The Elusive Search for the Right Balance

To this day, I struggle a lot with my decision to work part-time.  It seems like a no-brainer to many.  On paper, it also seems like a no-brainer to me.  It’s the perfect balance.  Work some days.  Stay at home some days.  Best of both worlds.  Ofcourse.

But the heart is tricky.  It’s not so cut and dry.  I doubt.  I wonder if I should work more.  I want to be a better doctor to my patients and their families.  I want to be more involved in the medical community.  I want to earn more.  Other days, I want to toss my career aside and focus on family life.  I want to savor it and embrace it.  I get tired of wearing different hats.  I dislike the pace and logistics of a household run by two working parents.  I crave a little more simplicity.

I would have thought talking to other mothers would be helpful or encouraging.  Instead, I’ve found that it only adds fuel to the emotions.  One person’s take on family life or balance may begin to seem so much more appealing.  Or successful.  I begin to envy.  I begin to doubt myself and my decisions.  Depending on who I am talking to, my heart begins to swing in discontent between a desire to work more and to stay at home more.  Unfortunately, nobody can do “more” of both.

The irony of it all is that there is no 50/50.  Just because my feet are planted both at work and at home does not mean there is balance per say.    This concept of balance is elusive.  I think it derives from some lofty sentiment applauded by motivational speakers that one can have everything if there is just enough effort, determination, organization, and skill.  I really believed this once.  That is, before kids.

Now I wonder if the concept of balance even exists at all.  You can’t have it all.  There are exactly 24 hours in a day.  After you take away the hours spent on sleep, there is only so much that can be done.  How does one even begin to define what a right balance in life is?  Why do I even care?

I’ve come to accept a simple truth.  I can’t have it all.  For all my ideals and tendencies to dream big, I can’t have it all.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  Instead of focusing on how to juggle everything, I am learning to look at it from a different angle — how can I protect the things that most matter to me?  I may not manage to find the right balance in my ideal (and unrealistic according to Smartypants) world, but I will always have the ability to question my motives and refine my purpose in life.  I will always be able to choose to live by what I need and value, rather than what is expected by others.  In the end, finding balance may not be so much a question of my schedule, but instead a state of my heart when I truly believe in what I’m doing.  There is incredible worth in every aspect of our day, whether it’s at a traditional workplace, in the community, in our neighborhoods, or in our home.  Yes, there is glory even in the diaper changes.

The best advice I have received regarding the balance of motherhood and career came from two men.  One was my medical director.  The other was Smartypants.  Two men who don’t wrestle with self-doubt the way I do on a daily basis.  Nevertheless, their perspective and insight was refreshing and helped me cut past all the emotional clutter of my heart.

My medical director reminded me that work doesn’t end.  There’s always more work to do.  There will always be more work waiting for me.  But each family stage and the moments of life… those come to an end.  There is no going back.  When all is said and done, it won’t be work that’s by your side when you take your last breath.  It won’t be work that grieves the most.

Smartypants reminded me about the importance of quality over quantity.  I want to see more patients.  I want to make a “bigger” difference in the lives of others.  Certainly working more hours may help me achieve that.  However, he challenged me to question whether having a larger radius of influence necessarily makes me a better doctor.  Would I have the same attitude as a doctor if I worked 5 days a week?  I would definitely be more grumpy.  Is making a difference in one person’s life any lesser than making a difference in many lives?  Yes, in terms of numbers and fame.  But to that one person, it’s still a difference all the same.  Smartypants is astute enough to remember what drew me to pediatrics in the first place.

The doubt will never go away completely.  I know that is certain.  But I think I’ve finally stopped searching for some definition of the perfect balance.  Instead, I am redirecting that search towards defining what I am passionate about.  I am trying to redefine what a successful day is.  Anyone can schedule my life out for me into neat little lists and calendars, but only I can make the choices to live life out passionately according to what I most value.  After all, my kids are watching.  I want them to see that life isn’t about attaining some static one-size-fits-all balance.

Maybe that elusive balance comes from simply living out life in your own honest and heartfelt way.

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8 thoughts on “The Elusive Search for the Right Balance

  1. Dear Doctor, not that you want or are asking for my advice but if I were you, I would seek God intently about what he wants you to do. And remember Matthew 11:28.

    I have found that God often grants our requests; maybe not in the way we asked but in his way. It seems to work better for me that way. Just a suggestion.

  2. Have you see this lately? This was in my kid’s school newsletter this month. You do an AMAZING job balancing life and work. I WISH I had the flexibility you do. What you do makes an impact every single day to the people you touch. Keep things in perspective and OUTSOURCE (if you can) !! If you don’t like something – there’s always someone else to do it – within reason, of course. My biggest thing is the value of time and money. Keep that in perspective, too. I love your posts … they are so relatable!
    —————————

    The Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee

    When things in your lives seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the 2 cups of coffee.
    A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
    The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
    The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”
    The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
    “Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things–your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favorite passions–and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
    The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car.
    The sand is everything else–the small stuff. “If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you.
    “Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first–the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
    One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend.”

    • Monica, this is fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing, and for your encouragement. I love the visual illustration of this story, and I love the 2 cups of coffee at the end. I am constantly reminding myself that there’s ALWAYS time for people and conversations. It’s so easy to get distracted by the little things to get done and push aside the simple value of relationships in life. I also appreciate your reminder to judge the value of time. I’ve started to change my tune and realize that there are some things worth paying for if we can. Still resistant to forking over money for help with yard stuff or housecleaning, but I’m beginning to realize how much slower and inefficient I am with that kind of stuff…

  3. It sounds like you’ve got some smart people in your corner. both gave great advice. I liked your medical director’s point. It’s so true. These moments we have are so fleeting, and we will never get them back. I loved your post and your attitude to protect the things that matter most! balance? Who knows how to find that??!! But we can value what we have regardless of the ratio! 🙂

    • Hi Adrienne! Yes, I do have an excellent medical director and am grateful for his attitude and approach over these years as I transitioned into parenthood. I’m very fortunate in that way… his is not a common perspective expressed in the medical field. I think that’s the case for many people… the working world sends such a strong message centered around productivity and results. It’s hard to step back and see the bigger picture sometimes; I guess that’s why we all need solid wise folks in our lives to help us see things from a more grounded perspective.

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