What the Muppets Can Teach Physicians about Work-life Balance

March 27, 2012
Jennifer Frank, MD

Making a big leap forward in your career without looking back as a physician is scary, but take a tip from Gonzo the Great.

*** Spoiler alert if you haven't seen The Muppets yet. ***

Early in "The Muppets," Kermit the Frog hooks back up with his ol’ pal Gonzo. Gonzo is now a plumbing company owner, a corporate magnate down to his three-piece suit and dismissive air. He initially turns down Kermit’s invitation to rejoin his old friends and re-establish The Muppets. Soon after he has a heart-to-heart talk with Camilla, the chicken who is the love of his life and a mirror to his soul, he realizes that financial success cannot compete with his heart’s desire and he swoops off the roof of his plumbing building and back into his role as a Muppet. To secure his decision, he presses his “auto-destroy plumbing business” button that he carries around with him, causing his entire empire to explode and effectively leaving this life behind forever. The viewer is left to wonder why reclaiming his life as Gonzo the Great necessitates blowing away what he leaves behind.

This scene resonated with me on some deeper level as I recognized the beauty of being so sure of your decision that you destroy the path back to the past. So, what does this have to do with work-life balance?

For most people, work-life balance is about choosing, or trying to choose, the most important things you do and prioritizing those so that they actually occur, whether this is taking that 25th anniversary trip with your spouse, learning to play the clarinet, securing an important promotion, making a job change, or eating dinner with your family every night. Identifying important things is usually not the challenge, prioritizing them is. With infinite time, energy, and money, everyone could accomplish everything they want to. In reality, choices - sometimes hard choices - have to be made so that our limited money, energy, and time is spent where it most matters.

Watching "The Muppets" and Gonzo’s scene in particular, caused me to reflect on my own choices and how sure of them I am. Last year, I made what I considered to be a big career change - giving up academic medicine for full-time clinical practice. Achieving a better work-life balance was one of the top reasons for this change. While the change has been a great one, allowing me to achieve 90 percent of what I’d hoped, I didn’t know that when I made my own figurative leap. At the time, I wasn’t sure enough of the choice to willingly do anything that would’ve prevented me from backing up if I thought I’d made a mistake.

I’m not sure how to get to the point of such absolute clarity that a leap forward can be joined with destruction of the path backward. I imagine it comes from being very sure of your own goals, wants, and desires - such that you recognize an opportunity to achieve them and can jump in with both feet. That type of surety must come after serious self-reflection, a very honest appraisal of oneself, and probably after a conversation with whoever is your Camilla the chicken.

Find out more about Jennifer Frank and our other Practice Notes bloggers.