The Intersection of Success
There is an intersection between professional and personal success. For years I have viewed this crossing as a utopian junction meant only for those who have finally arrived, finally achieved. Not anymore.
The last 10 years I have worked at an extremely frenzied pace. Medicine does that to us; there are always more patients to care for, more meetings to attend, more articles to read. For many of us success is defined as leadership or perhaps expertise, which means taking on more responsibility and work hours. We find ourselves getting up earlier, staying later, and engaging more. There is less time for our own health and self-care, which we must do outside of work hours.
The irony in this is that at the same time we are caring for people. We are the healers, and whether you are a cardiologist, an emergency room nurse, a physical therapist, an clinic administrator or a pharmacist, your end goal is simple: to heal.
So how do we accomplish this task? Whether acute or chronic disease, we promote wellbeing. We tell our patients to remove stress. To practice good sleep hygiene. To exercise. To eat more real food. To meditate. To eliminate unhealthy behaviors: caffeine, tobacco, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle, all of which are coping mechanisms for stress. We tell them to take more vacations and participate in more activities.
Do you see the irony?
How many times have you gone to work sick yourself, see a sick patient, and tell them to take it easy?
It’s comical, actually. Because we see this every day in ourselves and our partners and we just smile and keep on truckin’.
How many times have you told a patient to start exercising and eating healthier, only to go home late from work and eat whatever food you can find in the pantry and crash until you have to do it all again tomorrow?
About 6 months ago I started experiencing some palpitations. I noticed they would happen randomly and seemed to be increasing in frequency. I kept it to myself until finally after a few months I casually mentioned them to my friend who is a cardiologist.
He had me wear a recording device that recorded my heart rhythm. I was indeed having quite a few irregular beats, 90% of which I wasn’t even aware. I was shocked. He told me this was most likely completely related to stress. No shocker there.
Do you know what that meant? I actually was in control of my own arrhythmias. I had two choices: deal with the stress in my life, or take a medication. I chose A.
It was a wake-up call. I’m young(ish). Or at least I think of myself this way, and the stress I had taken on due to my own inability to push away from the responsibility table was affecting my health.
My first internal thought was “Great. Now I have to exercise even MORE. Now I have to meditate even MORE. Ugh. One more thing to do.”
No. No. No.
This was REALLY hard work for me, to change my mindset. I am Type A person, but I learned to carve out time for myself to do nothing.
That’s right, nothing.
In the last four months I have carved out time in my schedule for Sasha. Not my kids, not my work, not my husband, not to do house stuff, not to reconnect with friends, not to write talks or manuscripts or evaluate data. To care for ME. The healer.
Do you know what happened?
My arrhythmia is gone. I am learning to do acts of kindness for myself, which has led to me to look out for my coworkers more. I have more peace, and I notice people that NEED peace around me. I am connecting with my patients again. I sit on their beds and talk with them even if it is three minutes before I take them back to surgery (something I used to do and then became “too busy” to do). I smile more at people in the hallway. I walk a little slower. And I am drinking about half the amount of coffee I was prior. I am taking walks – not running, but walking. Instead of loading up my post-call days with a million errands, appointments and connections, I sit on my deck and read and write (like I am here in this picture). I have realized that my 4:30 am workout starts the night before, with a decent bedtime. And more than anything, I have removed several expectations placed on me by well-intended people.
If we look at self-care at one more thing we have to do, it adds stress.
If we look at self-care as a step toward success, it adds peace.
I would be lying to say that it has been easy. It has been quite the opposite at times. I’ve had to remove several good things in my life. Speeches, great committees, interesting manuscripts. Something has to go when you add time to heal the healer. This took me a while to accept. I can’t be all that I was, because I wasn’t whole. Things had to shift and I had to lose some things I enjoy. I had to give up some things that bring in income, and tell some people I respect no thank you.
But what am I gaining?
I believe that intersection, between professional and personal success, is in our control. And I believe it brings peace. And before you brush my words aside as soft talk, think about the statistics: if you are a female physician, you are 2.3x more likely to commit suicide than non-physician women your age. If you are a male physician, you are 1.6x more likely to take your own life than your non-physician friends. How do you like those odds?
We in medicine need to sit back and evaluate this intersection. We can build artificial hearts. We can transfer organs. We can open clogged arteries and fix bullet holes. Why can’t we fix this intersection? Why can’t we make it PART of our job to HEAL ourselves, the healers? Can you imagine if part of our workday was to exercise, meditate and eat healthy? Some smart organizations have figured this out. Why can’t we?
I want to encourage you to spend 10 minutes today carefully evaluating your own health.
That intersection is reachable. And it starts with you.