Walking the Tightrope of Work/Life Balance
"I have to justify every minute I spend not doing something for someone else.” If this sentiment rings true, you’re not alone.
Whether it’s called burnout or stress, veterinary professionals will likely experience it during their careers.
In Finding Balance in a Medical Life (Finding Balance, Inc.; 2007) author and physician Lee Lipsenthal, after 3 years in practice, found his routine unexpectedly challenging. “The routine was killing me. By external standards, I was a success. Yet I was in a state of panic and depression from being simultaneously overworked and bored to tears.”
In his book and on his website, Lipsenthal shares insight and the tools for finding life balance developed specifically for healthcare professionals. “By nature,” he says, “healthcare professionals are intelligent, caring, inquisitive, and sensitive people. We are also competitive, obsessive, perfectionist, and compulsive,” characteristics that are necessary to succeed in both human and animal medical training.
Secrets of Satisfaction
Lipsenthal explored meditation, Eastern philosophy, emotional intelligence, and neurophysiology before realizing that he was burning up energy complaining about his life and practice rather than enjoying them. Lipsenthal’s keys to achieving balance in a medical life include:
• Family. Healthcare professionals who have multiple life roles, such as raising children, are actually happier in their careers, perhaps because they don’t have the time to dwell on problems in the practice. Doctors with young children may also take on fewer “meaningless tasks” and limit their obligations. The ability to say “no” can enhance your sense of balance.
• Spirituality. Regardless of your spiritual path, a sense of connection with community and a greater purpose can help you keep the motivation that probably compelled you to pursue your veterinary career—doing good for others. A word of caution: Don’t try to be in charge of everything. You have enough responsibility in your life already. Just enjoy the sense of belonging.
• Work environment. If you stay late at work almost every day, odds are that you are discontented. (See the Work Addiction Risk Test) If you feel your job takes more hours than you want then your expectations are not being met and you won’t be happy. Lipsenthal states: “Change your job or your expectations, whichever seems easier…If you are unhappy about your work scenario, remember that you had a hand in creating the environment.” Don’t fall into the trap of killing yourself by doing good.
• Resist overcaring. Are you losing sleep over a treatment decision? Self-doubt is often the real driving force of overcaring: “Am I a good enough doctor?” Getting a good night’s sleep and arriving at work refreshed and ready to reevaluate your patient is more productive. Caring is making the best choice for you and the patient, Lipsenthal says. Overcaring leads to poor choices for you both.
• Remember, it’s not all about you. When you project your self-involvement onto another person, it’s known as central positioning, a common fault of type A personalities such as veterinarians. How, for example, do you react when the person in front of you in the express lane has more than 10 items? “Doesn’t she realize I’m busy, that I’m a doctor and have important things to do?” Lipsenthal says the stress from such reactions can lead to a heart attack, while the person in front of you will leave the store feeling just fine.
• Stop hurrying. Chronic lateness can result from extreme multitasking. For example, if you have 10 minutes before an appointment, do you take on another task, which ends up taking 20 minutes? It would be better for you to take advantage of the time to reflect.
It takes time and discipline to achieve life balance. Using the techniques in Finding Balance in a Medical Life to tend to your own physical, emotional, and spiritual health is well worth the investment.
Meditation can lower your blood pressure, quiet anxiety, and make life more enjoyable by diminishing the “internal noise” in your system. Lipsenthal introduces this 5-minute meditation.
1. Start by concentrating on a raisin. (If you don’t like raisins, substitute another piece of fruit.)
2. Pretend you are on a scientific expedition and just discovered this previously undocumented object.
3. Describe the raisin in writing.
4. Draw the raisin as if you were documenting it for the scientific community.
5. Smell the raisin, try to detect subtle scents like you would at a wine tasting, and write down your observations.
6. Put the raisin in your mouth, between your back molars, and document your sensations.
7. Chew the raisin slowly and completely and roll it on your tongue. Write down the flavors. Close your eyes and swallow.
Was eating this raisin a different experience? Slowing down and studying the experience makes it more meaningful and distracts you from other thoughts. This is meditation.