[Frivolous: not having any serious purpose or value]
For years, I’ve noticed something that’s bothered me. I see it almost daily within social media women’s physician groups. The post starts with, “I know this is a frivolous question, but …” What follows are questions about topics ranging from cosmetic recommendations to travel advice.
“Where can I find concert tickets?”
“What color should I paint my bedroom?”
What do you all think of this moisturizer?
These are almost always all questions related to everyday things that interest us outside of medicine.
Every time I encounter a post like this, my heart breaks a little because I wonder, why do we feel the need to clarify or justify questions like this (myself included)?
During residency, I remember going to an Oscar party where some of the women brought a creative, movie-themed dessert. I remember feeling irritated, thinking, “Must be nice to have time to make cakes.” If I’d been more self-aware, I would have realized that envy was the root of my irritation and resentfulness. Deep down inside, I wanted to be able to make a cool dessert. I would have enjoyed it immensely. Instead, I felt jealous and angry and dismissed the whole movie-themed dessert as being dumb … frivolous. After all, they made cakes while I cared for really sick kids.
During the rest of my training, anytime any of my non-physician friends mentioned anything recreationally related, I brushed it off as being frivolous. What I was doing at work was more important.
As I finished training and started practice, I had a lot more time for things I enjoyed, but I felt guilty spending the time and energy doing them. Shouldn’t I be doing something more productive? Or spend that time with my family? Was I being selfish?
Some don’t have a problem with this, but others (like me) engage in an internal battle: Take self-care time or do something I deem productive. There’s that nagging feeling there’s always something more important you should be doing.
I believe this thinking pattern often starts during training. The profession’s high demands and long hours can skew our view and give us a different perspective. When you’re eating and breathing medicine, all the other stuff feels inconsequential.
Although the culture of medicine has changed somewhat since I was a resident, there is still a longstanding, often unspoken emphasis within the physician community on sacrificing yourself for your job and your patients at any cost.
Admittedly, when I was taking care of a sick patient, my questions about where to go to dinner that night or what to buy my husband for his birthday seemed a bit silly.
I think if we use this unique perspective in a useful, compassionate way, we recognize that compared to the illness we see every day, the world isn’t falling apart because the light fixture was installed too high or our travel plans had to be changed. Being able to handle situations like this more in stride (if we choose to) with this unique perspective is a gift.
But for the most part, I think we use this perspective against ourselves, we see our legitimate questions about what interests us as having no real value.
We think that dismissing things like this makes us better doctors. I often don’t feel as altruistic if I care about myself too much.
But, ignoring and dismissing our own interests like this lead to a loss of our sense of self, depression, and burnout.
We aren’t just physicians.
We are human.
I was stuck in this thought loop of devaluing my interests, hobbies, and fun for a long time. I thought what I was interested in always had to come last.
Until I chose to change my thinking and give myself permission to dream.
For many people dreaming and cultivating their interests means returning to some version of whatever lit them up as a child.
We have desires for a reason.
If you enjoy it, it’s not frivolous.
You can decide to value and nurture your interest and desires outside of medicine rather than dismiss them.
So the next time you hear your inner voice criticizing you for asking about restaurant recommendations, pillow arrangement on your bed, or the best mascara, stop and notice it.
You’re not being frivolous.
You’re being fabulously human.
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