I talk a lot about how I integrate my work and life. I’ve built a nursery in my eye clinic. My kids come to work with me. I get messages via social media daily praising me for demonstrating my work-life balance and showing another side of being a physician. And, here’s the thing – the way that I harmonize work and life may not look like the way you do. And, I absolutely NEVER ever want someone to view what I share on social media as picture perfect example of the ideal of a woman balancing life a physician, motherhood and entrepreneurship.
It gets rough, it gets gritty and it gets real. There are days that my three kids are driving me crazy. And there are days that being a private practice owner are driving me crazy. But over the past 13 years of doing both, here’s what I have learned.
1. Get rid of the concept of balance
I hate that phrase work-life balance. It’s a mythical concept, the balance of a see-saw as if there’s a magic number of what percentage of time to spend with your family, and the percentage to spend at work to achieve equilibrium. I cannot balance the many aspects of my life. I doubt most of you can either. Instead, what I do, is best characterized by the work-life fit. I am not constantly striving to find some almost unattainable notion of balance, like a tightrope walker, right in the middle. That is almost impossible to achieve.
I took control of how my work and my life fit together, when I started my practice 13 years ago. That required flexible thinking, and knowing that my boundaries of work were not set in stone. I know that not everyone can have a nursery in their office like I did. But, know that you can optimize the way your work and life fit together. It’s the difference between being strategic versus reactive at the circumstances you encounter.
Assess areas in which your work and life can harmonize. Give yourself grace if you work when you get home because you had to leave work early to be able to pick your kids up from school. There will be seasons in which work takes priority. There will be seasons (like during this pandemic) that your family takes priority. Employ a flexible mindset to not hold yourself to hard and fast rules which could diminish your personal and professional growth.
Harmonize, integrate, fit your work and life together the best they can. It’s a sliding scale, never a specific goal to achieve in and of itself.
2. Think outside the box
You might think a career in medicine would never allow for work-life fit. You have to see patients in your office, kids can’t usually be in a medical practice, ergo, no work-life fit. You need to be willing to advocate for the life you want, despite the naysayers. In this case, the naysayers were my husband and the retiring physician whose practice I was taking over.
When we toured the office, I saw a room that the previous physician had been using as storage. I had just found out I was pregnant and I was really considering options for childcare. We didn’t have family in Hawaii who would care for our kids and my parents lived in North Carolina.
I viewed that old storage room as a nursery for our unborn child. But when I presented that idea to my husband and the retiring physician, both thought it was a terrible idea. The retiring doc thought that his patients would find it odd if they knew that we had our baby on site. And, my husband could just not imagine the logistics.
As can happen, I kind of steamrolled over my husband and decided to proceed anyway. We hired a nanny after our son was born and she cared for our son at our office. I was able to block off time 3 times a day to breastfeed and I never had to pump! My proximity to my firstborn gave me a sense of relief at returning to work that I most certainly could not have experienced in any other manner.
And, the patients? They loved the idea. Some even wanted to see the baby when they came in for their appointments. I had one patient who even scheduled her visit around my son’s nap time! And, those who didn’t care for the idea? I’m sure they slowly exited our practice. I haven’t missed them, as I currently have a 3 month waitlist.
Be willing to think about opportunities or creative solutions to building the kind of work-life integration that you require.
3. Clarify your core values and your non-negotiables
You can’t even begin to try to harmonize your work and life, unless you are clear on what you truly want out of your life. What are your core values? Your guiding principles by which you life? By which you make every decision? Because once you are clear on those, your work and life will harmonize.
Much like core values, non-negotiables are something that should always be re-evaluated and re-assessed since they will change depending upon your season of life.
My personal core values are family, flexibility, independence, service, success.
I know that my professional non-negotiables include being my own boss, structuring my work to suit the needs of my family, and being able to contribute meaningfully to the health and well being of my patients. These form the basis of my decision making platform.
Things that are out of alignment with those are not open for discussion or consideration. I will not accept consulting gigs that take away my time with my children. Back when we could travel, I declined speaking engagements if the travel time was too onerous. People might have thought I was crazy for turning down that kind of money and networking opportunities, but those decisions were never hard for me to make, since I had very clearly defined non-negotiables.
Figure out your non-negotiables. Forget about what others think. Forget about your fear of failure. Forget about what you feel like you’re supposed to value. Once you have clarified these, then creating the life that is both personally and professionally satisfying which naturally follow.
In case you haven’t gone through a core values exercise, grab a copy of my core values and goal setting plan workbook below.