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. We give our hearts and souls to being the best physicians we can be, but after years of having our pendulums stuck in the work-work-work position we must learn to balance that passion and drive with the aspects of our lives outside of work that can bring us just as much fulfillment.
It all starts with the decision to find what makes you happy and then reprioritize your life to reflect that happiness. Many physicians are slaves to the false premise that we are defined by our work. Of course, we enjoy plenty of other things in life outside of work…many of us get married and/or have children, travel occasionally, and participate in volunteer or other extracurricular activities. I personally even invested in property and I found a good financial advisor knowing that someday I want to retire without worrying about money. By all intents and purposes, it seems like we are doing it right—we get enough sleep, enough exercise, enough play.
I can say that 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 lived so close to the office where I was employed 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.
It may sound silly, but I became a deliberate creator and it is absolutely something all of us can and should be. It is easier said than done, but in order for this approach to make a difference in your life it is imperative to work hard to let go of the “peanut gallery” and start caring about what you think instead of what everyone else thinks of you. I personally began prioritizing 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 realized that no one was going to create that balance for me so it was up to me to do it for myself.
Once you are in the zone, things will start falling into place. However, as you come up with solutions to improve your work-life balance, new challenges will inevitably present themselves. I found that opening my own pediatric practice was my gateway to independence, but I knew I could not maintain the responsibilities of owning my own 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 staff.
If it happens to be your goal to not wait until you are too tired, too sick, or too old to enjoy all the good things life has to offer, then please try to resist the temptation to give up on your vision just because there is an obstacle in your path. It is important to know 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.
We love to eat Chinese food and 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 now truly believe that since I cannot (and should not try to) control what anyone else does or thinks I must focus on controlling the thoughts I choose to think. Of course, everyone’s pendulum will swing out of control every once in a while, but 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.