Did you assume that your life would be magically perfect once you finished training?
I know I did.
I fully believed that once I graduated from my fellowship and became an attending, everything in my life would just fall right into place. Somehow my finances would be simple, my marriage would be great, I would be an amazing mother with well-behaved children, and things would be easy.
So many of us have this illusion. This delusion. It’s called the arrival fallacy. Once we reach our goal, we think everything will be rainbows and butterflies.
But when you think about it, that doesn’t actually make sense. Grinding through years of school, residency, and fellowship can create an amazing career. But that singular focus on attaining that career often means that our relationships, self-care, and identity outside of medicine fall to the wayside.
So, of course, everything was not, in fact, rainbows and butterflies once I finished training. Of course, I felt like I was just rinsing, repeating, and staying stuck.
It was up to me to intentionally create a personal life as extraordinary as the career I had worked so hard to have. And I figured out how.
As the arrival fallacy implies, we think life is going to be better “there” than it is here. When we have this mentality, it’s easy for us to delay our enjoyment of life until we get “there.” We just keep our heads down and put one foot in front of the other, never stopping to look around and take it all in. We tell ourselves we will have fun when we arrive.
But then, of course, we get “there” and realize that our career might be awesome, but the rest of our life has been put on the back burner. Being the high-achievers that we are, we think maybe we just have to get to the next goal to feel content and satisfied. So we get to our new “there” but still haven’t enjoyed the journey, and the cycle repeats. And that cycle is one of the root causes of the burnout many of us face.
Here’s how you can get out of this spiral, starting today:
Make a deliberate effort to infuse your daily life with pleasure.
Yep. Pleasure is the key to getting out of the rinse and repeating and creating the life you always thought you would have over “there.”
No more waiting until you meet that goal, or finish the work, lose weight, have more money, or get a vacation, or someday when …
You can amp up the pleasure in your life right now by intentionally choosing three small practices you will commit to each day – to bring you more joy. A nice way to do that is to pick one activity or experience from each of the following categories. Some examples are listed to help you get started.
Physical/sensory: music, exercise, time in nature, nourishing food, a clean workspace, beautiful clothing, an uncluttered car
Intellectual: puzzles, books, a new hobby, stimulating conversations, reading about topics in medicine that are of interest (instead of what you think you “should” be studying)
Spiritual/creative: write an article, play an instrument, create a lecture or course, meditate, attend religious services
Try incorporating the three small practices of your choice into your day-to-day for two weeks and watch your experience of your life transform.
You have worked far too hard to just go through the motions forever. Starting today, you can begin to enjoy all that you’ve created with this simple infusion of pleasure.
Allison Anderson is a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist and life coach.
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