Q&A: How can I attain or maintain appropriate work-life balance during postgraduate training and throughout my career?
Oh, the infamous question! First and foremost, I do not have a magical answer that will work for everyone. What I have instead are some thoughts and reflections that may provide an alternative narrative to what many are used to hearing.
I distinctly remember for most of my life being told that I “work too much” or that I should “take a break” or that what I was doing was “not sustainable.” At the same time, I always remember feeling like these external perceptions of my life were incongruent with how I felt. I did not feel overworked, I enjoyed what I was doing, and it very much felt sustainable for me. Over a decade ago, I told one of my preceptors that everyone else kept telling me I had a bad work-life balance but that, at the same time, I didn’t know how to work on it because I felt happy.
What she said next completely altered the course of my career moving forward. She validated my personal perception of my life and told me that work-life balance is not the same for everyone. She then shared with me the article titled “The Fallacy of Chasing After Work-Life Balance.”1 Written by a Peds ICU physician, it provides some alternative perspectives on what work-life balance means to the author.
Some of my favorite lines from the article, which I feel are often counter to the usual work-life balance mantras I hear, are as follows:
The constant pursuit of work-life balance actually worsens rather than improves our quality of life by adding additional, often unrealistic, expectations to our already stressful lives.
The root of the problem lies in the fundamental assumption that life is good and work is bad, which is the main reason why we need a work-life balance in the first place. This distinction also implies that life only occurs whenever we are not at work, demoting the importance of work in our lives and projecting unrealistic expectations onto our time-off-work. The feeling that work is externally imposed onto us causes resentment against this activity and victimizes us as employees implying that we are forced to work against our free will. It is a fact that we spend more time at work than with our partners, our families, or in bed. Therefore, to label the majority of our time as unwanted and burdensome translates into increasing exhaustion and frustration at the workplace. This creates enormous pressure on our leisure-time to compensate for all the negative energy that accumulates at work. In return, the inability to accomplish all the regenerating goals, we had set for today results in further desperation and inevitable failure.
[T]he hours spent treating sick children are part of our lives just as much as the hours sipping on a glass of wine, going on a family vacation, or fishing with our buddies. Suddenly, the border between life and work vanished, work became life, and life became work. We all have some better and some worse days, but ... by the end of each day we will have made a difference in at least one child’s life. If at that moment, we pause for a second acknowledging this incredible achievement, recognizing that we made this world a better place for somebody today, we will experience the indescribable privilege of feeling balanced every day.
I distinctly remember the immediate sense of relief I felt, knowing that someone else saw the world as I did. I was passionate about my work and loved what I was doing, and the extra hours worked did not feel like a burden. For me, most of the activities and interactions I have at work bring enjoyment to my life – from the late-night Boba sessions with my co-residents during my residency years to the chats about the newest articles in neonatology with my fellows in the NICU to the monthly coffee sessions I have with my residents as a now-program director. Many perceive life and work as two completely separate buckets and believe that, to fill one, you have to drain from the other. However, for me, it’s more of a Venn diagram where many activities fall into both categories. Just because I am at work does not mean that I am not having a life at the same time.
Of course, time away from work is important, and identifying strategies to ensure you still maintain time for the activities outside work that you love is absolutely necessary. But ultimately, what work-life balance is for you is a very individual choice. In addition, this will likely evolve as you grow older and your life changes both personally and professionally. I’m sure many of us could agree that our priorities have been greatly altered over the past 2½ years during the COVID-19 pandemic. What a good work-life balance looked like for me in early 2020 is not the same as what it looks like now. And guess what? That. Is. OK.
So, in a nutshell: Stop letting others dictate what is work and what is life for you. Spend some time evaluating what truly brings you joy, and don’t feel guilty if it includes pharmacy/career-related activities. If you feel happy with the way you spend your time, then simply put, you have a good work-life balance.
1. Schwingshackl A. The fallacy of chasing after work-life balance. Front Pediatr 2014;2:26.
Deborah S. Bondi, Pharm.D., FCCP, BCPS, BCPPS
Pediatric Clinical Coordinator and NICU Clinical Pharmacy Specialist
PGY2 Pediatric Pharmacy Residency Program Director
The University of Chicago Medicine, Comer Children’s Hospital
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