Lifestyle / Personal

Finding Balance

{McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ}

During my stay in Arizona, I was fortunate to reunite with friends from my residency training program and was especially excited to spend time with one of my closest friends from medical school.  One of the subjects we talked about most was the struggle to obtain or achieve work/life balance.  Balance and avoidance of burnout is essential for overall emotional and physical health.  Burnout has been shown to be more prevalent in medical students, residents, and early career physicians compared to the general U.S. population.

My life is much more balanced than it has ever been, and I believe the biggest barrier towards accomplishing this in the past was the perceived lack of time as an undergrad, medical student, and psychiatry resident.  I emphasize the word perceived because I truly believed that sacrificing my personal life for the sake of my future career was well worth the burnout.  Well, by choosing to become a physician, yes, an immense degree of sacrifice is required.  If I failed at any point in the process, would I have been upset?  Hell yes!  And I actually did almost fail because I put so much pressure on myself to do well that my anxiety sky-rocketed and impacted my test-taking abilities.  Therefore, my scores were in no way reflective of the amount of time I spent studying, which really sucked (no need for a more formal term for my emotion; “sucked” pretty much sums it up).  At that point, I broke down, cried, and told my parents that I wanted to quit medical school.  And it wasn’t until then that I realized they didn’t care which profession I chose — they just wanted me to be happy.  What a huge relief!  All this time I thought I’d dishonor my traditional Asian family if I didn’t become a physician.  Suddenly, at that moment, the weight and pressure to please my family lifted.  I felt liberated.  However, the remaining pressure I possessed was the pressure I placed on myself because I didn’t know of any other way to approach life while working towards my medical degree.

Looking back, if I had the opportunity to offer my past medical school self any advice, I’d tell her the following:

  1. To sacrifice a few hours of studying a week in order to instead go out and do something enjoyable to enhance personal growth and interests.
  2. To be less self-critical.  Little does she know that she’ll be just fine if she doesn’t graduate from the most prestigious, academic medical school or get accepted into the most renowned residency program.
  3. Just try your best and don’t beat yourself up in the process.  After all, one of the top 5 things people regret most on their deathbed is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”  I definitely know that I’d never say I regret not working or studying more.  Simple activities, such as enjoying nature and going on hikes, are far more memorable in my mind compared to the insomnia I experienced trying to squeeze in last-minute studying for a histology exam.

7 thoughts on “Finding Balance

    • thanks for the reminder about “couch.” i am now following their twitter feeds. perhaps there’s something about the approaching Spring that causes busy professionals to self-reflect on their journey? either way, yes that’s pretty coincidentally cool 🙂

  1. For finding the balance I had to ask myself, do I love what I do? If you do, then you’re on your way to balancing your life. You ask that question of yourself every day, yes some days are better than others as to the amount of love I have for what I do, but there hasn’t been a day yet when I didn’t love what I do. If I come to that day, then I will be looking for the next big love in my life, and most likely it won’t have anything to do with engineering. to me education is a matter of perspective, all it does is it teaches you how to think, and what you think after you leave school is up to you. It always seems to impress people that I graduated 2nd in my class at Villanova, until they learn that there were only 2 students in my class (I was in the 20 year night program) though it hits them after awhile that I did graduate, and I see a smile on their face. “Who Moved my Cheese” by Spencer Johnson is a good read (at least it is for me), and “A Place to Stand” by: Dr. Charles Garfield, Condensed Chicken Soup for the Soul. Really puts balance in perspective, until next time.

    • Thanks for sharing! there’s definite automatic credibility when it comes to rank and education…at least ingrained in my mind from my upbringing, though the true accomplishment should be the journey in itself. ranking 2nd in your class is a wonderful example! i still love what i do, but i’ll take any suggestions to find more balance so i appreciate the book recs!

  2. An important message! I gave up absolutely everything in medical school and residency. Aiming for neurosurgery I knew I had to be top in my class. So I studied 7 days a week (7am-11pm). I ended up 1st in my class and at a top neurosurgery residency. Ironically I lost my neurosurgery career due to my autoimmune disease. When I was in the hospital for my first pacemaker placement it really set in when I had no friends to visit me. Becoming ill was the worst and best thing that happened to me. I am sick, but I am also married, have other interests, a blog!, and actually take time to enjoy life. I likely could have been 1st or (omg 2nd ) in my medical school class and gone out with friends every weekend. I should have. Looking back I was depressed and I think it was because of my maladaptive perfectionism. Sometime done is better than perfect. I am learning that now (its not easy!). Great post!

    • how wonderful that having an automimmune dz (that many might perceive as tragic) turned out in many ways to be a blessing! OMG though girl…1st in your class??!! you definitely worked hard and deserved that rank and even though you ended up taking a different career path, i’m sure the knowledge & life lessons you earned/learned being a boss neurosurgery resident is serving u well in your current life/ventures!

  3. I didn’t know the bit about “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” as one of the top 5 deathbed comments (You doctors! Tsss) Personally I think I could’ve worked harder! 🙂
    (And I did work hard!)
    Be good
    B.

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