What do we really need? A physician coach learns a lesson in simplicity

At the recent American Medical Women’s Association meeting, I had the pleasure of Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 3.51.40 PMcoordinating the judges who evaluated over 100 posters created by medical students and residents who attended. The students are particularly excited as they stand by their poster and discuss their research or case study with physicians who pass by. They’re all dressed professionally, eager to impress and gain the experience afforded by the situation. One enthusiastic first year student shared with me how excited and nervous she was as she considered what to pack for the trip. Her down-to-earth boyfriend shared his opinion of her situation: “When I’m going hunting, I need a gun and a jacket. To present a poster, you need a poster and a suit.”

In our commercialized society, it’s easy to get hooked by the pressure to always have more. And with the array of activities to choose from and the ease of access, it’s tempting to overfill our plate with more things to do. That’s been an ongoing struggle for me – so many interesting things to do, so little time.  It often leaves me overwhelmed and not able to enjoy what I do or appreciate what I have.

In her yearlong attempt to discover what makes us happy, Gretchen Rubin began by de-cluttering her home. Systematically, she excavated each drawer and closet, giving away duplicates or items she didn’t use. She found she felt happier in her less cluttered home.  Since we’re living out of our home with most of our possessions in storage, I decided I would purchase nothing new until we moved back into our home, unpacked the many boxes, and rediscovered what we have.  I’m enjoying finding new and creative ways to use the things we brought along and a sense of freedom with my shopping-mall-free life. Increasingly, people are opting for small-scale living spaces – it’s amazing how much life they smartly and neatly pack into 200-400 square feet.

For our children’s first years, I saw toys, books and games as opportunities for their learning and growth. “They would develop manual dexterity with this toy,” I reasoned. “They’ll learn numbers with this book,” I decided. While many of the toys and books that filled our home were enjoyed and useful, one of our kids’ favorite pastimes was opening a box of plastic spoons, scattering them on the floor, and putting them back in the box, one by one. Manual dexterity and numbers could also be learned from an ordinary box from the grocery store.

From now on, I’m planning to ask myself, “What do I really need?” whenever I’m considering a new purchase, packing for a trip, restocking our home or considering a new activity.  I want each choice to reflect what’s truly important and necessary. I’m looking forward to a less cluttered and more spacious home and life.

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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