A Work-Life Balance Includes Making Yourself A Priority

img_6025Working and having a family often leaves me feeling rather two-dimensional. Between those two things, my time, energy and mental capacity are entirely consumed.

Until recently, when I’ve had the opportunity to cut back on my hours at work.  Having a little extra time has allowed for some reflection on myself and my commitments.

Initially during this free time, I focused on what I felt obligated to do that day. How am I going to prove to myself that I deserve this “break”? I quickly busied myself with things that would benefit those two aspects of my life: laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, reading work articles. I felt like I had to demonstrate some level of productivity so that I could continue “earning” this free time.

But slowly, I’ve noticed more fun activities creeping into my schedule. I’ve been exercising more, learning how to shop for and prepare healthier foods, starting a book club, rediscovering my love for writing. All things that are solely about ME. And while it feels really good, I am also guilt-ridden. Is it ok for me to use some of my free time to explore myself? To reconnect with favorite activities, and find new ones that challenge and inspire me?

Looking back, I realize that I have devoted much of my life to studying and raising a family. Which has left little to no time for self-exploration or discovery, frankly because I was often just too tired to do it. Having kids and a demanding job makes it easy to lose sight of other parts of yourself. But now that I have a little time (and more sleep), these ideas are resurfacing.

For instance, I have always wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I still have the one my parents bought me in high school, when I first dreamed of strumming Dave Matthews Band and impressing all my friends. But I never picked it up because I “never had the time”. Lately I’ve found myself daydreaming again about taking lessons. That’s when the cynical part of me wonders, why would I learn a new instrument at 34 years old?

It also begs the question, Am I allowed to have fun?

I ask myself this question quite often. Do I have time to do things that I want to do? Even if they don’t serve any purpose other than for my own enjoyment? It won’t benefit my family or my job, but I would really love to play the guitar or write a book someday. It taps into my more nurturing side that says, just because you have kids, a husband and a job doesn’t mean you stop improving upon yourself, challenging yourself, or learning new things!

Yet that voice is hard to listen to.

That voice is often quieted during times of stress, when everyone needs me, bills have to be paid, lunches made, laundry cleaned. And let’s be honest, that is most of the time. That voice is often squashed by my own fatigue, when I barely have enough energy to get through the day, none the less practice Crash Into Me. I also worry that people might judge me for not being a better mom or working more.

But lately with more time and energy to reflect, this is what I observe: financially we are stable. The kids are happy at school. I am fortunate I can spend a lot of time with my family. Why shouldn’t I also spend time cultivating myself, generating more interesting discussion topics beyond our harrowing potty training experiences and how I’ve been really busy at work?

What I’m learning is that expanding upon myself makes me a better mother, wife, and doctor. I feel rejuvenated and excited, and my children, husband and patients pick up on that.

I can’t figure out why our culture places so much emphasis on our jobs and our families, yet infinitely less on cultivating our own interests. When was the last time anyone asked, “What new and interesting hobbies have you picked up recently?” Rather than the tired, feigning-interest, “How are the kids? How are things at work?” Yes, these are two very important parts of us. For many, the most important parts of who we are. However, we should focus on ourselves as well. We need to continue to pursue other interests, to grow and to learn, to expand our horizons. I regularly encourage my kids to try new things, why can’t I do the same for myself? At the end of the day, being well-rounded serves to enhance our sense of self-worth and enrich what we are able to offer to our families and our workplace.

So watch out guitar, here I come!

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