5 tips for achieving a work/life balance

July 9, 2010

Over the past 18 years, my practice has granted me exclusive access to thousands of years' worth of wisdom from elderly patients. All I have to do is ask, and they reveal their secrets of life, love, death and happiness.

I'm one of the lucky few physicians who practice geriatric/long-term care medicine. Over the past 18 years, my practice has granted me exclusive access to thousands of years' worth of life experience and pearls of wisdom from my elderly patients. All I have to do is ask, and they reveal their secrets of life, love, death, and happiness.

One evening, I knocked on the door of my last nursing home patient of the day, Mr. Ferguson. I've known him for many years and through many illnesses. I always see him last so I can sit and chat a bit. Despite advancing age and illness, he has a sound mind and has the twinkling eyes of a child, especially when we talk about camping and fishing on the river. Our discussions cover a variety of topics and usually become quite philosophical.

His beautiful, almost-toothless smile made me laugh. His simple words of wisdom twisted and danced in my head the whole drive home.

He was right, of course. I remember playing baseball as a kid until suddenly it was too dark to see the ball. We were having a blast and playing so hard we lost track of time. We were really living. I guess that's the real question to ask: "What's the secret to really living?"

EXPERIENCING MORE MAGIC

As we mature, responsibilities gradually crowd out those "moments," but not totally. Every once in a while they happen, even to adults. My patients have taught me that finding the elusive balance between work and the rest of life is simply experiencing these magical moments more often and at any time of the day, not just after work. Here are the top five secrets I have learned from my patients about how they achieve this balance:

1.Work is an essential part of life. It's part of life's foundation. Work brings a sense of worth, purpose, and belonging. My older patients may not have loved their jobs, but they made the best of them and learned to appreciate them, if not enjoy them.

The idea of work/life balance assumes that work is something to be handled and dealt with, when in reality it's an essential and necessary ingredient for successful aging. Actually, none of my patients ever use the term work/life balance, so I doubt such a thing really exists (they should know).

2. Those who successfully attain "the balance" are perpetually busy. They're always up to something. They participate in more activities, go on more outings, and have more visitors than most.

This theme usually runs through such patients' entire lives. They're always swirling in a constant stream of interests and activities. They never stop. New visitors and experiences are especially welcome, as one of my patients reminds me with his famous tag line: "Doc, I can't die. I have too many things to do."

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