Your Own Personal Secret to Work-Life Balance

Physicians (as part of a societal trend) are increasingly focusing on trying to balance the many demanding aspects of their lives. Below is a recent column I wrote for Vein Magazine; the link to the pdf is at the bottom. My wish is that you will take a few minutes to discover YOUR values – that short investment of time might be the starting point to achieving your true personal work-life balance.

Google “Work Life Balance,” and up pop 20,600,000 entries, many of which have tempting titles like “The 5 tips to Work Life Balance.” The way I see it, if it were as easy as 5 tips, we would have figured it out by now. So, what exactly is the secret to that elusive work life balance that we all strive for? During a recent workshop, I asked a group of physician leaders to experiment with the physical act of balance. Go ahead – try this yourself. When we stand on one leg and attempt to balance, we find that it is not a rigid or static state. It involves constant movement and continuous rebalancing. If someone hands us a five-pound weight (or our secretary suddenly quits or a child or parent becomes ill), we get thrown off balance and need to shift in order to feel balanced again. Another thing we notice while standing on one leg is that when we contract our core muscles, balance is easier to maintain. Similarly, when we live according to our core — when we view our life and make decisions through the lens of our core values — balance is easier to achieve and maintain.

Values are those principles or ways of being that make our life worth living. When we allow our circumstances to prevent us from honoring our values, we feel stressed, unhappy, and disconnected from the life we are living. A person with a strong value of family might feel oppressed working 80 hours a week, while the person who is extremely achievement and contribution oriented and working on a meaningful project might find those same 80 hours exhilarating. Defining some of our values is easy, since we may naturally pay more attention to them. Family, spirituality, being fit, service and learning are values that might be detected in how we spend our time. Other values such as justice, humor, connection, adventure and freedom may be discovered in what we long for. Another method of mining for values is to recall a time when we felt terrific – when life seemed great. What was going on? What values were you honoring?

Below is a partial list of values. Take a minute to circle your top 10 values.

Humor/ Family/ Integrity/ Achievement/ Excellence
Honesty/ Accuracy/ Spirituality/ Creativity/ Independence
Joy/ Beauty/ Risk taking/ Recognition/ Tradition
Freedom/ Harmony/ Success/ Contribution/ Fairness
Innovation/ Kindness/ Zest for life/ Learning/ Connection
Physical health/Service/ Adventure/ Responsibility/ Compassion
Free spirit/ Romance/ Order/Serenity/ Intimacy/ Authenticity

Now, consider how well you are living those values at home, at work, and in the rest of your life. Use your creativity to find one thing that you will do this week to bring your values into those parts of your life where you are not fully honoring them. Although this seems easy, it requires tremendous discipline and commitment. But just like that subtle shift you made when you were standing on one leg, those small adjustments may be all you need to give yourself true balance in your life.

HFronek_Summer_2011_-_v4i3_column

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About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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