Most Physician Work-life Balance Struggles Are Self-created

August 21, 2012

I'm going to take a cue from Little House on the Prairie and try to live more simply both at home and at my medical practice.

I’m reliving one of my great childhood pleasures and reading the "Little House on the Prairie" series with my daughter. We just started the series which opens with Laura, Mary, Pa, and Ma living in a log home in the Wisconsin woods. Pa builds the house, the smoking shed, and all the furniture. He spends most of his “workday” hunting to feed his family. Ma has a weekly schedule - one day for the wash, one for the baking, one whole day devoted to butter making. Being the youngest, Laura has a corncob doll but her older sister, Mary, has a real doll. In the evenings, Pa comes home from hunting, cleans his gun, makes bullets for the next day, then hangs the gun over the front door and turns his attention to his family. They spend the winter evenings singing with Pa playing the fiddle and listening to stories. That’s it – their whole, wonderfully simple, and happy life.

My kids have rooms overflowing with toys, clothes, book, games, and arts and crafts projects. They are enrolled in all kinds of activities that seek to build their aptitude or talent in one area or another. My husband works at home and I at the office and we also do all kinds of activities - everything from boot camp to soccer to book club, to teaching Sunday schools. Our lives are full - blessedly full - but full nonetheless. I seriously doubt we are happier or more content than Laura and her family.

When I read about the Ingalls family living simply in the 1800s, I imagine how wonderful it would be to live like that. There would actually be a time when my work was done - the butter made or the wash done -and I could truly relax in the evening not feeling like I had 50 more things to accomplish on my to-do list. Of course, they did not have central heat or indoor plumbing, so it was not all wonderful.

Then, I realize that I can live that simply, if I choose to do so. Most of the things on my to-do list were put there voluntarily or are the result of other choices I’ve made. I really could roll back my obligations so that there was an end in sight. Our family could spend evenings together, telling stories and such. Someone would have to learn to play the fiddle, but that’s what an iPod is for. So, why don’t I? Probably for the same reason you don’t - fear and longing

There’s the fear that your kids aren’t going to succeed if you don’t provide adequate opportunities for personal development. There’s fear that you’re somehow missing out on a great vacation, a fantastic opportunity, or a fulfilling experience. There’s fear that you’ll end your life with all kinds of regrets about the things you didn’t do. And there’s longing - a longing for all the things we think material possessions, a job promotion, toys for the kids, and the parents will provide.

I’m not ready to pull a Thoreau and live simply in the woods, but I am encouraged by the example of those who’ve chosen to do so. I might not be able to live simply but I can try to live more simply.

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