Reading time 4:10
“If people are highly successful in their professions, they lose their senses. Sight goes. They have no time to look at pictures. Sound goes. They have no time to listen to music. Speech goes. They have no time for conversation. They lose their sense of proportion- the relationships between one thing and another. Humanity goes. Money-making becomes so important that they must work by night as well as by day. Health goes. …What remains of a human being who has lost sight, sound and a sense of proportion? Only a cripple in a cave.” Virginia Woolf
I stumbled upon this 1938 quote by Virginia Woolf in an old newspaper clipping I found folded up in a book. It impressed me as an eloquent description of the position we all find ourselves in daily. The quote appeared so apropos for today’s dilemma of seeking a balance between our work and our personal life. We feel pressured to make our practices grow and to provide for our family and our staff. We all struggle as we try to honor our professional commitments and yet find time to pursue personal interests. Unfortunately, the scale often tips to the professional side at the cost of our own personal lives. There’s so little time for family, relaxation and recharging. It’s no wonder we suffer from burnout.
A UNIVERSAL PROBLEM
We all have been there. It’s so easy to just let our work consume us and set the pace for everything. It’s often like a runaway train. We just keep setting higher and higher goals for ourselves. We experience fulfillment as we meet each goal and become more anxious to meet the next. There’s no problem understanding how we can let ourselves be so goal oriented. After all, this is how we were able to obtain our degrees. The problem is how we learn to change and set priorities that are reasonable.
NO MORE EXCUSES
We all need to have time to recharge ourselves and time for the other interests in our life. These other interests are what can fulfill us, complete us and make us grow. It’s so easy to say- I will stop this pace when …, and then fill in the blank. We could fill in the blank with an endless supply of answers like: when I can take on a partner, when I pay off my debt, when I buy a new house, when I get that new equipment or any countless other reasons. The list goes on and on. We can all come up with many answers to the question of when we will make our personal time a priority. But, there comes a time when we need to stop making excuses and just do it.
We all have different excuses. There is no magic equation to give us the answer. As near as I can tell, you just have to decide what is important to you and how you want to live your life. There are so many arguments of why these changes are impossible, but I am here to tell you not only is it possible, but it is also achievable. I’ve seen it done. My partner in my private practice was a master at achieving this balance and setting limits for himself. And even more impressive, he showed the wisdom of doing it from the start of his career.
IT CAN BE DONE
It was one of the things I admire most about him. Once he left the office for the day, there was no more talk of work. And I assure you he didn’t just pay lip service to this idea. I saw him enforce this time and time again at meetings, social events and just in his daily life. I admired him so much for taking this stand, and wish that I had learned how to do it more successfully myself.
Family was always a top priority for him and continues to be. Travels and vacations weren’t put off. He allocated time for his health and working out daily and still does. Giving himself the pleasure of spending time on hobbies he loved and spending time with friends was considered important. He didn’t miss all the special moments that happen in our lives. And he did all this while building a strong, solid practice and never sacrificing the quality of the care he offered his patients. For this and many other traits, I admire and respect him. He showed me that it is possible to be in control of your life and find that balance. He continues to live a rich, full life in his retirement.
IT’S WORTH THE EFFORT
It takes some planning, some compromising and the strength to stand by our decisions. But it can be done. There is a lot of talk about doctor burnout and I can see why it happens. No one can keep up the pace of pushing themselves more and more, year after year, without taking care of their own needs. Gradually, our values can get compromised and we can lose the aspects of practice that we loved. We lose sight of the reason we went into optometry in the first place.
I encourage you to set some limits for yourself. Define what is important to you because if you wait too long- it will be lost. The sooner you establish your personal needs and desires, the happier you will be.
Remember the wise words of Virginia Woolf and find a way to have a successful practice and a full private life. Use your sight to take in the world around you and not just what’s in your office. Use your hearing to listen to your patients, but also the voices of your family and friends. Listen to the sounds of nature and music. And realize that not every conversation has to center around your professional life. Challenge yourself. Learn something new. Be creative. Tackle all those entries on your bucket list. I know it’s trite, but live your life to the fullest! And there’s no reason you can’t start right now.
We welcome your comments below. How do you delegate your time? What has worked for you in setting priorities in your life? What was the a-ha moment that forced you had to take control of your life and make some tough decisions? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.