I’ve attended countless wellness seminars that focus on the importance of a “work-life balance.” Even after listening to a dozen motivational speakers, the entire concept seems elusive, like an unattainable illusion that is always out of my reach. The seminars also emphasize the necessity of hobbies because successful physicians have interesting hobbies. For me, this accentuated a personal expectation to have everything — during and after work — fill an application requirement. It became an endless sprint from one professional target to the next, with an unreachable finish line.
This mindset pushed my finish line completely out of sight. In my effort to build a work-life balance, I created an exhausting, unbalanced schedule that revolved around work. Rather than a reprieve from work, my extracurricular activities were only a bullet point for my résumé. On paper, I had evidence of my work-life balance, but I did not feel rested. My work-life situation was far from balanced, and I was leading myself towards physician burnout.1
Terrified of impending burnout, I stopped thinking of hobbies as mere proof of my “healthy” work-life balance. I decided to simply schedule time for the activities and people that I love. I allowed myself protected time to decompress without setting any goals. I stopped pressuring myself to prove that I am a well-balanced medical student, and by doing this, my work-life balance manifested itself. I scheduled time for the things I love, which felt like a break from work, and I still added bullet points to my résumé.
Although a simple change in perspective has helped me, there isn’t a universal algorithm to become balanced. The definition of a work-life balance is different for everyone. Personally, I’ve learned to schedule blocks of time for myself instead of forcing balance in my life. By removing the unnecessary pressure to be well-rounded, the once idyllic fantasy of a work-life balance is well within my reach.
- Shanafelt TD, Boone S, Tan L, et al. Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance among US physicians relative to the general US population. Arch Intern Med. 2012 Oct 8;172(18):1377-1385.
Heather Pol, MS3
Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine