The Epidemic of Work DreadMay 17, 2022
“Monday is like a math problem. Add the irritation, subtract the sleep, multiply the problems, divide the happiness.”
Work dread. You know the feeling even if you didn’t know it had a name. It is that sensation in the pit of your stomach when you realize that the start of your workday or workweek is fast approaching, and you don’t want it to come. Sometimes it begins on Sunday afternoon when you want to be enjoying time with your family. Other times, you might find yourself sitting in the hospital or clinic parking lot, resisting the beginning of another busy day. Maybe you sit in your car for an extra 10 minutes and allow yourself to finish a podcast episode. Or perhaps you doomscroll on Facebook for a few minutes before taking a deep breath, getting out of your car, and starting your day.
When I am dreading work, I sometimes allow myself to daydream about retirement. I imagine relaxing on some remote beach far away from the madness and chaos that is healthcare in 2023. There will be no more patient satisfaction scores, prior authorizations, or peer-to-peers, and there will be plenty of time for relaxation and contemplation. This is what the financial independence retirement early (FIRE) movement is all about: Being able to step away any time you want. The idea of doing nothing sounds incredible. Before I found physician coaching, exiting medicine seemed like the only solution for escaping my work dread.
Physician coaching was a wake-up call for me, just as it is for the physician clients I work with daily. We tend to vilify medicine and idealize retirement. We believe that life will be better without medicine. In retirement, we will finally get to live life on our terms. But when we think that life outside of medicine is better, we punch ourselves in the face. We argue with reality and trade the possibility of joy tomorrow for guaranteed misery today. Of course, you will dread work if you believe it is impossible to be happy working as a physician in 2023.
There is certainly something that sounds magical about leaving the worries of medicine behind. The truth is that most physicians I speak to love practicing medicine, but there are parts of their work that they find frustrating. Despite those frustrations, many physicians thrive when they are busy and productive. We are highly motivated, extremely capable individuals who never shy away from a challenge. We didn’t get through competitive pre-med tracks, MCATs, medical school, and residency because we enjoyed resting on our laurels. Most of us genuinely enjoy hard work and remain highly dedicated to serving our patients and communities. Reading a book on the beach or playing multiple rounds of golf sounds fun, but after a week or a month, restlessness will surely find you. What then?
We do not need to escape work to be happy now. We do not need to give up medicine to enjoy our lives. Enjoying your life is available to you now. You get to choose. You can decide to postpone happiness while working extra hours and saving more money so that you can retire at age 45, or you can choose to work a little less now to create space while finding activities and interests that bring you joy. You can choose to spend time with your family now and plan to work for a few extra years. You can also choose to enjoy the challenge that is healthcare in 2023.
I get it. That last sentence may sound controversial, frustrating, or downright infuriating. Even re-reading that sentence causes me to experience an internal conflict. My brain immediately goes to the most frustrating aspects of my day: a peer-to-peer, an overbooked schedule, a demanding patient, the inability to eat a quick lunch without being disturbed by a question or a request, etc. And when I think about these things in this way, I feel frustrated, annoyed, and hopeless. I provide evidence that the dread I felt before I got out of my car in the morning was wholly justified. I punch myself in the face and then complain that it hurts.
Alternatively, I can choose to think of these things as my superpowers. I can get my patient the CT scan they need with just one phone call. OK. Maybe it will take two phone calls and a phone tree of innumerable options before my patient’s CT gets approved. But they will get what they need because I am a dedicated physician that fights for my patient’s best interests. My patients think I am great and want to see me, so my schedule is overbooked. I have been overbooked before, and it will probably happen again, but I know I can do it. And when my patients are grateful to see me, I will not brush it off as a kind gesture. I will really feel their gratitude because that is just one of the many things that make my work worthwhile.
Becoming a physician was one of the most important decisions I have ever made. When I embarked on this journey, I didn’t know the details or what it would entail, but I wouldn’t change anything. This is such important work. I thought running away was the solution to my daily frustrations for a while. But when I chose to focus on my work challenges, I was relentlessly punching myself in the face. I ensured that I would be miserable because I remained focused on the less pleasant aspects of my job.
On the other hand, my entire attitude changed when I began to focus on the fulfilling parts of my work. When I think about the intellectual challenges of my work, the appreciative patients, and the incredible opportunity I have to help people daily, I stop trying to run away from the work that inspires me. When I think about these situations in this way, I am filled with hope, gratitude, and the knowledge that I get to make a difference every time I get out of my car and step foot in my clinic or the hospital.
I love the quote: “Don’t retire from something. Retire to something.” While I still think about the day I will retire from medicine, that day is further away than when I first began physician coaching. Once I realized that I didn’t have to rush to retire from medicine, I was able to slow down just enough to make my days less overwhelming and more enjoyable. I focused more on the parts of my work that I enjoy and less on the aspects that I don’t. And when my days became a little less overwhelming and less frustrating, I stopped feeling the work dread that had plagued my Sundays and early mornings for so many years.
We all choose how we want to show up in this world. Do you want to go through life trying to escape this moment while hoping that the next one will be better? Do you have evidence that this has worked for you before? When I was in college, I was sure I would be happy once I got to medical school. The same feeling happened as I sought out the perfect internal medicine residency program. It will be better there. I just knew that once I was an attending, all of my worries would be behind me. Clearly, that wasn’t the case for me. Did it work for you?
Sure there are mornings that I don’t want to go to work, and I would much rather stay in bed and eat breakfast with my family. Reading a book or working out while having a lazy day would be nice. On those days, I remind myself that my work matters. I also remind myself that it is OK to be frustrated. I don’t have to like peer-to-peers to be a good doctor that does excellent work and cares deeply about his patients. I can feel frustrated during my day and still leave work knowing that I made a difference in many lives. That is enough to get me out of the car and back to enjoying today. It is great to plan for tomorrow, but don’t forget to enjoy today. It is only here for a limited time.
Are you ready to reclaim your weekends and mornings from work dread? Are you ready to stop trying to escape a career in medicine? Are you ready to start enjoying work again? Invest in yourself and change your life.
Are you interested in creating more balance in your life? 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 techniques physicians need to stop feeling stuck, burned out, and trapped in medicine. You will also learn how to stop racing toward retirement and start using tools that empower you to practice medicine your way.
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.
Chantal Kreviazuk - Time
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