“So,” Yvonne asked me, “How is that serving you? How is it serving anyone else?”
Yvonne Whitelaw, a dear friend and physician coach, was speaking of my tendency to burn the candle at both ends, pushing myself beyond my personal limits. I reflected on her question for a moment.
We were speaking of my work-life balance, and whether I needed to build in more time…time for documentation, phone calls, emergencies, and transitions between work and family time. I wanted to feel less rushed and more present, all around, for my patients and my family.
But the more I thought about burning the candle at both ends, the more I realized this was about more than work life balance. This was about my tendency to put other peoples’ needs ahead of my own. Or rather, my tendency to push my own needs to the bottom of the list, which somehow feels a little different.
I was feeling depleted because I wasn’t prioritizing what was critical to my fundamental well-being…my meditation practice, my daily writing practice, physical activity, and reading. These were the activities I loved, the activities that nourished my soul and my creative spirit and made me feel alive.
These were the activities that I should have been prioritizing above all else, when the reality was, most days were flying by in an unconscious blur of “busy” and “doing.”
And so I committed to myself that I would no longer do that. Our conversation served as a reminder, a wake up call, to start my day with a routine filled with what I loved most, so that I could then in turn be there for those I love most. This was not an act of selfishness. This was an act of self care, self preservation even.
I haven’t quite kept my promise to wake up early to cultivate this morning routine that I so crave. Before the first light of day, the warmth of the bed and my fatigue take over my motivation and keep me still. But now I do start my day, however late, with three conscious breaths, and a moment of gratitude, none of which take time. And my intention to meet my own needs as an act of self compassion lives throughout my day…time that otherwise would have been spent texting or on Facebook is spent reading, writing, breathing, running, or doing nothing at all.
To me, coming back to myself in this way, was an act of accepting a fundamental truth about myself. The truth that I can easily sacrifice my own needs to make sure other peoples’ needs are met. This skill of sorts perhaps got me through medical school, and maybe at times makes me an attentive psychiatrist and mother…but it was no longer working for me. I needed to accept that before I could choose another path.
In this same way, there are many truths, many points of taking an honest look in the mirror and acknowledging who we are at the core, that are yet to be discovered. And we can accept those realities without having to judge them as good, bad, or ugly.
Other truths I have since acknowledged about myself include the realization that in many ways, I am an introvert, and crave some solitary time every day. While at the same time, I hold the truth that I can often feel lonely. Or that I struggle with self confidence and fear about my ability to be a “good” mother, whatever that means.
For now, I just hold these truths, because I haven’t always accepted all of these parts of myself. I don’t have to necessarily do anything with them or change them or wish they were different. Perhaps change will come in the future, or perhaps I will walk the path towards self acceptance.
All I know for the moment, is that until we can acknowledge who we truly are at the core–our temperament, our behaviors, our choices, our feelings, our past, present and future–we are not fully alive and engaged in the life we inhabit. We are living in shadows and hiding around corners, until the moment when we can step into the light of owning all that we are.
This is a journey that continues to unfold for me. But I find it somehow empowering, and somehow closer to an internal peace that I have craved for a long time.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to join me in discovering all sorts of different truths about yourself…perhaps some align and some seem contradictory, but they are all a part of who we are.
With gratitude, Monisha