Enjoying Physician Work-Life Balance Already Achieved

July 16, 2013

How one wise physician taught me to enjoy the work-life balance I've already achieved, and not just focus on improvements.

I spent part of last week at a conference on complementary and integrative medicine. There were a number of interesting talks and I learned some Tai Chi, received a few aromatherapy samples, and figured out those alternative medicine strategies I was employing that had some evidence to support them (and those that were not necessarily effective).

There were two lectures that made the biggest impact. One was by a physician who taught us his method for alleviating stress - I’ll let you know how it goes. But what has been going through my mind constantly is a phrase he said: “You can’t enjoy it if you’re trying to improve it.”

First, I have to consider whether that statement is true. I think it might be but I’m not totally convinced.  Second, I have to consider whether it has any relevance to my life. Third, if it is relevant, how do I use it? 

I am all about improvement. Indeed, many of my blog posts are about how to improve work-life balance.  It never occurred to me to enjoy the work-life balance I already have achieved. My improvement doesn’t just pertain to my endless quest for better work-life balance. It extends to my exercise routine, how I educate patients, how efficiently I write my notes, how I provide feedback to my staff, how I parent my kids, how I argue (or discuss things) with my husband, the type of letters I write, the type of friend I am, and of course to multiple aspects of my physical appearance (I am an American woman after all).

It is pretty amazing to consider not trying to improve any of it - just enjoy where I’m at. Wow. That would take some getting used to. I don’t think I can do it, and I’m not sure I should abandon all attempts at improvement. But, I could definitely be gentler with myself and could finally accept that not everything needs to be improved.

So, if I accepted this was true and relevant, how do I use it? Well, one is to abandon my perfectionism. I am now “perfect” in one aspect of my quality measures. One hundred percent of my patients with ischemic heart disease are on an anti-platelet agent. That’s great. I’m proud of my patients. I’m glad they’re doing something simple and effective for their health. But I don’t try any harder to get my post-MI patients to take an aspirin than I do to vaccinate my patients over 65 with pneumovax. Why the difference? I don’t know but I know that my A+ for accomplishment doesn’t mean that I deserve an A+ for effort. In this sense, my “perfect” score is not very meaningful. I try just as hard at all the other quality metrics. I succeed at some and fail at others. I’m not sure why. I wonder how it would be if I just enjoyed the fact that 65 percent of my patients with diabetes had well controlled blood pressure instead of trying to improve it. I don’t know if that’s the right answer or not.

So this week, I’m going to see what I can enjoy instead of improve. Next week, I’ll tell you about the second lecture - from a patient perspective.