My life has been defined by four year epochs for the past 18 years. First, there was high school. Then college. And, of course, this was followed by four years of medical school and four years of anesthesiology residency. Finally, the monotony was broken up by a one year fellowship. Once that step was completed, my mind didn’t know how to compute the fact that the “last step” had been accomplished.
What was the next four year obstacle to be tackled? What goal would I now strive to achieve?
It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer, and that the question itself might be a problem. And it might be the root of some of the burnout that I’ve experienced in the midst of all of my busyness.
I recently asked one of my best friends to describe me in two words as part of homework from a course I was taking. Without hesitation, she said, “Compassionate Achiever.”
That second word is a bit of a problem for me. I’ve learned that it is extremely challenging for me to be complacent or content in life. Even after the end of those four year epochs I mentioned above, I chose to pursue academic medicine. In academics, I saw myself climbing up the academic ranks in quick order.
The average increase in rank was six years. I wanted my first promotion to associate professor to happen in four. And to become a full professor in no more than 9 or 10 years. Lofty goals, but that tends to be my way of life.
I planned to publish prolifically, dive into teaching, and be a fantastic clinician. I was going to be a true “triple threat,” which is a rarity in academic medicine where people tend to be great at two of the three pillars (research, teaching, and practice), but not all three.
In the midst of first authoring three randomized control trials in my first year, winning teaching awards, and practicing the best medicine that I could… I found myself feeling like something was missing.
Then, I discovered my passion to teach physicians about personal finance and the freedom that financial independence can provide. The blog was born, and new goals were formed.
Never Being Content
The end goal of all of this is to produce enough freedom from my main job through side income to live the life that I picture in my head will someday come into view. The problem, of course, is that “someday” often never comes. There are always more things to achieve, and more obstacles to clear.
As Benjamin Franklin said,
Tomorrow, every Fault is to be amended; but that Tomorrow never comes.
The idea is that tomorrow always promises to be better, but that better tomorrow never really comes. What Franklin is saying is that if we cannot learn to be content with today, we are unlikely to find contentment in the future.
This is my daily struggle right now. Being content right now. Living in the moment. And counting my blessings, including my amazing wife and the three kids that I surely don’t deserve.
A Call Out
I am calling all of us out. I know that I am not the only one who fantasizes about a better tomorrow without appreciating today. We need to be intentional with our lives, and it starts today.
Here are some goals that I am going to try and focus on in the coming weeks:
- No phone when I get home until my kids are in bed. The phone will go on silent when I am not on call, and I will be present with my family.
- When my kids ask me to do something with them, I will not say “in a minute”. I will put them first, and make them the priority that I claim that they are.
- I will read Scripture like I know I should, and put my priorities back where they need to be.
- My money will be put where my mouth is – I’ll notice the people around me who are in need. I will give generously to my church and to charity.
- At least twice each week, I will not only put my phone down prior to the kids going down, but I’ll keep it away while my wife and I spend time together.
I think this is a good place to start. And writing them down will help hold me accountable. I encourage all of my readers to email me. Ask me how it is going. Encourage me to pursue my family. And to enjoy today.
Hopefully, this post will serve the same function for you!
Take Home: We Only Live Once
Studies have shown that the anticipation that we experience prior to a big event usually provides more satisfaction than the big event itself. Our expectations almost always surpass reality.
Despite learning this lesson time and time again, I never cease to yearn for tomorrow. Finding contentment in today seems impossible when tomorrow promises so much more!
I’ve written before about the fact that we all know our own mortality. Tomorrow may never come. We see that each day at work. On the rare occasion that I’ve witnessed someone attending their own funeral, they were not concerned with more shifts, more money, or one more blog post.
Instead, those that I’ve witnessed on death’s bed were concerned with their faith, family, and friends.
So, take note today of the things in your life that mean that most to you. Then, make an intentional choice to spend time chasing after and pursuing that which matters most to you.
Tomorrow may not have the faults of today, but we must recognize that tomorrow may never come.
Do you struggle with finding contentment in today? Are you always looking forward to tomorrow?
Leave a comment below.
“Free beer tomorrow”. I always thought that sign was funny, but it has some deeper meaning.
Yeah, I’ve always enjoyed “free beer today” much more 🙂
All great moves, Jimmy.
Sounds like you are the efficiency and productivity freak,a common physician ailment. Maybe let your wife, whom I assume to be the VP of leisure, structure the evenings so that the family dance party or youtube karaoke (because how else will your children learn lyrics to Journey songs?) become as memorable as your work ethic when they look back years from now to reflect on their childhood.
Keep searching and course correcting, my friend. Life is the accumulation of marginal gains.
That course correcting is the challenging part for me. I’m doing my best, though. I’ve realized that I need to stop gauging my life’s success by other people’s definition of successful.
Thanks for your constant encouragement!
Jimmy / TPP
Great post. I think the empty feelings of “What’s next?” Or “Is that it?” are fairly common among new attendings. I know I felt it. We’re so used to a series of hurdles and exams and a clear next step that it’s easy to feel bored, unfulfilled, or without a purpose once boards are cleared and training is in the rear view mirror.
Going into academics, I didn’t really hit this wall quite as fast. There are always opportunities to improve in the academic ranks. When that became less important to me, I found that “rear view mirror” feeling you described. Now, I am learning to be content with today.
It’s peoples nature to be always looking forward to tomorrow or the future that they forgot enjoying and to be contented to the present. Contentment is about satisfaction and appreciating what we have in life instead of wishing we were this and that. It’s all about celebrating the good in our lives. It’s not easy, but I think the key is to stay focus and keep reminding ourselves of all our blessings.
Completely agree with that last sentence. Perspective is absolutely key.
this resonates so strongly with me. thanks for posting this. working on the phone thing as well.
Thanks, Dr J!
I’ve gone one step further with the phone. It is a more than a bit radical, but I’m going to go this route: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/light-phone-2/x/21796156
More to come in future posts!
It really is a tough transition going from student to out in the real world.
As a student you have a defined period where at the end of it you will have, hopefully, accomplished what you set out to do.
Life, unfortunately, does not work that way. We do not know when the semester will end or if we graduate.
Enjoying the journey is something everyone has heard or said and wants to practice but rarely does. Most just dream that things will be amazing later on, and for some that time never comes as it was never guaranteed in the first place.
I think your Call to Action for yourself is a great start. I am already employing some of these steps.
I like the idea of putting your phone on silent when you get home. That’s what I do. If you want to take it a step further, put your phone on airplane mode. Not only will you eliminate the unnecessary (and often annoying) notification chimes, you will also save battery life and decrease EMF radiation/pollution. Limiting phone use at night has the additional benefit of increasing your melatonin (blue light kills your melatonin) at night when you need it most, allowing you to have a better chance of getting a great night’s sleep (another important aspect of wellness).
Tomorrow is not promised.
I am constantly reminded of two friends of my six person fellowship class who were dead by the age of 50. One weekend in February this year, I attended funerals for two friends who died in their 50’s.
Tomorrow is not promised, so we must live for today.
Retired within the last year, planned well in advance, postponed for 8 months when my replacement fell through. Was never much for awards and other forms of self-aggrandizement or cv building. If there is an inflection point, it came about 20 years ago at a struggling time personally. I decided I would act kindly towards people, minimize disparagement no matter how well observed. If I thought my synagogue should be called Beth Sodom, which was a fair assessment of the machers, I shouldn’t be there. And by year’s end I was someplace else and still am. One promise to myself that I kept, even in this toxic public environment where the vulnerable appear to be getting trounce while those not vulnerable cheer.
Inner peace is a little more complex though. There has to be some pursuit of goals and tangible achievements. They also have to be the right goals and their pursuit needs to be given priority over their attainment.
Thanks for sharing. I think that last part is key… they have to be the right goals and the pursuit needs to be given priority. Too often we focus on the goal and when we get there it seems like a let down. Keeping the right perspective the entire time is so important.
I recently discovered your website. I really appreciate your writings and insight. This was another incredibly insightful post. Thank you for doing what you do!
Thanks, Ron! I really appreciate the encouragement. I’ve put in a lot of work here. It’s always good to know that others find it helpful and can relate!