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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