Work/Life Integration

Work/Life Integration

Work/life balance is a term which lacks a translation to reality. Rather, your life will be a juggling of competing priorities. That juggle is a moving target, fluid and dynamic, requiring both attention and intention. Career choice is personal and requires that you know yourself first to best assess how a medical specialty aligns with your lifelong goals.

As part of the process of selecting your career path, you have likely reflected on your personal priorities, your passions and your temperament. If you have not taken time to outline your career goals, do so now, outlining your 3-5 year personal and professional goals. Use these goals as a guide to defining the priorities which you will strive to balance. Achieving successful work/life integration is a matter of understanding that the choices we make will impact the paths we take. Each of us has unique needs, goals and values; no single career or specialty can meet everyone's priorities in the same way. The key is to recognize that career demands will interplay with other life priorities, and to ensure that your choices sustain those things that support personal well-being.

Medicine is a high-stakes career with complex responsibilities that require a commitment to others and presents tremendous opportunity, intellectual and emotional challenge, satisfaction, and stress. Those who choose a career in medicine do well to understand this. It is wise to make sure that your support network understands this too.

When contemplating a career specialty, it is useful to consider what brings you satisfaction and what drains your energy. With that in mind, consider, too, that there are many ways to practice pediatrics: as a hospital-based, office-based, or community-based generalist or subspecialist; in academia as an educator, researcher, and/or clinician. Many of these offer an option for full-time or part-time work. Each physician's practice evolves throughout his or her career. And as in any field, physicians may change jobs in order to advance their career, develop further skills, or to pursue new interests.

Personal needs ebb and flow. Sometimes work needs you more; sometimes you need more work; sometimes your personal life needs special attention and time. It is this ebb and flow that results in the juggle to balance priorities as they exist at any given time in your life. Making deliberate choices, communicating your needs and the basis upon which you are making decisions to shift priorities and anticipating a timeline all enhance your relationships with colleagues, partners and significant others.

Try to identify leaders, champions, mentors, or colleagues who can help you to articulate goals, track your objectives and celebrate successes. Physician burnout is at an all-time high. Making career decisions that are aligned with your self-knowledge will allow you to stay on track, nurture your happiness and further your success.

Be Honest About Your Priorities and Values
How do you feel day today? During a clinical rotation, what is your overall level of energy? Some experiences are remarkably doable. Others will require the same hours but will be purely exhausting. It is important to be motivated to get up and go each day. Your energy and passion for your work is reflected in your career choice. This choice should accommodate your personal values and lifestyle and not conflict with your priorities.

Define Your Boundaries
Defining your personal boundaries, and living within them, could be the hardest part of personal balance to achieve. We all have values that should guide and drive our decisions. As a physician, you have committed to caring for others. Maintaining this goal requires self-care. In addition, you have other values and priorities that will compete with these priorities. Those who value family above all else will need to prioritize their responsibilities accordingly. Those who value exercise and personal fitness will need to structure a systematic routine. If it is among your values to provide the highest quality of care that you can, you may choose to study further, spend another hour in the hospital, or devote more time to an individual patient. The conflicts that develop can be challenging but those who maintain an awareness of what is important to them can maintain focus on both career and life outside of work. We are all subject to pressures that push away from personal values to meet the needs of others. Establish limits to prevent overdoing and establish achievable goals that align with your personal goals and priorities. Making choices are consistent with your values will move you closer to your goals.

Never Lose Sight of Your Dreams
Have you defined your goals and values? Can you articulate a 1-year, 5-year or 10-year dream? It can be easier to describe dreams than define plans. Dreaming allows us to aim high and consider what makes us happy without being encumbered by the means to achieve it. Knowing yourself well enough to define your goals is critical to personal success because progress cannot be measured without recognizing the objectives and accomplishments along the way. Defining priorities as stepping-stones to our goals brings us closer and closer to our dreams. 

Reflect and Revisit
Reflection may be the most powerful step in moving forward. It is very useful to take note of what gives us pause and inspiration. Whether it's creating an ever-growing document on your laptop or writing in a bound journal in your backpack, create a system to make note of compelling or intriguing experiences and insights. It may be weeks before you have time to analyze it, but that record of the event will resurrect the moment. Upon reflection, we generally look a bit deeper and decide whether the action, activity, or event warrants further thought. 

Bottom Lines
Pediatricians tend to value work/life integration, perhaps because we work with families every day. Maintaining the juggle is difficult when new challenges and responsibilities are added to the mix, but we strive to enjoy the journey. While coping with stress is a personal endeavor, the freedom to focus and prioritize time spent as spouses, parents, friends, sports fans, artists, advocates, coaches, and community leaders is a key to work/life integration.

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