I’ve written about physician burnout since The Physician Philosopher started in November of 2017.  At the time, I was not burned out.  In fact, I loved my job, and my work-life balance was great.  My purpose in starting this blog was to teach others how to utilize the tools of financial independence to prevent (and treat) their own burnout. And to teach them behavioral finance. It was an important message, but not one that I applied directly to me.

Then, in July of 2018 I started burning out myself.

On one occasion, one of my partners said, “Jimmy, you are really pushing back against a lot of ‘asks’.  Why don’t you just do what people want?”

I told him the truth.  “Honestly, man, I am at the point where I feel like I need to stop anything else that has the potential to burn me out.”

When this happened, it was an interesting experience, because the burnout was not caused by my job.  This is unlike many others who experience burnout caused by the work place. After all, sometimes the hospital will not love you back.

Are there parts of my job that I would change?  Yes.  But, for the most part, I love my job.

So, what gives? What could cause burnout in someone who otherwise enjoys their job?  Am I just a hypocrite?

Work-Life Balance

The phrase is used so often it is almost cliche at this point, but the idea of “work-life balance” looms ever larger.

In my mind, the idea of work-life balance produces a mental image of a person walking a tightrope while utilizing a balance poll. If either side of the poll (work or life) are weighted too heavily, the walker loses their balance and slips off the tightrope.  The goal is to have a match between the weights that produce balance.

A story that does a good job of exemplifying this is the story of the fisherman. In it, the fisherman discusses the balance he found in life to the business man (who lived a “work heavy” life).

When the business man meets the fisherman, he is surprised that someone would focus so much on life – and so little on business. The fisherman worked the day and fished for his family.  This provided enough for him to enjoy his ideal life.  He worked as little (and as much) as he wanted.

In the evenings, he would play with his friends and family.  What more could he want? He was walking the tightrope with perfect balance.

This delicate balance is challenging, though.  It seems that very few find it.

So, when my wife started a full time job in July of 2018, I found out what it felt like to be thrown off-kilter.

My wife is a gifted educator, and  – if I am being honest – she is more gifted as a teacher than I am as a physician. Don’t get me wrong.  I am no slouch at my job. I’ve won my share of awards and accolades.  But, my wife can teach. She is incredible.

Her bosses recognize it.  The teachers she works with see it.  And the impact she has on the kids in the classroom is unmistakable.

Yet, for the first time since our (almost) eight year child old was born, she was working full time instead of part time.  And it kicked my work-life balance right in the teeth.

I Am Burned Out, But I Love My Job

The rub in all of this is that I was already working 1.3 FTE, performing successful clinical trials, and teaching residents/fellows/students.  I also work with the best group of doctors and CRNA’s imaginable.  The truth is that I LOVE my job.

In addition to all of that, I also have this blog that I (happily) let consume most of my free time.  This is my passion, and I would honestly do it for free.  If something gives, it won’t be the blog, because it is often what helps provide some of my sanity.

But… my work-life balance was out of whack.

I needed to support my gifted wife in addition to all of my responsibilities at work.  I was not offered the opportunity at work to cut back.  Then again, I also haven’t asked for it (yet).

My responsibilities at home doubled between the cooking, cleaning, and helping with the kids.  While I enjoy helping at home – with my current work load, it started to suffocate me.  I felt like I was drowning.

That was about the time I instituted my “Hell Yes” Policy.

For example, I only attend meetings that are high on the priority list, and only when I am scheduled to be at work.  If the meetings occur on a post-call day, I am now noticeably absent.

This might seem like I am less dedicated to my job, but the truth is that we only have one life to live. And there are only so many hours in the day.  I am very intentional about where I spend my hours these days.

If I have to choose between being “less dedicated at work” and my wife or kids feeling like I am more dedicated at home, the choice has become obvious.  My family always wins.

We All Make a Choice

When I went through the Three Kinder Questions with my wife to help us figure out the big picture for our family, it became readily apparent that being there for my wife and kids is what matters most to me.  This is my “why” behind the money decisions I make.

So, when my at home responsibilities doubled, and my work responsibilities remained the same… the balances began to tip and I started to fall off that tightrope.

To gain that balance back, I backed off from my work responsibilities.  I’ve cut back on some of my active research opportunities (though I am still doing some research), and offered to give shifts to people who want them.

This has allowed me to work towards the work-life balance I’ve looked for since July 2018 kicked me in the teeth.  It’s also allowed me some more time to focus on other things that I am more passionate about.

Take Home

Walking the tightrope to find work-life balance can be really challenging.  When work or life becomes overwhelming that balance bar can tip, we must find a way to fix the problem.

We have to be honest with who we are and where we are heading.  Otherwise, we risk falling off the tightrope completely.  Learn to say no to things that aren’t going to accomplish your purpose and passion in life, and focus on what matters most.

Have you ever felt burned out?  Was it because of work or life? Both?  Leave a comment below.

TPP

14 thoughts on “I Love My Job, But I am Burned Out”

  1. Very interesting point as most people think work when dealing with the term burnout but indeed other factors like home life can cause it as well as you pointed out.

    It is funny you mentioned blogging consuming a lot of your free time, because I feel the same way. At times it feels like the amount of time I spend on it is contributing to burnout or exacerbating the symptoms of burnout at work. However I have gained a lot of personal growth from the blog and hope to maintain it as well. I know that if I can continue writing till after I retire (a big ask) this would not be an issue and actually would be quite beneficial to keep my mind sharp.

  2. Reading about your fight for balance reminds me how good I have it. My planning practice is manageable working with clients I’ve had for a long time. I know them well. They know me well. It makes it easier.

    Your life as a teaching physician with the added research thrown in has to be exhausting. It’s interesting that you describe the burnout coming from added responsibilities at home. I love that you’re putting your time priority on those things rather than work. It’s usually the other way around.

    I can certainly relate to the amount of time and effort it takes to maintain, manage, and grow a blog. Cranking out 2 – 3 articles a week is challenging. Like you, I find the reward (not financial) well worth the time.

    It seems to me your priorities are in the right place. Thanks for sharing your struggles.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Fred! Always good to know that I am fighting the good fight, and that I have others along side me to help me do that. Life can be busy, but we can make it work if we find that balance and learn to say no to things that don’t accomplish what we want in this life!

  3. I’m glad you are rebalancing. Doing so much is a tough ask. My wife and I often find ourselves saying that being at work is easier than home.

    Home life is immeasurably more challenging when their are kids that need to be kept alive.

    We made the same choice as you…..just a little more dramatically. As family life has gotten more demanding we chose new jobs where our time at work is going down and the work is getting easier.

  4. There are some pieces to the puzzle of burnout that we do control. There are some we do not. It is important for us to realize what we do have control of and take advantage of that. Working 1.3 FTE was a disaster waiting to happen. Then something tipped the scales and you found out why. I learned long ago to never be on more than one committee at the hospital at the same time. If they ask you to be on another, you tell them you only have time right now to be on one committee, which do they think you can be of the most service. There is no committee meeting that trumped one of my kid’s soccer games.
    I’m going to add this to my Fawcett’s Favorites this week. Thanks.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  5. TPP, If you want to really shock them, become the tee-ball coach. When I was a U-8 youth soccer coach for my kids, other docs would ask how I could possibly have the time to do that. I told them there is always time for priorities. My kids are priorities. Committees are never priorities.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

  6. I’m glad you’ve discovered the power of no, Jimmy. You’re home life will be better for it.

    I’ve recently dialed back my Twitter presence, but the phone and laptop in another room when the kids get home, as they were evolving into attractive nuisances.

    One additional key I’ve discovered is that I like to have impact, and my tolerance for bureaucracy has diminished over my career. That means I only servos on committees where my vote carries weight, or those I chair😉

    You are going to thrive when you hit your number, because the joy you derive from your work minus the aggravations you subtract will make you a force of nature to be reckoned with.

    Looking forward to that day,

    CD

  7. I just started my “dream job” at a University…only 6 months in and am feeling burned out and drained already…it helps to know others go through this, but hard not to feel like there is something wrong with me. Not sure what to do…

    • Keep your head up! You are not alone. It seemed to help me a lot when I started putting my finger on exactly what was bothering me, and then limiting those moments.

      You can do this. Keep your head up, and shoulders back. There is a whole community willing to work along side you in these trenches.

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