“How beautiful it is to do nothing and then rest afterward.”
– Spanish Proverb.
I saw this on a bookmark in a beautiful inn on the coast of South Carolina called the Sanctuary. This is a place I go to vacation, but I find I rarely escape. You see, there are rare times I truly do nothing or simply rest. Sleep at night does not count.
For many of my adult years, I have been going to Charleston and Kiawah Island to see family. Then during the tumultuous financial fall of 2008, they were begging for people to come stay at the Sanctuary, and we found ourselves celebrating a milestone anniversary there. We were hooked. For most of the subsequent years, I have returned at least once. I always find some excuse: a medical conference held there or a destination race. It is a place of beauty and leisure time that you can fill up with many things. Because there is always another excuse for me to go, it is hard to do nothing and rest after, as the bookmark said.
Or perhaps, it is hard for me to set myself up for a situation where I just do nothing and rest after.
When I go to the beach by myself or with family, I take all this stuff that I might have time to work on while I am there.
Do not laugh, but one year I went alone in July (my husband was on a guy’s golf trip to Scotland), and I took the envelopes for my Christmas cards to address them while I had downtime. There is a whole separate story as to why I had already bought Christmas cards by July, but that is for another time. I also had three movies downloaded to watch in the evenings if I ran out of things to do.
Time for me always, it seems, needs to be filled, useful, or purposeful. It is hard just to be.
Maybe it is because I feel like I have so much to do, and I feel overwhelmed often. To try to mitigate this, I try to be productive all the time. If I am not productive, I feel guilty. I feel regret if I do not use my time wisely.
This Christmas card addressing in July took place when I felt burned out and often overwhelmed. I also felt that since I was on my own and not with family, I was under higher pressure to get stuff done. Why not?
There was another time when I went to a conference there which met in the mornings only. So, in the afternoon, I went to the beach to spend my time doing MKSAP board study tests under the umbrella while taking small breaks to walk down to the ocean. There was such a time crunch, not enough time to study, so why not do it while I was away from the office.
Then, it will not be a surprise to you that I had a year off from practice between switching health systems in 2020 that I did not lounge on the porch every day. Someone close to me had said that if I took a sabbatical year, I could not sleep in every day and watch TV all day. Well, did I show them! I could not let this year go to waste, so I filled it up with all the ways I could imagine to be productive despite a pandemic. And despite the fact of no clinical job, I did not get all the things done that I wanted to get done.
I think doctors are just wired that way. We are productive. We get things done. It is expected. We are supposed to do more, do it all, and be all the things to all the people. We come to a point where we try to satisfy this, and then we cannot do enough for ourselves. We cannot rest. We must keep trying to check things off the list to get things done. And it is overwhelming. It does lead to burnout.
I am still a work in progress. I am writing this on a work night because it is burning in my brain, wanting to come out. Perhaps I should be doing nothing, resting for a full day. But if I do that, I will feel guilty that I have wasted this time when I could have been putting my thoughts down on paper. The mind is always going.
This is me, but I think it applies to many other physicians. Look at your habits and see if you have some of my same tendencies. If you do, let’s start talking about how to reverse this tide of overwhelm to create some time for yourself when you are doing nothing and not regretting it.
Marion McCrary is an internal medicine physician and can be reached at Marion McCrary Wellness.
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