Finding the Sweet Spot: How one ND achieves a work life balance
Love What You Do, Do What You're Good At and Practice the Art of Saying No
Written by Jaclyn Chasse, ND
I remember my first year at Bastyr. First quarter, in my attempt to be as successful as possible in school, I took every available minute to study. I would wake up early in the morning to get a couple of hours in before class, and I'd be up late spending a few extra hours with the books before going to bed. I was very successful in school, but had no life. Even my poor husband (of only 3 months) probably wondered if he'd ever see me again.
That experience provided me with one of the first true tests of my boundaries, and really allowed me to see what I needed in order to be successful. When I say “what I needed,” I'm not talking just about needing a good education, or needing a great accountant (which I do). I'm talking about the foundational needs that allow me to be successful in my day-to-day life, which is still as busy as first year med school.
Fast forward 9 years….
Out of school, I bought a wonderful practice and started to grow it. Last spring, we moved to a new facility to accommodate this growth. I now coordinate a practice with 13 practitioners and additional support staff. In addition to this, I work as a Medical Educator for Emerson Ecologics, serve as the President of the New Hampshire Association of Naturopathic Doctors, serve on the board of my local food co-op, and volunteer for several organizations. Oh yeah, and I'm a mom and wife too (that's the best part of my life!). While sometimes things feel too busy, overall I still feel like I'm living the life I want, and living in balance.
There are a few things I felt have been essential for my (self-defined) success:
I love what I do. Thankfully, I love almost ALL of what I do. Because when I'm loving it, it doesn't feel like work. Because of that, my day is filled with joyful contribution to the communities I live and work in. I feel like I am in the right place.
As a student, I remember seeing an AANP survey that showed the abnormally high satisfaction rating that NDs have with their jobs, even if they aren't making a huge salary. I totally get it now. Every day, I am able to meet patients and empower them to take control of their health. It is so rewarding, and I look forward to it daily.
I know what I'm good at (and not good at). You've got to be honest with yourself and recognize where you thrive and where you stumble. I've worked hard to identify the areas I typically need help and to develop support networks to ease my stress in these areas. One example of this is bookkeeping. In my practice, I quickly realized that I hated doing this, and was not good at it. Although it imposed financial stress to pay someone to do this for me, the time it freed up and stress it released were well worth it.
Be present. This can be one of the hardest things for me when I have a lot on my plate, but it is one of the strongest needs I have when I'm juggling lots of tasks. This means that I don't check my email during meetings (tempting) and I don't return patient calls when I'm grocery shopping with my toddler (tried that- not so successful). I find this very important for my personal life, because despite having a full schedule, I want my husband and son to know that they are my number one priority. The best way to do this is to give them the gift of my undivided attention. In addition, I believe that this is one of the determining factors for success in practice- your patients need to know that they also have your undivided attention. Isn't that one thing that we hear criticized about the conventional medical system (i.e., “My doctor only saw me for 3 minutes, and I felt like she was rushing me to get out to see the next patient.”)? The gift of presence is really a gift for both the recipient and the giver.
Know your boundaries. This is not something I'd ever preach about, because it's something that I still struggle with. I know my boundaries- I see them very clearly after I've exceeded them! In reality, I am getting much better at knowing what I can handle and practicing the art of saying no (or at least saying “not right now”), and I'm proud of that. (If you're great at this, please write a blog post about it, so that I can learn from you!)
Remember the determinants of health. One “weakness” of mine is that I will easily ignore my own needs to get stuff done. This means I'll eat out more, sleep less, and not carve out time to exercise. I have learned that this does not make me more productive- it makes me miserable. So no matter what, I try to put my needs (maybe not my wants) first, so that my cup can be full enough to give away my time and energy to my projects and relationships. I have incorporated some simple things to accomplish this. Make a big salad or pot of soup on Sunday for quick meals through the week. 10-15 minutes of yoga each morning. Get to bed by 10pm. These simple routines allow me to get what I need. It's when I ignore these that I begin to feel overwhelmed and frazzled.
Going back to my first year in med school, I realized that the way I was living that first quarter was not sustainable for me. In the second quarter, I let the pendulum swing in the other direction. I did only what I had to do to get by in school and had a great time hiking, biking, and enjoying my new friendships. I had a life, but wasn't doing as well in classes. It wasn't until the spring when I finally hit my stride and found that sweet spot where my obligations were met AND I was enjoying myself. While it is often not easy, the pursuit of balance is, I think, what many of us are after.
We are all different. I would never assume that your needs are the same as mine, and I'm sure I have a lot to learn from you regarding how you find that sweet spot in your own life. Hopefully, these suggestions provide you with some food for thought to evaluate how you are maintaining balance (or not) in your own life. Either way, now is the perfect time to practice.