Saturday, December 1, 2012

The More Of Less

     The sky's pink hue this morning is at once beautiful and unsettling, its radiance irritating me into a simmering inertia that refuses to budge, even after I've had my coffee. I am five years old again. For reasons unknown to me, my beloved red maple tree, the one that stood bravely among the blue spruces and elms and birches in our backyard, is being felled, and I am watching helplessly. The world seems just as crazy now as it did then, deluded by progress and productivity. Has the business of living killed the business of being alive?
     The less I work, the less I want to work. Coming from a physician, that's nothing short of blasphemy. After all, the moment I stepped into anatomy lab, I traded my personal life for a life of personal sacrifices, the clichéd "I am my work" axiom in which I've been assured that running on fumes somehow begets sensitivity and compassion, and that the reward for denying all of my own needs is the immense satisfaction that comes from tirelessly attending to the needs of others. One really has to question the ethos behind this flavor of altruism: it's more like a contagious societal disease.
     I see evidence of infection everywhere, from parents whose lives revolve around their children's sports to volunteers who can never say "no" to my own husband, who's averaging thirteen hour days at his networking job, containing the fallout of a security breach that occurred before he even accepted the position, sometimes going in to work at three o'clock in the morning and not returning until 7:30 at night. Many of his colleagues are working 20 hours a day. Yesterday afternoon, he noticed one of his co-workers, a brilliant senior systems architect, looking uncharacteristically dazed and disheveled, walking with a slight limp, and in desperate need of a bath. "Are you all right, man?," Spartacus asked him. "I've been up for 36 hours. I just got my third wind, so I'm feeling pretty good. I'm ready to go," the poor bastard answered, wearing his glassy-eyed funk proudly, like a badge of honor. A year ago, that was me.
     I'm surrendering to the more of less, sacrificing nothing for a return that's unquantifiable. Because work is no longer working me, I like my job again. Even though I work in a fast-paced ambulatory setting, the pressure to produce is offset by my overall change in perspective, sort of a happy medium. I feel like a consultant in anesthesia again, not a warm body. Maybe what I really mean to say is that the less I work, the less it feels like work. The sense of dread I used to wake up with has vanished. Now, there's plenty of room in my life to do the things I want to do. I actually have time for living. It's funny, because in talking with my physician friends, many of them seem to envy my downward mobility, viewing it as a bravely conducted rage against the machine. Sometimes, it takes a little rage to get the courage flowing. Like that red maple tree, I haven't always blended in with the crowd, but I don't live in fear of my demise. I've just found a way to fly under the radar.

     

19 comments:

  1. I think you're onto something. Flying under the radar seems like a great way to go. To embrace less work as a physician must seem difficult to digest at times. Good for you for realizing that something had to change for the benefit of your health and happiness. Lovely post.

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    1. Annie,
      It's ingrained in us that our life is our work, and it's been very hard to overcome that stigma. In my opinion, that mindset of unrelenting sacrifice makes someone a bitter, not a better, physician. There's always a workaround, and I think I've found it. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I am so happy that you have finally found a satisfiable amount of work so that your true life loves can be your first priority. I am sure that you are loving the freedom of seeing your boys play shows often, and being able to spend time with your husband. Sounds like you are in a perfect place right now.

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    1. Emily,
      You knew me back when I was SO miserable, I was actually considering getting out of medicine altogether. It took a major upset for me to realize that my options weren't as limited as i thought they were, and I'm glad things worked out the way they did. I wish I could teleport you up here so we could still work together!

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  3. I can't even imagine what it must be like for a doc; I'm in the web business, so it's a bit less urgent. I did spend about 10 years deep in the cubicle holes, though, and by the gods it's good to be free of that and to keep regular hours of my own accord.

    Or, in other words, Amen. :)

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    1. SchemaByte, my husband is currently a cube dweller in IT. I think that being married to an anesthesiologist helps him maintain perspective on his job. No matter what happens when a network goes down, it's generally NOT a matter of life and death (even though everyone in his department acts like it is). Good for you for escaping the cubicles and for creating your own time frame.

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  4. When you feel that something is out of place or missing, you must find a way to detect what it is and do something about it. When life becomes a chore it's no longer enjoyable. Find what makes you happy and hold on to it. You know you're doing something right when it no longer seems like a tiresome chore.

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    1. I completely agree, Jeunelle. Life should never seem like a tiresome chore!

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  5. I can never get a Japanese Maple to take. Never seems a good place to keep them from getting burned by the sun.... *sigh* In the end, I like being out of place, the red tree in a green forest. I like being different, so the analogy kinda doesn't work for me.

    But, I do know about flying under the radar, knowing its the best way to do a job. I know I've done the rat race before, and know how my life was back then. I can't do that again, its a form of suicide. Giving up your life and soul for money and security, where both can be taken away at a whim. I've never been truly alive as I am now, I just wish I could sustain this existence for longer that I'll be able to....

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  6. Work, work, work! Frankly, Kris, I don't get it. What's so wonderful about work? Is it the money, the prestige, the feeling that one is a somebody, that one is accomplishing great things? Or is it just that one would be dreadfully bored without it? In any case I'd rather be an idler and spend my time basking in the sun.

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  7. Another great post Kris. I have been trying to fly under the radar for some time now. It has been nice to know that I am an "at will employee" and have a choice. Unfortunately, or more acurately, fortunate fo me, I get up and go to work be I actually want to. I have no future or growth in my job but I like what I do and the company I work for. I don't like to settle, but don't kill myself anymore for more.

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  8. How nice to have that sense of dread when going to work gone. Work is so much more enjoyable when you have room to breathe and like what you do. You’ve come to a good place, workwise. Flying under the radar is the way to go. Kris, you are very much like that red maple tree, and stay just the way you are!

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  9. "Has the business of living killed the business of being alive?" What a provoking question, Kris. I'm so glad you've got some time to take a break and smell the roses. We all need to stop and reassess every once in a while.

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  10. Hello there,
    I have surfaced for the pool of sorrow and grief and limped back onto the shore. Here's paradox for you to consider. dichotomy for you. My husband and I took one not one but two jobs each last year but are doing less with more. We have learned how to cut back what we do to the essentials and do not more that that. We have more time for each other than we did when we both worked only one job each.

    Thankfully, we aren't on the radar as we don't have to leave home to do most of our work. That means the work environment and people dynamics aren't troublesome as they have been for us in other times.

    Your post resonates and your sentence sums up our acquired wisdom so well, "Maybe what I really mean to say is that the less I work, the less it feels like work."

    AMEN.

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  11. Somehow I have to realize this statement as an educator somehow: "One really has to question the ethos behind this flavor of altruism: it's more like a contagious societal disease." I feel like my job is never over, and work late every night. There is also work piling up, and no compensation exists for amount of hours worked. There is barely compensation for normal working hours. I'm not sure what to do, but you took control, and I am inspired to somehow do the same. Teaching is noble, but at this pace, I won't last long. Thank you Helena.

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  12. Kris, you sound so much happier and less stressed. Like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. I am so happy for you.

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  13. I loved reading this Helena! It gives me hope for myself in all honesty. I feel like I live my work, and work is my life. It's nice to know there will be a time in my life where I can work less, like work more, and finally get the opportunity to enjoy the things in life that education and work have taken prominence over.

    I'm glad your able to enjoy things in your life you've missed out on. =)

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  14. The reason your physician friends envy you is because they know it is not "blasphemy" it is epiphany. And bravery to go against the grain and take time in life to actual live. So fly under the radar, over the moon or wherever you heart desires. Enjoy every more in the less.

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