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A Reminder for Physicians to Strive for Work-Life Balance


A friend who succumbed to pancreatic cancer reminded me, before her passing, how to live life well.

We went to the funeral of a friend of ours over the weekend. She was a mother of three boys in her mid-forties who succumbed to pancreatic cancer after an amazing fight. From the time she was diagnosed 18 months ago to now and probably into the future, she gave me an awesome gift.

She reminded me how to live life well. It’s not infrequent that I find myself complaining about the call schedule, a particularly demanding patient, the fact that my husband hasn’t mowed the lawn yet, or that my kids didn’t do their chores. Then I remember. I don’t have a life-threatening illness. I’m not preparing how to say good bye to my family. I don’t have to cram a lifetime of parenting into a few months.

There’s a country song out there that has a verse along the lines of “I hope you live like you were dying.” Isn’t that how we all experience things? We go along our paths wrapped in the mundane and unimportant until life reminds us, often loudly, that there are bigger things out there, that life has a purpose and that our time is so limited.

In this lens, the idea of work-life balance seems silly. What could possibly ever be balanced against your life? Work is important for making money and making a difference, but it doesn’t equal the life you live. And it makes me wonder. Why is so much of life caught up in the miniscule and not the majestic? Is it because our fragile minds and hearts can only handle so much of the big questions before we need the comfort of our small, familiar struggles? Is it because we are so myopic that we can’t focus for very long on what we want our eulogy to say or how we want to be remembered? I’m not sure, but I do know that thinking about whether I’m living my life well has a tendency to put the important things into much sharper focus.

And maybe those big questions about the meaning of life and our role in it are designed as a yardstick of sorts. If we choose to do so, we can appropriately measure the importance of life events against those things that really matter.

In our friend’s eulogy, her dad mentioned that he would always tease her that she was so busy as a soccer mom that she wouldn’t know what to do with herself when she was faced with an empty nest. He concluded that he wished those words were true.

So much of what we worry about, wrestle with, and ruminate on really doesn’t matter so much.  Whether it’s our pride at stake, a few thousand dollars in our paycheck, or our personal comfort, often what we are fighting hard for is only temporarily valuable. As you think about work-life balance this week, consider how you would do things if your time was short. Because it is.

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