Over the holidays, my brother and sister in law and their kids came to stay for two weeks. For the first week I was on vacation too (which was AWESOME), but I went back to work the following week. Every day that week, it seemed, I came home complaining about crazy cases.
Here’s the odd thing about being a doctor: people think you know everything. People expect you to know everything, especially the ones who have been to everyone else and haven’t gotten better and you’re their last resort. And even if you manage to help them heal from 8/10 of their chief concerns, most of them aren’t happy about the eight; they want to know why you haven’t fixed the other two. They often don’t even tell you they’re better from the eight unless you specifically ask. You’re privy to all the frustration and emotional melt-downs, and even if they don’t mean to make it sound like it’s your fault, it still sounds like it’s your fault. If you’re not careful, it can leave you (I’m distancing here; it can leave me) feeling like I’m not really doing any good at all.
There were an inordinate volume of such cases that week, so almost every day I came home complaining about them. (My poor family: people dump on me, so I pass the buck and dump on them.) My sister-in-law, who was listening to this one day, muttered to herself, “Note to self: thank my doctor more often.” Hahaha.
I’ve been corresponding with one of my former classmates recently who had a sort of combination burnout/breakdown. We naturopaths know all about stress, since it’s connected with a good 80% of the cases we see, and we’re great at giving other people advice on how to manage it… But we have the same problems everybody else has with knowing where to draw a line in the sand in our own lives. When is it okay to say, you know what, I know your request is important, but *everything* is important, and I can only do so much?
Big business is notorious for this kind of approach. Everybody’s projects have to be the “top priority!” Schools and universities do this. Hospitals do this. Families do this. Government does this. Customer service does this. Sometimes the requests really are urgent and sometimes people just learn that they can get you to do what they want by shouting louder. The trick for each of us is to learn that just because someone tells you that they need you to do something for them “right now!” doesn’t mean you really have to. You can’t, not every time… or else something else you consider to be vitally important will suffer. Like your relationships. Or your health. Or maybe your sanity.
This year I’ve decided to have just one resolution. Most years I have a list of all the new things I’m going to learn and accomplish, and how much better I’m going to perform my various life tasks. But there comes a point when more goals can just make me frantic. My resolution is to put peace at the very top of my priority list, and sacrifice what I must in order to keep it. After all, didn’t Solomon say, “ABOVE ALL ELSE, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23)?
So the other day I happened to have a break in the middle of the day. Normally I’d spend it charting, prepping, answering messages and crossing various business necessities off my list (all of which are legitimate necessities, things that should have gotten done about three months ago to be quite honest). But instead, I sifted through my gratitude box from last year, and I started to make a little database of my patients who had gotten completely better (including their sweet, grateful emails they sent me later. There are plenty of good, kind, awesome, grateful people out there… it’s just up to me to focus on them!) And you know what I found? Not only did I feel calm and happy, but I got more done in few minutes I had left than I probably would have, had I spent the entire time being “productive.”
Jim Strawn says
I have a daughter-in-law in Indiana. When my wife and I would go to visit her family I always found a peace and restfulness that was generally missing in my daily life. I don’t know if its the people (who are wonderful), the tall trees and greenery (similar to what I grew up around) or the church that they were pastors at (I’ve never left a church feeling like that). I always vowed to hold on to that feeling once I returned to work. It would last for about 2 weeks before I went crazy again. When I retired the first thing we did was go visit that branch of the family to reset and set a new baseline. It comes and goes but I am so much better now than I was. Except for U of A basketball games… the Cardiac Cats will always make me crazy.
C.A. Gray says
I just now saw this comment, Jim, sorry! I’m glad you have such a restful place as a ‘reset button.’ I’ve known a few (very few) people who give the same feeling — expansive, like there’s always time for everything and yet they are by no means lazy. Just a trust in God that time will expand to accommodate whatever needs to happen. But I have heard a little bit about what life was like for you before retirement, and I can see how it’d be hard to keep a mindset of ‘peace’ amid the chaos!