‘Non-professional Perfectionism’ in a Physician’s Work-Life Balance


Seeking the same type of stellar performance and excellence in your personal life as in your medical practice is easier said than done.

I was reading about work-life balance and a new concept - one with which I can readily identify – caught my attention. It is the idea of non-professional perfectionism. It goes something like this: At your job, you seek to be excellent, even exceptional, at what you do. You hone your craft, do the continuing education, learn from mistakes, all in an attempt to get closer and closer to professional “perfection” - being absolutely stellar to the best of your ability. That’s all fine and good and understandable and makes your boss happy.

However, we often seek this same type of stellar performance and exceptionalism in non-professional ventures. When I stop to think about this in myself, the list grows long of all the areas, most of which are really not that important, in which I am trying to reach some sort of outstanding accomplishment.

For example, we have a dozen apple trees. Now a dozen apple trees produce a lot of apples - much more than we and pretty much everyone we know can consume. That doesn’t keep my husband and I from trying to pick every single apple and either eat it, give it away, or make another delicious use of it. It is a losing proposition. We didn’t get to them before a huge windstorm knocked many of them on the ground. There are still some apples hanging on the trees out there, not within easy reach, so hence unplucked. In my mind’s eye, we use all of the apples, inventing increasingly brilliant recipes in which to use them.

At work, it is great that I work on brilliant “recipes” to manage my patients with complex medical problems. However, it’s probably not worth my time to expect this same level of performance at apple harvest time.

We have tons of photos, like pretty much anyone with kids. I would like them to all be artfully arranged in a scrapbook framed with witty expressions and quaint memories of my children’s childhood adventures. Oh yeah, I’d also like them to be creatively arranged using a variety of papers, stickers, stamps, buttons, bows, etc., so that the scrapbook looks, well, perfect.

At work, artfully arranging a medical record is ideal. Clear communication, the straightforward telling of a story, a cleaned up, accurate, and up-to-date problem list are all beneficial and to be sought after. And while I could seek this same level of performance in my scrapbooking, my kids probably will be fully satisfied with a “homemade-looking” scrapbook even if you can see dried glue on the page or the edges of the photos are not perfectly aligned.

So, all you perfectionists out there (you know who you are) - think about all the non-professional and fairly unimportant things you can jettison from your list. As our family motto goes (not always followed) - “Barely good enough is still good enough.”

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