Why Finding the Flow Might Be the Most Important Goal

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

I walked onto my college soccer team as a goal keeper.  My first year, the head coach left and I played midfield (i.e. the position that requires the exact opposite kind of physical conditioning that is needed for a goal keeper).  After two losing years, I gave soccer a break as I was double majoring in philosophy and chemistry and couldn’t fit college athletics into a maxed out schedule.

When I stopped, I thought my days playing soccer were over. Up until that point, I never started a single game in goal. Then, the starting goal keeper for the team transferred during my junior year, and I was recruited to play for the team again my senior year.

I competed with the other goal keepers and earned my right to start every game my senior year.

During that year, I had a six game stretch where I played the best soccer of my life.  I couldn’t be beat, and when I was it was the perfect shot.  At the beginning of this stretch, we were playing a top 10 team in the country, and they had a striker on the team named Jamal Geathers (read the description of this All-American stud here).

For 75 minutes, I shut out one of the best strikers in the country.  He scored 18 goals that year.  And for 75 minutes, he could not beat me.  I stone-walled him at every turn, and parried his shots from the 18-yard box.  I was “in the zone”.

Finding the Flow

During that game, I was playing like a man possessed.  My friends watching the game would tell me afterwards how incredible it was, but at the time I didn’t even realize what I was doing.

Psychology has a word for this feeling.  It’s called being in a state of “Flow”.

Flow can happen in anything. It can happen while driving a fast car, taking care of an emergent situation at work, or when writing a blog post. The idea is that you are so absorbed in what you are doing that time stands still.  When you have completed your task, you might lift your your head and realize that hours have passed.

For writers, this certainly happens when they put pen to paper (or keyboard clicks to a computer). Artists find the same feeling when they paint.  Musicians might have this feeling during a jam session.

Finding work satisfaction can be challenging, and one way we can combat this frustrating experience is to seek out opportunities to do the things that make us flow. It produces satisfaction, fulfillment, and a feeling of productivity for most.

And, if we can find something that we not only make us flow, but that also helps other people while we are in the flow, this can be a real recipe for success.  These are the people who don’t even feel like they are working when they work.  They are getting paid to do a job that they would do for free, because they are flowing.

Financial Independence Provides Opportunity 

I have previously written on this blog that one of three key determinants for work satisfaction is autonomy.  (The opposite is also true. When autonomy is taken from you, this can automatically result in physician burnout.)

If we are looking for opportunities to “find the flow,” then we are going to have to find the autonomy that is necessary to build a schedule that allows us to do that.

Say, for example, that there are certain shifts of our job that provide more opportunity for us to lose track of time and find enjoyment in what we are doing than others, which bore us to tears.  Our goal should be to create a situation that allows us to work as many of our “flowing” shifts as possible and as little of the shifts that bore us to death.

Unfortunately, most of us are beholden to the schedule that is provided to us by work.  This is why financial independence (FI) is so important.  It provides freedom to us when the system fails to do the same.  It gets us off the broken road to burnout.

When we have enough money coming in from passive sources to replace the income we need to live our lives, we are financially free (like this doc). Alternatively, we could use smart investing principles to get to our FI number (25-30 x annual spending), and claim financial independence this way.  We could even retire early if we wanted to, like this guy.

Or we can follow the hybrid model to FI that I teach.  If we learn to approach FI from both a passive income standpoint and a savings nest egg perspective.  Attacking the problem from both sides has great potential to create that autonomy we have been looking for.

In the end, the person who is going to most reliably look out for you is… you.  That’s why I think it is so important to start this journey towards FI right now.  Not later.  Now.

Find a Position of Strength

In order to find these opportunities for flow, we often must take risks. It might involve becoming an entrepreneur, branding yourself as a physician, or becoming a creative innovator of a blog, podcast, or video channel.  You might have to take a risk with some of this.  Not everything works out.

However, it becomes tough to take the necessary risks when we are worried about our main job.  If that income stream ends or diminishes, will you be left in financial despair?

We all know these things happen. Contracts end.  Jobs can be lost.  Pay cuts happen.   And sometimes it can hit really close to home.

When these things happen, we want to be in a position of strength.

This places the importance of saving early in your career and creating alternative sources of income at an all-time high. You need to create a position of power that will protect you from any potential chaos that may occur.

While I don’t want to FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), I do want to harness the power of FI when my job or my work-life balance threatens to burn me out.  And I want to do it as quickly as possible, while still enjoying the here and now.

Take Home

We ended up losing the game against Jamal (and the rest of Clayton State). Seventy-five minutes in to the game, I stopped him one more time at point blank range.  Unfortunately, the ball fell back to Jamal’s feet. He then struck the ball – it seemed out of frustration – as hard as he could.  It would ricochet off my back post and into the goal.

Despite losing the game, I remember the feeling of being in the flow during that game to this day. The momentum carried us into the next five game winning streak.

While my senior season didn’t end up quite how we imagined (6-9-1), I’ll always remember that six game streak, which started with that game where I played out of my mind.

I’ve found these moments at work when teaching residents/students, performing rapid clinical responsibilities like peripheral nerve blocks and thoracic epidurals, and even when blogging on The Physician Philosopher.  None of these things feel like work, and the fact that I can get paid to do some of blows my mind.

That’s a true win-win.

So, get out there.  Find your passion, and find a way to get lost in it.  All the while, seek out your financial independence so that you can turn that experience into an every day kind of thing.

Have you ever had a moment of being in the flow? Does it happen at work?  What provides these opportunities for you? Why aren’t you doing more of them?



  1. Xrayvsn

    Great insight on your previous college athletic career, very impressive.

    I have definitely “flowed” when writing posts for my blog. Sometimes I look up and I can’t believe that so much time has passed, often even missing my normal lunch time, etc.

    I wish I could get that feeling at work but the only flow I have there is the never ending work flow till quitting time comes around.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      It’s an interesting thing when it happens, though I am sorry that you don’t get to experience it at work. In anesthesia, there are definitely plenty of times I’ve experienced it at work… Might be part of the reason I love my job.

  2. Crispy Doc

    Beautifully written, Jimmy. One of the odd things about working in the ED is those moments where I’m getting crushed, horrible looking waiting room in winter at peak flu season, simultaneous codes, crashing trauma, or an aortic catastrophe and despite it all I feel completely in tune with the nurses and techs who all act like a single organism.

    On those shifts as I leave I make it a point to thank the team for making something ugly by any standard metric into a beautiful feeling of accomplishment through the state of flow we achieved.

    Because such shifts require a long recovery, cutting back allows me to appreciate the flow while permitting myself sufficient recovery time before I work again so I don’t have to return depleted. That’s how FI supports flow in my world, and you captured it with great precision in your analogy.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a great example, CD! It’s amazing how quickly time can fly when those moments happen. And it is quite wise (and good) of you to thank your team after those moments happen.


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