Working Harder On Yourself Than Your Job

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Work harder on yourself than you do your job. I say it in so many of the talks and lectures that I give. Work harder on yourself than you do your job. While I think this principle is true for any line of work, it is especially difficult for many physicians to hear and internalize. We are hardwired to work diligently on whatever task is in front of us. And so often, the task in front of us in our waking hours is either directly or indirectly related to our careers and the practice of medicine. We go home and take off our white coats, and then what? We eventually retire, and then what? So many of us finally look up after years of nose-to-the-grindstone hard work and realize that we’ve neglected our relationships, our interests, our passions, ourselves.

Below are a few ways to work harder on yourself than you do your job.

Take a personal inventory. What parts of your life need attention and improvement? Are your relationships where you want them to be? If you removed your career from the equation, would you still feel fulfilled? Why or why not?

Set some goals. Based on your inventory, get clear about any changes you’d like to make in your life. Try to set some personal goals unrelated to your career. Where do you want to be? Who do you want to be? What do you want your legacy to have been outside your job?

Invest in your relationships. Schedule a coffee date. Have someone over for dinner. Send text messages to check in with your friends. Send a thank you note. We need each other. Relationships— good, strong relationships that will pull us through our darkest times— require time and attention.

Take care of your body and your mind. We all know to eat well and exercise and quit smoking, but how many of us listen to the advice we give our patients? Break harmful habits and pick up good ones. Meditate. Spend time each day unplugged. These are all great ways to invest in ourselves.

Read. Ask people who you admire what their favorite books are. Try putting away electronics 30 minutes before you go to sleep and picking up a book. Science says reading books should be a priority. And the right books teach us something about the world and about ourselves.

Pick up a hobby. Learn something new. Take a class. Hobbies— activities we just do for the pleasure of doing them— are so good for a number of reasons. They allow us to socialize, exercise our creativity, grow in confidence, and alleviate stress. And they help us to feel secure in our identities outside of our careers.

Practice patience. Real change takes time. But I am confident that remembering and cultivating who we are outside of our careers will make us happier people and healthier physicians.

Tracy Sanson