As I write this, I’m struggling with the fact that I haven’t “finished my work for the day.” My inbox has unread emails. My task list is bursting. I have unfinished laundry/ chores/ dishes. I told myself, “I don’t have time to sit and write an article!”
And yet – the seed had been planted. I could no longer ignore the whisper that said, “You have a story to tell. And your story will help others.” A core value of mine is service – so that whisper caught my attention. As a female physician, usually the whisper is closer to, “You aren’t doing enough. You’re ignoring your family by attending to your work. You’re ignoring your work by attending to your family.” I often wrestle with the feeling of guilt that my choices have a negative impact on either my home life or my work life or both. I know I am not alone in these thoughts and feelings, having had these conversations with dozens of colleagues over the years.
How do we define “done?” What have we been socialized to think? How did our ancestors define “done?” My guess is they called it a day when they were fed, warm, and not in the stomach of a lion. Sounds so simple! When did we get lost in the idea that we have to be “on” and “tasking” for 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 hours per day?
Recently my community was wrecked by a freak winter storm, fraught with power and water outages, grocery shortages, and now the need for massive restoration and repair. My family was without power for almost three days. Since my organization is based in Texas, the storm brought most of my work life to a grinding halt. We had to quickly redefine what it meant to be “done for the day.” For several days, success meant we had cooked hot food and stayed warm enough to think clearly. Now that the weather has warmed again, I find myself being sucked back into the same thought pattern – that my overflowing inbox is a sign that I have failed myself today.
What if I am asking the wrong question? What if instead of asking myself – did I spend my time wisely – what if I ask myself, did I spend my energy wisely? Did I notice that I had a sudden burst of creativity yesterday morning and use it not to question my skills and doubt my talents, but to jot down some notes for this article? Did I notice that my energy dipped around 10 a.m., so I went for a walk/drank a glass of water/did a quick meditation? Did I give myself permission to work with, not against, the natural rhythms of my body and energy of my mind?
Everywhere I look, I see signs of the ebb and flow of life. It’s a part of the natural order of things. I can honor myself and my truth by moving along with it – or I can fight reality (and increase my stress!) by ignoring it and telling myself how things “should” be. Life is tough enough without beating myself up for being human!
I can attest to the tremendous power of simply noticing these rhythms and attending to them. It’s part of a larger attempt to live a more authentic life. So much of my time over the past 20 years has been vying to achieve someone else’s standards or to live the way I “should.” I should exercise in the morning since it’s healthier! I should shut down my computer at 5 p.m. so I can be focused on my family! I should block out all distractions on the weekends! The fight against the “should” is a common one for many physicians, especially female physicians. We are inculcated with the notion that success is defined by one particular aspect of our lives or one particular way of being. In the process, and in the struggle, we silence the part of ourselves that knows a better way. We silence the truth inside that is trying to guide us down our individual path. If we turn towards that truth – little by little – we open up to endless possibilities and countless ways of being. We can turn on our creativity and bring forth our unique gifts and skills; and in doing so, increase our abilities to honor ourselves and serve others.
Laura Huete is a family physician and senior medical director, WellMed Medical Group, San Antonio, TX. Dr. Huete is a subject matter expert and presenter on patient safety, clinical operations, organizational culture, and clinician engagement.
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