I've been wanting to write about this for a while now, but didn't know how. Partly, I feel I've contributed to the pressure of "achieving balance," especially in the healthcare field. The sweetest people comment or send me messages with the sentiments of being so impressed with me "doing it all." But really though, am I? And really though, should I be doing it all?
I learned this the hard way intern year. I put the pressure on myself to be overly social and commute into the city during weekdays for happy hours with my co-residents. I love these humans immensely, but alcohol, big meals with a hefty price tag, missing out on reading, and losing sleep in the middle of the week would really get to me each time I did it. My inner voice told me that this was part of the "balance formula"- work hard, play hard right? But once I made the conscious decision to decline the invitations that I'd anticipate not feeling well after, I started feeling much better. Letting go of that guilt and pressure I put on myself was everything for my wellbeing.
Balance to me is now kind of a bad word. I hear it and sort of cringe, knowing that someone has to justify or highlight a choice to make it fit into this expectation of doing or having a bit of everything. A dessert is no longer a simple pleasure for some people, but an occurrence that needs to be justified as "balance" in their diet. Exercising is no longer for health, but part of a complete "work life balance." Going on a weekend trip instead of getting ahead at work? #balance. But what if you want to be lopsided?
Some of the most magnificent people I've ever met are those with this incredible sense of integrity and intention to do what they love. I can't think of anyone better that exemplifies this than my older brother. My brother is an artist/creator/self-taught guru of many things who becomes obsessed with whatever he's working on at the moment. Currently, it's mastering the art and intricacies of flying drones, for which he gets to do as a living and still comes home to read/learn more about drones. There is no "balance" in his day-- he's so incredibly lopsided towards what he's passionate about. He doesn't ensure he gets in a workout and cooks healthy meals and meets up with friends and meditates before sleeping 8 hours. He literally does exactly what he's interested in doing without some formula for "having it all." And guess what? You don't need that formula either.
Furthermore, our ability to achieve this so-called balance ebbs and flows with time. One month I'm working in the ICU forgetting that life outside those walls even exists, but still surprisingly very pleased with how the days are going. Other weeks I'm in the clinic from 9-5, working out daily, going out on Friday, cooking dinner every night with my husband. Am I any happier on those easier weeks? To be honest, not really. As much as I encourage keeping up with things outside of your career that make you happy, I think maybe I'm undervaluing just how happiness can be derived from showing up to work every day and getting better and more invested in your craft. You don't need to have it all or do it all. You just need what YOU need.
There are 24 hours in a day. Imagine that all of those are being utilized intentionally so that you may take care of yourself and also contributing to your world. If you're a resident physician who genuinely wants to work 80 hours a week and still come home to doing research, reading academic journals, and catching up on medical news, great! You're not unbalanced. You're perfectly level, for you. If you're someone (much like my husband) who made the conscious decision to work part time so that you have more hours for housework, leisure, and recreation, congratulations! You've recognized what you need to feel well, and working full time/climbing a career ladder is not part of your equation.
Balance is NOT x + y + z. It's a collection of conscious decisions of how to spend one's time, without having guilt about those choices. It's about not comparing your own life to those of others. It's reveling in what you're obsessed with and what makes you well. Figure out what your scale looks like, but don't be afraid to tip it in one direction or the other. You deserve to be your own definition of "balanced."