Recently, @surgeoninkicks wrote about what it means to “have it all.” Her main point, which I wholeheartedly agree with (and have a difficult time complying with), is that “having it all” is how you shape your “all” and not about what anyone tells you “having it all” is about. Reading her piece reminded me of the four behaviors that I constantly struggle with on a daily basis that I think we all need to exhibit if we expect to “have it all.”
1) Savor the moments
I really have a hard time savoring the moments. I am always rushing to get something done whether it’s at work, or at home, or on vacation. It’s as if my life in all these domains is one giant list of check boxes that I absolutely must be attacking at all times lest I fall even more behind than I already am. But, living this way is destructive.
Sometimes you just have to ignore the dirty dishes on the counter and sit on the front porch with your husband having coffee. Sometimes you have to put off billing/coding or writing a manuscript to catch up with a colleague over lunch and get your intellectual juices flowing. Sometimes you just have to let yourself sleep in on vacation even if the world outside is filled with sites that will be more crowded as the day goes on. Sure there is necessity, and perhaps even some “feel good” value to the items on your to-do list, but you just have learn to put the check boxes aside every now and then and savor the moments. The bliss from moments savored will ultimately provide the necessary fuel to eventually get everything else done.
2) Drop the guilt
I am constantly feeling guilty about something that I should be doing, should have done, or should be planning to do. Sure work-life balance is hard; some might even say its a fallacy driving me to wallow in guilt. But, nothing will disrupt balance more than feeling guilty about what’s weighing down the other side of the scale.
So, when you are at work because you have to be, or even because you have chosen to go in on your weekend off, don’t feel guilty about that ball game or family barbecue or whatever else you might be tempted to feel bad about missing. Lamenting what may be going on outside work will simply make you less productive and lead to errors of distraction. If you are with friends or family, don’t perseverate about what you might have left behind at work. Engaging fully with those around you, unencumbered by guilt, will allow you to return to work more refreshed. Similarly, if you are enjoying some alone time don’t feel bad for not choosing to be with your friends and family; the people that love you need you to be centered and will appreciate you more when you have taken time for yourself. Finally, if you chose that cupcake instead of the run, enjoy the damn cupcake. So what if you may have to run more in the end burn it off, why ruin the taste of the cupcake by feeling guilty while you eat it?
3) Face the future
I struggle with putting aside the retrospectoscope often wondering how things might have turned out if I had made different choices. Do I need to learn from past mistakes? Sure. But, once the lesson is learned, lingering too long on the past can be paralyzing.
If you get stuck on what could have been with the boyfriend left behind, you will prevent yourself from finding your next true love. Think about what did and didn’t work for you in the old relationship so that can you better define and accept a good relationship in the future. If you let a medical error shake your confidence, your future patients may suffer from your hesitancy. Embrace the processes of debriefing, morbidity + mortality, and continuous quality improvement to prevent future errors and be a better doctor to everyone moving forward. If you behave badly with someone you love, don’t retreat from them. Apologize and work on being a better mother, wife, sister, daughter, or friend to them. If there is substance to the relationship (and there almost always is) you and your loved one will develop a stronger bond as you work toward a future with less bad behavior. True, your present is absolutely shaped by each moment (fleeting or prolonged), each decision (forced or willingly made), each act (of kindness or of hatred) in your past; however, the present is better lived lived looking to the future than lamenting the past.
4) Stop the judging
I am prone to imagine myself in others’ shoes when I am bitter, angry, or upset about what’s going on in my own life. When I am down on myself, envisioning how easy, happy, and wonderful it must be for someone who is not negotiating a career as a trauma surgeon with family life and personal well-being is tempting. But, judging others is harmful to my sense of self.
You routinely put in crazy hours or travel for work and are quick to assume how nice it must be to have a more 9-to-5ish schedule. While there may be some out there for whom it’s all bonbons and massages during and after work, for most it is not. Why judge the life that you assume they have when you are lucky to have the salary to outsource some of the more onerous household chores that they might spend their nights and weekends doing while you are on call, to have a spouse who makes your crazy schedule livable when they might being going through a divorce, or to do the kind of work that delivers the privilege of occasionally saving someone’s life when they may hate their desk job but need to do it for additional income. This same story can be written for any aspersion you may feel tempted to cast on the life of another when you fall into a “woe is me” way of thinking about the reality that is your life. Instead of being jealous because you think she is able to be a better mom because…, she is able to have a hotter body because…, she is able to travel the world because…, figure out how you can, within the bounds of your own reality, be a better mother, have a better figure, and see the world. It is the only reality that you know. Live it, love it, shape it (start by doing #1-3 above) and stop judging others who should also be living, loving, and shaping their own realities.