To have success and fulfillment, sometimes you have to edit your life

This year, I learned that to have success and fulfillment, you don’t just do, sometimes you have to undo.

What do I mean by that? The process of undoing — or editing — it a key part of different areas of our lives. For example, we edit in medicine all the time. Think about the medical student’s SOAP note: the subjective story, the objective findings, the assessment, and the plan. Imagine what a novel that daily note would be if in the subjective, details that weren’t pertinent to the current problem were included.

“Mrs. S complains of shoulder pain, but likes mint chip ice cream over plain vanilla, and has a neighbor who has a dog named Scrappy.”

You may notice that the resident’s note is shorter than the medical student, and the attending’s note is even shorter.  There is a reason that as we rise in the ranks of our medical training, our notes get shorter and more succinct. We edit. Even in surgery, as our skills improve, we edit out the non-essential motions, making our moves more efficient. As Greg McKeown observes, “the best surgeon is not the one who makes the most incisions.”

How do we apply this in everyday life? I, for one, realized this year that I definitely don’t edit enough. Earlier this year, I went to a life-changing conference for women in medicine. I’ve always attended orthopaedic meetings, which means never ones where I was with solely women, and never ones where my personal and professional development were at the forefront.

One exercise we went through was particularly poignant to me. My friends and colleagues always commented about my multitasking, and how I always had my hands in something. Indeed, there are multiple “buckets” that I divide my time between.  Sure, there’s value in that skill. But when I sat down, and spent just 5 to 10 minutes listing each and every role I play, I was blown away. For the sake of brevity, I’ve listed all of these elsewhere.

Although I knew this at the core, it took writing it down to realize this: I have the hardest time saying no. I’m constantly taking on more projects than I probably should. I like being busy — I thrive when I am busy — but when I began to be forgetful, I knew I had taken on too much. Another exercise I learned at that conference was to define my core values – the values that guide me in all my life decisions, big or small. I was able to evaluate and rank these roles based on how much they subscribed to my values. As I was getting to the point of feeling like I was suffocated — all of my own doing of course — I found that this was a mandatory exercise to avoid drowning. Taking stock of all the roles I play in my personal and professional life allowed me to do the necessary editing.

You can start this process today:

  1. Know what your roles are, and hold them up to your values so you know where they stand.
  2. Edit out activities and commitments that are extraneous and don’t fit your values.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Nancy Yen Shipley is an orthopedic surgeon and can be reached at her self-titled site, NancyMD and on Twitter @_nancymd and Instagram @_nancymd.

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