Finding BalanceJul 05, 2022
Balance does not mean that everything gets equal weighting all the time
One of the biggest struggles of my adult life has been the elusive idea of work-life balance. It seems like a simple concept. First, determine your priorities. Then, live your life aligned with those priorities. Easy peasy. But somehow, every time I attempt this exercise, things go awry. The sad truth rapidly emerges: Just because something is a priority does not mean you can give it all of your time.
If you ask me about my number one priority, I will quickly reply it is my family. If I went on to allot my time based solely on that priority, I might decide that work is no longer essential. I might choose to devote all of my time to raising my children. This sounds like a perfect alignment of my priority and my time. My mortgage company, however, would disagree with my priorities. It turns out that prioritizing my family also means keeping a roof over their heads. All of a sudden, my priorities just became a lot more complicated. The answer to balance isn’t simple. While the idea of work-life balance used to frustrate me, I have now realized that the concept probably doesn’t exist the way we have all been taught to think about it. In fact, it can’t exist in that way.
When I think about my identity, I am not just one thing. None of us is. I am a doctor. I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a leader, and a coach for physicians. I am a music lover, a weightlifter, a reader, an avid learner, a lifelong student, and a Facebook addict. And that is just the beginning. I wear many hats. What strikes me the most about this list is how I order these identities. The order can change every time I create this list, except for the first position. Being a physician has always been my primary identity. I was a pre-med. Then, I was a medical student. Then, I became a doctor. Achieving that title required years of dedication and focus. In my brain, it is the most identifiable thing about me. It is how I recognize myself. It never mattered that you might see me as something or someone else. To me, I am a doctor. And when you wrap yourself up into a single identity, it can wreak havoc on your life.
As I began to dig into my “doctor identity,” I started to ask myself simple questions:
- You are a doctor. What’s the big deal?
- You are a doctor, and you identify as a doctor. What’s the big deal?
The questions are simple variations of each other, but the thoughts behind the different questions are full of self-judgment. Why are you making such a big deal about your job? And therein lies the problem with the work-life balance conundrum. It is rife with self-judgment. When I head down the rabbit hole of exploring my work-life balance, I judge myself for my decisions. I can say my number one priority is my family, but time and time again, I choose work. I choose work over mealtimes. I choose work over bedtimes. I choose work over playtime with my children. And each time I explore the idea of work-life balance, the academic endeavor quickly degenerates into self-judgment.
You don’t have to dig too deep to realize why or how medicine inserted itself into the power position in our lives. I already laid it all out. Before marriage and children, all that existed was medicine. Medicine existed before I understood who I was as a person. It was my sole motivation for thirty-one years and my sole purpose in life. But, nothing stays the same, and life changes. We start in life with the thought that there is some finite amount of love in our hearts. And as we meet people, try new things, get married and have children, we quickly find that our capacity to love is only limited by our ability to find someone or something to love. An expectant mother may wonder how she could possibly love her second child as much as her first. And then, she does. It happens effortlessly when she accepts her new identity as a mother of two. For thirty-one years, all I knew was medicine. Then, I met my wife. We had children, I developed interests outside of work, and my world grew. My self-identity, on the other hand, didn’t change. And how can you create balance when you only see yourself one way?
I had the distinct pleasure of working with a physician coach, Dr. Milene Argo. As I unpacked my struggle with work-life balance, she listened patiently before teaching me something that changed my life. We are physicians. It is who we are. It is our life. For physicians, there is no work-life balance because work is our life. Instead, we should strive for life-life balance. And balance does not mean that everything gets equal weighting all the time. Balance means that everything has its place. At times, being a doctor will be the most important thing. Other times, it will be your family. And most importantly, sometimes it will be you.
As physicians, we are so good at showing up for everyone else that we frequently forget to show up for ourselves. Making time for self-care is so important when trying to create balance. Another way to show up for yourself is to have your own back. What does having your own back mean? It means that when things feel off-kilter, and life feels unbalanced, you step out of self-judgment and recognize that you are doing your absolute best. You also remind yourself that these imperfect moments are learning opportunities that will prepare you to do things differently next time. In that progress, you will move closer to that long-sought-after balance.
As I examine my life two years into physician coaching, I can see the progress. I can accept that I am not one thing. Have I finally achieved the elusive life-life balance? I don’t want to disappoint you, but I will admit that I remain a work in progress. I still have too much to do and too little time on most days. Like many physicians, I wear my busyness like a badge of honor. What has changed? The way I treat myself. On those nights I get home after the kids have eaten dinner and gone to bed, I show myself some grace. I am a kick-ass dad doing everything I need to do to support my family. Other times, when I don’t finish all of my InBasket messages before leaving for the day, I remember that I took great care of my patients, but my family needs me tonight. Show yourself some grace. It seems so simple, but it is so hard to remember. Remind yourself that you are not one thing. You never were. And you are kick-ass at all of them!
Do you struggle with finding balance? If so, how does the lack of balance show up in your life? Can you show yourself grace, rather than experiencing self-judgment? Can you recognize that you are doing your absolute best?
I want to invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING. Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.
This training will teach you the five essential tools physicians need to stop feeling disconnected, overwhelmed, and trapped in medicine. You will also learn how to discover what you truly want in life and how to get it.
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Alana Davis - 32 Flavors
If you want to read the lyrics, click here.
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