What is balance?
It is all relative, since you can only find balance when you know where your own center is. Doctors, like those in many other professions, spend many years honing our craft. We log countless hours in training and then in “real life” practice we don’t just stop when the day is over. There are patients to follow up on, calls to take, human lives to care about and keep healthy. I have yet to meet a physician who hasn’t gone above and beyond on countless occasions for his or her patients. With that passion comes the inevitable creation of a certain set point of the pendulum upon which we balance our lives, both professionally and personally. I gave my heart and soul to being the best pediatrician I could be and I still do, but now after 10 years of having my pendulum stuck in the work-work-work position I am learning to find a new center that is bringing me more joy and fulfillment than I could have imagined.
It all starts with the decision to find what makes you happy and then reprioritize your life to reflect that happiness. I was a slave to the false premise that I was defined by my work as a pediatrician. Of course, I enjoyed plenty of other things in my life outside of work: I dated, played sports and stayed fit, took the occasional trip to an island and spent time with my family. I even invested in property and worked with a financial adviser knowing that someday I wanted to retire without worrying about money. By all intents and purposes, I was doing it right—I was getting enough sleep, enough exercise, enough play. I was happy enough, but I still would never dare to jeopardize my standards of how I practiced pediatrics in search of more than just enough. I was the employee in my practice who brought in the most revenue and I lived so close to the office that I would go in off-hours or go to a patient’s house if needed when I was on call. I would never think of going away for too long or moving away and starting over for a better opportunity despite the lack of fulfillment I was feeling at work. My patients needed me and I could not let them down. Then one day, I realized there had to be more. There had to be a way to be the best doctor I could be and still unlock the happiness I knew was out there waiting for me.
Further reading: My best idea to avoid physician burnout
I wrote down the things that made me smile, the things that excited me and the things that just made me happy. It was such a simple exercise and it didn’t take long to do. I thought about the people in my life and I asked myself who did not make me feel good. I separated myself from those particular people and circumstances and instead I actively sought out opportunities that were more in line with those things on my list. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t surround myself with “yes people,” but rather a close knit group of trusted family, friends and mentors who offered constructive criticism as well as inspiration. I worked with a nutritionist to shake up my boring old diet, I joined a different gym and started working with weights (I can’t believe I didn’t do that sooner!), I picked up a sledge hammer and gutted my bathroom down to the beams to prepare it for a makeover, and I made the decision to start my own practice.