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You CAN Do Anything... But You CAN’T Do Everything

How do we manage to wear so many hats in medicine? How to we juggle so many roles? How do we manage to "do it all"? Dr. Erin Carlquist is here to give us some incredibly important information. We can do ANYTHING that we want to as #WomenInMedicine. But we CANNOT do EVERYTHING. Are you type- A? Are you a perfectionist? Used to constant success? The idea that you cannot do EVERYTHING is hard. Dr. Carlquist does a great job explaining how she recovered from being a habitual over-committer.

I first heard these words in residency. And they are absolutely GOLD, my friends. I probably was told some version of this earlier on, but I am sure that I did not listen. I probably was not ready to hear those words until that time, anyhow. It took going through some struggles, making mistakes and learning for myself my own limitations, before those words could really resonate with me.

See, I am a recovering habitual over-committer. Starting in high school, I started filling up my agenda book with all the things. Seriously, everything I could get my hands on. I went for it all. Clubs, meetings, leadership titles, jobs, social events, and more. And all of this alongside my challenging course load that included numerous college-level classes. I was a collector of club memberships and leadership titles. I was seeking acceptance and self-value and love, all in the form of being involved in so many different activities that filled every open slot on my calendar. It got a little ridiculous. I had even joined clubs that I had no real interest in. I have a math club t-shirt and a picture of me sporting it proudly in the yearbook, and I literally never made it to one meeting. I was too busy with everything else on my plate, but you best believe I made it to that yearbook photo-op! I had missed the point somewhere along the way but it would take years for me to see it.

Fast-forward to medical school. I had carried those same bad habits of over-commitment right into my medical training. And this time, I had met my match. Over-scheduling was one thing in high school, and even in college I could hack it. But med school, that is a whole new ball game. This was totally uncharted territory and I had no clue what was in store. I am the first doctor in my family and did not really know anything about medical training above what I may have learned from Grey’s Anatomy or Scrubs.

My medical school experience started out pretty smooth. But as I resumed my habits of serially collecting organization memberships and leadership appointments, it became quite clear that I was being stretched too thin. I was being pulled in a hundred different directions and I began to struggle to keep my grades up. At this time, the most critical time of my entire career, my performance began to suffer because of the time and energy I was giving to things above and beyond my studies. Before long it started to take a toll. You could visibly look at me and see the effect my choices were having on my life. For me it was mostly physical. Self-care was absolutely non-existent. My diet suffered. I stopped exercising. I gained weight. As a consequence of not taking care of myself, I was tired and stressed. At the very time in my life that was most demanding both mentally and physically than anything I had ever experienced prior, I simply did not have the stamina to keep up with the demands. For a while, I suffered in silence. But slowly, I began to climb out of this pit I had dug for myself.

What did this road to recovery look like? First, I began to let go of superfluous commitments. Initially, I started to eliminate anything that did not bring me joy. That was pretty easy, actually. Even though I had often felt the impulse to always say ‘yes’, it was freeing to have an ‘out’ now. That helped out some, but there was still room for improvement.

Next, I started to recognize the things in which I may have a genuine interest, however I lacked sufficient free time to adequately commit. If I could not do that task justice I let it go.

I continued that pattern and refocused my time and efforts on things that made me happy and brought me get closer to my goals. Anything that did not make me happy or got in the way of my goals was simply not for me..

When I began to finally say ‘yes’ only to the things that were aligned with my dreams and ‘no’ to everything else, my world shifted. This was a game-changer y’all. I mean how simple is that?? It’s seems a little ridiculous. Like, that’s it? Really??!! YES! That is it.

In medicine we can get a little lost in the grind. There is always another landmark to reach in our near future. Another exam to ace. Residency applications to submit. Interviews to attend. Moves across the country and back. Interject life in the midst of it all and it can get pretty hairy. See, life does not press the pause button and allow you to pursue medical training without interruption. There are babies born, loved ones who leave us, marriages, divorces, failures and triumphs.

Today, I am continuing to laser focus my life on living with intention. I do not want to sort of work on my goals here and there. Instead, I clearly define what I want out of my career, relationships and life. I prioritize my life around these goals. A very important ingredient is that I am selective about who and what is worthy of my time and attention. This allows me to be a million times more productive than I ever thought possible. Intentionality requires some time, effort and planning. I write in a journal every morning and put my goals down on paper. This ritual keeps me focused on what is important and helps me continuously refocus my life to be more in line with my priorities.

Be intentional in where you decide to spend your time and energy. You can always make more money. But you can never get more time. Resist the temptation to say ‘yes’ to everything. Because, if everything is important, then nothing is important. And life is too short to spend it on the unimportant.

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