Perfection Is Overrated Especially for Busy Physicians

March 25, 2014
Jennifer Frank, MD

Physicians are minted with the imperative to be perfect. Often that's a zero sum game; don't hold yourself to that exhausting goal.

I receive a lot of magazines. I don't pay for most of them, and judging by the MD after my name on the address label, I assume that they are meant for my waiting room. I have a habit of casually flipping through them over my breakfast cereal. They never fail to fuel discouragement or need.

When I think about the average professional, I consider the multitude of tasks that lay before her. First, of course there's work and, in medicine, work tends to seep beyond the normal boundaries of a typical work day. Then there's home and family. We know we're supposed to eat right, sleep, and exercise. And, oh yeah, we have to take care of the lawn or garden, the snow, the laundry, and the telephone bill. Finally, we consider hobbies, entertainment, and those things we do to further our own development. An exhausting list.

But then, I consider these magazines. They just add to the list. Now, work, home, family, exercise, and chores are not enough. Now, I am urged to exercise in the most up-to-date way possible and pay attention to more than just health - I need to worry about my waistline, shoulders and hips. Then, comes the whole field of personal grooming. I apparently need to dress to impress, apply make-up flawlessly (to match the air-brushed models, no less), and utilize a veritable shopping cart worth of anti-aging products.

Oh, and then there's my home. I haven't selected the most stylish containers to organize the playroom. Also, I am just taking the easy way out by purchasing kitchen chair cushions online. Instead, I should be scouring antique stores, my grandmother's attic, and flea markets for vintage fabric which I can then stencil paint on with a fleur-de-lis pattern and stuff with some type of environmentally friendly recycle filling. Once I am fashionably dressed, perfectly polished, well-rested, toned, and my house is organized, clutter-free, and wonderfully coordinated - but not overly coordinated, mind you - I will be ready to read the self-improvement articles, so that I can be more at peace, more optimistic, happier, filled with joy, and overall a shinier human being.

Enough already. No wonder we can't find balance in a world in which the standards are perfection in every area of our lives. We must be the perfect doctor - up to date on the evidence, exceptional bedside manner, never running late, and always expertly balancing not doing too little and missing a diagnosis, but not doing too much and making the patient's bill go up needlessly. At home, our children should be well-mannered, in honors classes, and excelling at some other type of activity - soccer or piano - in order to assure that their own personal development is not stunted. Our homes should be clutter-free, clean, bright, and organized. It's an impossible standard.

So, I confess, I am far from perfect. I am not the perfect doctor by a long shot and always know that my next "lesson" will be on the horizon to keep me cautious and humble. My kids can be rotten at times - messy, rude, and poorly behaved. I still can't get my eyebrow plucking down pat and worry more than I should about whether I have any "mom jeans" hanging around the recesses of my closet.

I hope the next time you pick up a magazine, or watch a sitcom, or listen to an advertisement, you remind yourself of the standards that actually matter and don't hold yourself to the exhausting, never-fulfilled challenge to be perfect. Enough for now, it's time to get back to my magazine article that will tell me how to decorate Easter eggs with the items from my compost bin and some nail polish.