get along better with machines and books than I ever have with people.

I got a job at Accenture, and I was so amped to be a techie that I threw myself in full-force! Except again, I was disappointed. I was forced to learn social skills by virtue of interacting with people constantly for two years, prior to which I had very few friends and spent most of my time alone.

It’s not that I wanted to have good social skills; they were just there. These came in handy during this job, but something even more sinister happened: I made friends.

In itself, this was a wonderful thing, because it taught me the importance of having friends. The problem, however, is that people who made friends with me during my time at Accenture thought I was a friendly and social person. I’m not a friendly and social person, and I love myself just the way I am—hard as it has been to get here.

I prefer spending time alone. In fact, I dread going to social gatherings. I am not insecure—if anything, people frequently tell me that I am unduly arrogant—and I have been to a number of psychiatrists who have pumped me full of all sorts of expensive medication, none of which has made any difference to the fact that I prefer being alone.

Amidst all of this drama, something incredible, powerful, and amazing happened.

I decided it was enough. Sure, at the time I was in a job where I felt underappreciated and my boss was a jerk, but that was just superficial. Deep down inside, about a year ago, I finally let go.

I finally decided I was no longer going to push myself to do the hardest things, just because I thought they were hard. I refused to earn above a certain figure just because people said it was the right thing to do. I quit my job on impulse, and chose to believe that the universe would guide me in the right direction to enable me to bring the greatest benefit to mankind.

I stopped listening to everyone who told me I could have a boyfriend if I changed everything about myself. I just closed down entirely and limited my entire world to my flat and what I was going to do about my life. I cut off all internet access except my daily subscription to the then-recently discovered Tiny Buddha.

It was magical.

It was uplifting.

Instead of trying to expand my world and chasing after things that other people thought were admirable goals, I stepped back.

I now have an amazing job. I translate medical articles from Japanese to English, which uses all my medical training and my self-taught Japanese. I work from home, which gives me the space I need from people. I have learned to take care of myself and my body because it makes me feel good.

Every step of the way, I had support and understanding. There was always somewhere I could go to—Tiny Buddha.

More importantly, I’ve learned that the hardest thing to do in life is to be yourself—to know, understand, and love yourself for everything you are.

I’ve had months where I don’t even know if I’ll be able to pay the rent, and I’ve had months where I worked incessantly to make more money than I knew what to do with. It really made no difference to the outcome.

The truth is, when I slowed down and started focusing on what is really important, I always found a way to pull through. I didn’t have a support group or people to talk to, I didn’t have positive coping mechanisms. I just believed that I deserved to receive the best the universe had to offer, and it happened.

The most important thing you can ever do for yourself is to take a step back, examine your life, and see if you like where it is going. It’s not easy to change that pathway, especially when the whole world tells you that you’re crazy.

On the other hand, when you get to take a step back a year later and you love the way your life is going, it makes you feel more awesome than doing nothing ever can.

*Since I started reading Tiny Buddha a year ago, I’ve always wanted to write a post. Fortunately, I have managed to exercise the patience to hold back for an entire year, in order to be able to reflect on the changes that I’ve undergone during this time.

I feel it appropriate that I get this opportunity to thank the Tiny Buddha community, simply for being itself and being a warm, loving sanctuary for anyone who feels alone or confused in the world.

Photo by egor.gribanov

About Sarai Pahla

Dr. Sarai Pahla is a medical doctor who translates articles and texts from Japanese and German to English. She plans to study overseas and blogs about her experiences at

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  • ashley k

    “…chose to believe that the universe would guide me in the right direction to enable me to bring the greatest benefit to mankind.”  i needed that reminder and your story today.  thank you for sharing.

  • Becky

    I am grateful for Saral and this very thoughtful post.  I hope you will continue to find great joy with your choices.  I especially liked how the post on acceptance so perfectly joined with your post on being and doing who you are.  I hope you will post again with your insights on living the life that brings you happiness while stepping aside from others’ expectations of you.  Thank you.

  • Purpleiris_5

    That was truly one of the most amazing posts.  I cried and cheered and felt your pain and elation.  I so admire your ability to leap.  How amazing that your Japanese hobby turned into such a wonderful job.  I’m using your story to help me a little.  I so need to leave my job but wonder if worrying about money would be worse than the horrible stress and anxiety.  thanks for your story and your lovely way of expressing it.

  • Ptysia

    Thank you so much for sharing. This post truly stirred my soul and I feel like it is exactly wha I needed. It is so funny because I have spent the last few months in a slump, irrate with the world for not stimulating me and for nothing great happening TO me. I’ve recently taken the time to really reflect and figure out what I want and decided to read my daily TB (even though in the last few months nothing has ‘moved me’) and I am typing this with a smile because your courage to dance to the beat of your own drum reinforces everything I’ve discovered upon reflection these past few days! Thank you for your honesty and truth! Namaste 🙂

  • jenn

    You’re post made my day so much better :0) I don’t feel like such an outcast anymore. You explained things in a way I understand. I too am grateful for Tiny Buddha…in sooo many ways. Thank you so much for your post!

  • Dagnamila

    You should write a book. I could hear your voice through your writing. Thank you for posting your great story , fragrance of great hope.

  • It’s a great pleasure Ashley – I hope you let the universe lead you on to more amazing things 🙂

  • Hi Becky – thanks for the compliments. I think letting go of the expectations was the hard part – everything from there onwards has been lighter and made more sense! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Hi Ptysia – I’m glad it got you thinking – that’s the first step towards creating your new life! Great things will happen when you go out and get them, but to do that, you have to know what they are 🙂 I wish you good luck on your journey! Namaste

  • Smsanford

    It is not the destination, it is the journey.  Thank you for living your life and giving us a glimpse into it.

  • Tracy

    I am curious how your journey turns out. I am doing something similar. I experienced a lot of upheaval in 2010, so in 2011 I made it my mission to try new things and push myself in ways that I ordinarily would have been afraid to do. This also included saying yes to social invitations that I normally might have refused because like you I’m not an overly social person. I learned a lot about myself and gained confidence but by the end of the year I found myself saying over and over that I wanted to stop trying without really knowing what I meant by it. So this year I decided to stop trying or in other words to let go. My path isn’t quite as drastic as yours (I kept my job among other things) but it has been interesting to see what happens when I choose not to do things I might have forced myself to do before out of some sense of obligation. A few relationships have faded because it turned out I was the only one making the effort. I feel like I am clarifying what I truly do want to keep in my life and sometimes those choices are surprising even to myself. Also, if you haven’t read it already, I want to recommend a book called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. It will show you that there is nothing wrong with wanting time alone. In fact there is something wrong with trying to “fix” that desire.Best of luck!

  • Hi Jenn – that’s great news! Tiny Buddha has been a place of comfort for so many – I’m glad my post could be a part of that 🙂 Glad your day went better.

  • Complete agree – and I’m glad you can appreciate it with me 🙂

  • Pam

    I so appreciate your post and will read it often. And I thought I was the only medical professional (25 yrs in Nursing) that really didn’t enjoy working with people …and now it’s okay. I needed this. I’ve also been reading your blog. YOU really are AMAZING! Thanks for sharing. Take care and enjoy your journey!

  • Hi Tracy – thanks for the book recommendation – I will definitely grab a copy. I’m glad to hear that you are choosing what to keep in your life – and whatever you feel is right for you, go for it! It sounds exciting that some of your choices surprise you – now you can find out what those choices hold in store! 🙂

  • Hi Purpleiris – it moves me so much to let you know that you opened your heart like this when reading the post! I’ll say this – worrying about money is much easier when you are doing something you really love, but letting go of anxiety over anything is a real personal challenge! I hope you find the right answer within yourself first, and act from within – then everything else will make more sense. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Hi Dagnamila – I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post – and I am glad that I was able to “speak” to you in this way 🙂 

  • Molly Hackett

    You are quite a writer. Thank you.

  • Teresa Hubley

    Utterly inspiring!

  • i’m so inspired by your story and most importantly that you self-taught our language which is one of the hardest in the world, or so they say! 🙂
    Would love to hear more!!!!

  • Sarai Pahla, your story is inspiring. Thank you for such an amazing story and your courage to do so. I am happy that you are better and undergoing good changes. I went through many unhappy events myself when I was younger and somehow or rather I’ve always stayed positive. I was having emotional breakdown because of my divorce, I gave up hope on a lot of things but I looked for guidance and patience and I found it. It really helped me a lot emotionally. 
    May you be happy and healthy always.

  • Rose

    Wow! What an inspiring and compelling post. You told your story beautifully. Thanks for sharing.

  • ruddy

    Finally a story i understand – i also like to enjoy my own company and making friends is hard for me, going out to meet others is a chore and although i have friends it isnt easy. All my friends i have known for a long period and i rarely loose one when i make one. I never know what to do with my life it is difficult as i have responsibilities. I too dont speak my parents tougue and dont feel like i fit in – 

    I loved your story inspirational and to the point. It is how it is! 

  • Susie

    Thank you Sarai. What a wonderful story and an excellent message from which I took a lot of hope. Like myself, I see that many of us have been on “the path of most resistance” when it comes to being comfortable with who we really are. Thankfully, as I get older, practicing acceptance (in the good way) is becoming naturally easier. Tiny Buddha has been a blessing for me too – it consistently reduces my frustration with life by inspiring a grateful existence    

  • Tyler222

    Very nice. 🙂

  • Condocaine

    yippee!!!! you go ghurl!!!

  • Hi Mario – thanks for the compliments 🙂 I really do think it is one of the hardest in the world – although there is nothing so hard that it can’t be overcome by hard work and dedication 🙂 I hope you’ve found the link to my blog – please stay in touch! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  • Aw – thanks so much Condocaine 🙂 I hope you’re finding the same kind of inner happiness in your life too!

  • Thanks Tyler222, glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Hi Susie – you’ve hit on one of my favourite points – Acceptance! We are so ready to be accepting of the world around us and to adapt to it, but when it comes to accepting ourselves, we take our time. I’m glad you’ve found Tiny Buddha to be a place where you can come to find peace and inspiration – and so glad that you enjoyed the post – I hope you continue to accept more of yourself every day!

  • Hi Ruddy – I’m glad to hear you have such a good understanding of yourself already – I admire that! I think life is something you figure out on the way – be open to new possibilities and dream of the future you want to have. That’s where it starts. Responsibilities tend to prevent the big changes, but not the little ones. I’m sure your’e going to be fine (you are starting from a great foundation), and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  • Hi Rose – so glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  • Hi Pammie – I’m glad you enjoyed the post! It sounds like you have a high level of natural happiness – from the books I’ve read, I’m told that is the best and most lasting kind! I hope that you have taken time out to heal and connect with yourself again!

  • Thanks Teresa – glad you enjoyed it!

  • Thanks for the compliment Molly, much appreciate!

  • Paula J.

    Thank you for your article, Dr. Pahla. It came at the perfect time for me, as I contemplate the future, my choices, and where to go from here. I didn’t arrive at any conclusions, and I still worry incessantly, but it is nice to know others have found their way through the maze. All the best for your future.

  • Sarai, congratulations on having the strength and wisdom to step back, hole up, and find what makes you, you and you happy. Your story is inspiring and I hope others choose to follow their own journey home.

  • Gaylern55

    I am a nurse and after many years in the profession I feel the need to help others in some other way. Your beautifully honest story shows how your “healing” of others has taken the path of using words and language as the instruments. Through healing yourself, you are in a unique position to help others and reach many. To learn to trust and know that we will be able to make it through each situation that arises has been very difficult for me, but I am finally understanding this concept with contributions such as yours and Tiny Buddha! Congratulations on a huge spiritual leap!
    Know and write with confidence that your words are healing.
    Thank you and best of everything,

  • Simona Celarova

    wow. respect.

  • Mloza

    “I just believed that I deserved to receive the best the universe had to offer, and it happened” I hope you won’t mind but I really need to borrow this and make it my mantra from now on. I too feel as if I only do things because someone said or indicated somehow that it was “the right thing to do.” Lately I find myself cringing whenever I hear or feel this and deliberately doing the opposite! Perhaps I just needed some affirmation that I’m not alone in feeling this way and that I’m perfect just the way I am! And so are you Sarai, so are you! Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us.  

  • Karimccowan

    So blessed to have read your story today! As a ridiculously optimistic person, I have a hard time saying I can’t make everything happen by just trying harder. What a wonderful idea to try less. I kill myself emotionally by trying to “force a square peg into a round hole” while smiling all the way. You have piqued my interest. Thank you for sharing …I hope to have a beautiful transformation to share soon. I hope you are enjoying yours. Bless you !

  • Lynda

    Wow. You are an amazing woman. Thank you for this. On a morning where I could barely get myself to get up, your post really brightened my day and has inspired me to continue pursuing my passion.  Bravo to you 🙂 

  • BrightSpirit

    Thank you so much for sharing your story! Your honesty was refreshing and affirming that our life path’s are not always easy, but having the choice to step back and think what is best for us is a lesson to constantly remember.

    Thank you!

  • So true – life is not always easy, but it does help when you know where you want it to go… which is usually when you need to take the step back. So glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Oh I know those mornings well – I’m glad you found new strength to carry on, and especially that you found it on Tiny Buddha 🙂 Keep at it – it always pays off to follow what your heart knows you should be doing!! 🙂 Good luck, Lynda!

  • Hi Pam – so glad to see that someone else in the medical profession felt the same way and is OK with being honest about it! 25 years in Nursing must have been incredibly draining – I definitely think nurses deserve more respect than doctors because I know what you have to deal with!! Bravo to you for being OK with yourself and may you continue on this delightful path 🙂 

  • Thanks for sharing, Karim – that’s actually a very interesting perspective! You’re an unstoppable optimist – that’s an incredibly gift – but I can understand where it trips you up. I like the fact that you have taken time to get to know yourself already. It is important to know when to stop and liberate yourself from the situation – your emotional health is important. I wish you good luck in your journey of self-discovery!

  • Thanks Mloza, sounds like you’re starting off on a journey of your own! It is initially quite difficult to break free of others expectations, so don’t be too hard on yourself and take time out to enjoy discovering the new you. I’ll bet you’re having a lot of fun doing the opposite – taking the time out to be different always pays off in terms of personal enjoyment!!

  • Thanks Simona!!

  • This is absolutely spot on – I truly do apply the same philosophy during translation as I did during medicine! Thank you for giving me this wonderful perspective – and it sounds like you have also gone through challenges of your own, so I hope the post did the same for you. I do feel like this is an immense healing experience – the kind that will give me an honest and truthful foundation for the future. Thanks so much and I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  • Thanks Brenda – I am so glad to see how many people I have reached with this message, and I do hope that it inspires others to keep pursuing their dreams, even in the face of adversity!

  • Hi Paula – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! The conclusions take the longest, in my opinion – what is important is to open yourself up to the possibility and potential for something more. That’s where it starts. Nobody has all the answers, and I think you will slowly start to find yours as you take more time out for contemplation. Good luck!

  • Tinarose29

    OMG I can’t stop crying after reading this article, its so similar to what I have been through in life. I too listened too much to what people said I should be, how I should dress, talk etc, but the day I decided to stop and find out what I wanted they where still not happy. I find that sad, but I am the happiest I’ve been in my life and I have nothing but me right now. Lori and TinyBuddha have been a true inspiration to me and I know sometimes my comments where hurtful I think its beacuse I was in pain, but now I don’t know what pain is all I know is each day is another day in my life. I was told the other day by someone pretty close that because I have nothing at the moment I do not have a voice or an opinion… I was so hurt I cried myself to sleep, but now I just feel sorrow and pity for them, because no one except God will change me. Amazing article Sarai
     Christine (from Zambia)

  • Estelle

    I just want to say that I give you a standing ovation for sharing your story with us and I applaud your courage and strength. It takes a lot of guts and self-belief to leave the safety net of a 9 to 5 job and go out and do your own thing.   So pat yourself on the back, because lots of us who are still in the corporate world wish we could take that leap of faith. You quite an inspiration and I am so lucky to be able to call you a friend.

  • Maria

    Thank you so much for sharing your story … ♥

  • I’ve spent the last ten years building a career and have some amazing achievements but I also have chronic disease and now I have decided that enough is enough and I need change my life. I’m going to step back into a part time job, and do some projects that will provide me more exercise and a source of income which will provide balance and allow me to be myself.

  • the square peg into round hole is me too.