2017 Physician Writing Contest: Honorable Mention
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.
Yes, if I were going to start creating my own happiness I was going “all in.”
It may sound silly, but I became a deliberate creator-something all of us can and should be. It is easier said than done, but I worked (and continue to work) hard to let go of the peanut gallery in my life and I started caring about what I thought instead of what everyone else thought of me or for me. I prioritized sleep, nutrition and fitness and I freed myself from relationships that didn’t serve me. I spent what little extra time I had reading about topics that resonated with my new philosophy and I stopped watching television. I knew I had to create that balance for myself.
Related reading: 10 strategies to enrich physicians' lives
Once I was in the zone, things started falling into place. I met and married my true companion and we have been working together to successfully run my general pediatrics practice, build a life together and raise a beautiful seven-year-old little girl. He is not in the medical field, but since we are on the same page in nearly every aspect of our lives, we have a synergy that draws the best from of each of us and it just works.
I knew I could not maintain the responsibilities of owning a business and continue to give quality care to my patients while following my happiness outside of the office without an associate. With the help of some good connections, a lot of patience and remaining positive I was able to hire a fantastic physician assistant to join my already fantastic staff. We work diligently each day to keep our well-oiled machine running and my team even mans the ship during my family’s twice-a-year getaway to beautiful Costa Rica. Our goal is to live an “active retirement” as my husband calls it. It happens to be our specific goal to not wait until we are too tired, too sick or too old to enjoy all the good things life has to offer.
My particular situation and the way my life is unfolding is not the reason I am writing about work-life balance. I am writing on this subject because everyone needs to hear that it is OK to let go of any guilt and especially any excuses that are holding you back from living the life you’ve imagined for yourself.
Further burnout advice: The myth of the ideal day for physicians
We love to eat Chinese food. One time I opened a fortune cookie that said it all: “You can either build your own dream or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” I’m not saying that starting your own practice is the path to achieving work-life balance and it scared the heck out of me to do it, but being my own boss created that flexibility to help me do the things I love. My situation is really no different from anyone else’s; I still have loans to pay back, long days that exhaust me and family time to fit in. I will surely have many more bumps in the road ahead, but I now truly believe that while I cannot control what anyone else does or thinks I can control the thoughts I choose to think.
So while everyone’s pendulum will swing out of control every once in a while, if you find what makes you happy that is a great start to finding peace in your life, happiness in your heart and passion for your work as a doctor.