“I would never do this again,” he said.
“And,” he continued, “I’d never recommend this path to anybody else either.”
At that time, I worked as a physical therapist and strongly considered returning to school to become an MD or DO.
I took the MCAT, got accepted into my favorite schools, and shadowed a variety of physicians.
“Do not go,” they told me, over and over.
In fact, 19 of the 20 physicians I sat down with advised me not to go to medical school.
I ended up deferring my acceptances for a year — and spent time in self-discovery, figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I began studying what made high achievers happy at work and fulfilled in life. And I became determined to reach big career goals and build a great personal life.
Ultimately, I decided not to go back to school — and later on, I became determined to help high achievers in medical professions build fulfilling lives.
If you’re not happy in your career and life, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
The extreme challenges of navigating a broken health care system and unhealthy work environments lead to chronic exhaustion and dissatisfaction among even the most well-meaning health care professionals. Juggling the day-to-day responsibilities and stressors of work and home life also contribute to the frustration.
Burnout continues to spread at alarming rates, and there are overwhelming systemic problems that this one article obviously can’t magically fix. Still, you can control certain aspects of your career — and often this leads to a significant reduction in stress and improvement in job (and life) satisfaction.
So, what can you do?
Is it possible to build a happy health care career while also enjoying your personal life?
Yes — but it requires the courage to design your life intentionally — and not just follow the path that others expect you to follow.
Here are three keys to a happy health care career:
1. Be in proactive mode. You’re highly accomplished, motivated, and have an excellent work ethic. So how did you get stuck?
Even the smartest of high achievers get stuck because they show up in their careers spending much time in reactive mode instead of proactive mode.
Often, reactive mode begins in the job interview process … when you sign a contract with terms you don’t like.
Then, you follow the path mapped out for you. You know what to do in order to get your job done each day. You show up, see your patients, get your documentation done, put out a bunch of fires and then rinse and repeat the next day. People need you — and you do your best to take care of them.
Amid the daily grind, you follow the plan, check the boxes, and appease your patients and the system. You help everyone else. But when was the last time you thought about what YOU desire in your career?
And have you given yourself the permission to go after it?
Start being the proactive designer of your career. Ask yourself:
“What can I do within the next week to help myself feel a little happier at work?”
Give yourself permission to start making small shifts toward your ideal career.
2. Give yourself options. When my husband and I got married, he was in his final year of college. I landed my first “grown-up job” and bought a simple starter home with my income.
Once my husband graduated, he started his career and eventually left his job.
He took a few months to decide what to do next and pivoted from accounting and sales to firefighting.
During those months of his career transition, we were so thankful that the size of our mortgage had been based on just one of our incomes so that we could navigate those months without feeling really stressed financially.
We vowed that in the future, we would continue to make mortgage decisions (and other big financial decisions) based only on one of our incomes. We wouldn’t be stuck financially in any job we didn’t like and have some breathing room if something happened where only one of us was working.
Becoming trapped in the health care field often starts with a staggering amount of student loans and a stressful debt-to-income ratio. Combined with a large mortgage, that can lead to becoming stuck and feeling like you have no options to change.
Being really intentional about finances — debt and spending choices — can help to give you options.
Options = freedom.
Feeling trapped is awful. When you make financial decisions that give you freedom — to either cut back on work hours or take a different job that you really love — you start to feel better, even if you choose not to change jobs.
There’s something amazing about showing up to work each day, knowing with 100% certainty that you don’t need to be there. And you have the financial freedom to quit at any time. That feeling of empowerment — instead of “stuckness” — can help you feel a sense of relief and help you feel more happiness in your days.
3. Make space for what matters. Carefully examine your career and life and begin decreasing — and eliminating — what isn’t working.
Start making more space in your career for the tasks that make you feel energized and alive.
Look beyond your career too. Maybe you’re a family member, a friend, an exercise enthusiast, a writer, a gardener, a traveler — there is such an amazing depth of who you are.
Take a look at your life and give yourself the permission to gradually do less of what doesn’t light you up, so you have the space to live a vibrant, well-rounded life and do the things that matter most to you.
While these strategies certainly aren’t an overnight process, they can lead to incredible results and help you build your most vibrant, happy career and life.
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