Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jennifer Frank, MD: Crazy busy

I am sure you can relate to the sense of being crazy busy – not just rushing from this thing to that but feeling completely overwhelmed with the multiple professional and personal commitments that line up, seemingly endlessly, before you. I am living this, and it’s not a comfortable place to be.

About six months ago, I was invited to speak at a conference occurring this past weekend. I enthusiastically accepted. It was a great opportunity which I thought would be personally enjoyable and professionally enriching. As the date got closer, the stress of actually preparing for and getting to the event outweighed my excitement. It didn’t help that I was flying out on my husband’s birthday or would be missing my daughter’s dance recital.
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My mixed feelings about making these personal sacrifices for a professional honor showed up in a late departure for the airport, poor concentration for the task at hand necessitating a U-turn to head back home to retrieve my forgotten thumb drive, and a series of mix-ups, hold-ups, and circumstances that had me arriving at the conference about 30 minutes prior to my talk (causing a minor panic attack for the poor woman organizing the conference).

After the talk (which went well despite the inauspicious events leading to my arrival at the conference center), I had time to reflect on my “balance” which was feeling quite out of whack. As I enjoyed the absolutely gorgeous scenery that spread out before, I had time to do something I rarely do – breathe deeply and ponder deep thoughts. I came back to something that has occurred to me on previous occasions when I find myself overwhelmed and underfocused: I am trying to do too much.

I was well prepared for the talk and excited to give it. I had allowed some wiggle room in my schedule, which I did have to use. However, I still arrived with (some) time to spare. My husband, left in charge of kids, house, and pets for the weekend, was supportive of my going, even on his birthday weekend. I was, however, trying to balance my professional role with the guilt of choosing to be away from my family during a time we would normally have spent together (our weekend).

Instead of accepting this as the necessary cost of pursuing a professional opportunity, I was going back and forth in my mind between my role as a physician and my role as a wife and mother, feeling unprepared for one role and guilty about not doing the other well.

In reality, I was upset that I couldn’t have it all – you know, being the star speaker of the conference while also being a perfect wife (home for her husband’s birthday) and mother (clapping enthusiastically in the front row at the recital). In the future, I will need to do a better job accepting that choosing one thing (a speaking engagement or staying home to attend a family event) is often choosing not to do something else. That is the cost of the choice, and consciously deciding to pay that price (or not) will hopefully prevent some of the guilt and a sense of imbalance that can accompany crazy busy weeks.

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