Thank you for Niki for hosting the Kindness Challenge this summer! I had signed up to participate when you first announced well before the challenge started…and well, here it goes. I am not going to let my inner voice of critique stop me just because time got away from me. Instead I am jumping in and making up for lost time by starting this journey 6 weeks late and being ok with it. That is the first step to self-kindness, which is the challenge of week 1.
I read Niki’s Week 1 post when the challenge first started and life got in the way…we all know how that goes. When I finally sat down to write this post, I thought “Better Late than Never” …which is aptly what self-kindness is all about and it has implications for many areas of life.
The idea of self kindness, compassion and mindfulness is an emerging concept in medicine…especially among healthcare professionals. There is an increasing trend that healthcare providers cannot simply keep going at the pace we are going…we must go inward and prevent burnout. I think this was a long time in coming because I have witnessed many of my colleagues succumb to the pressures of the field and leave medicine altogether. Watching this happen to several of my colleagues, it has made me pause to think about “is this all worth it?” Academia also brings with its own ups and downs, especially for women, that can certainly bring about doubt towards one’s self-worth–especially in the current funding climate and the ongoing stress of having to fund one’s time with soft money. When a grant proposal or paper gets rejected, it is just how it goes. It took me a long time to “grow tough skin” because when I first started, I took every rejection personally. However, I have come to learn that it certainly does not mean it was not a worthy idea…or that it was not a well written paper. Instead, it just was not the right fit, the right journal outlet or the right time. All of us in medicine and research feel the pressure to succeed. There are times that I have felt “lost” or that I had gotten myself in a rut that I could not get out of.
We all ask ourselves these questions from time to time. Whatever profession or life path we have chosen. This idea is also applicable to parenting and self-care. When I see families in clinic, we must spend some of the time reflecting on the positives and the smaller victories that often get overlooked because the current situation is so encompassing and feels so dire at times. I have heard many families’ stories of challenge, stress, worry. Part of the treatment warrants giving pause and reflecting on what has been tried, what resources the parent has at his/her disposal…and giving permission to parents to take a moment and reflect on those negative feelings that creep to the surface, “Am I a bad parent? What could I have done to prevent this? Why is it so easy for everyone else? What am I doing or not doing?” We all experience this. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. However, usually when we pause and take an inventory of the resources and strengths at the table and then co-develop a plan together–that often requires “baby steps” to begin to take charge of the situation…slowly we transcend that mountain.
In order to help me help my families and continue to do the best work I can do, I have given myself permission to take care of myself. As a busy parent who also works outside of the home full time, I have had to take my own advice and learn to be selfish and invest in a little “me” time so to not burn out. I used to be proud of the fact that I could get by on as little as 4 hours of sleep for stretches on end…because that is just what I had to do to get the million things done that needed to be done. To squeeze 48 hours out of 24 hours in a day and to stay on top of my game. But one can only keep that pace up for so long before your body pushes back and cries out for sleep, for rest. Patience begins to wear thin, concentration breaks and let’s face it…it is not pretty.
So, I set about setting limits on myself to become disciplined in self-care and making it a new priority to get 7 hours of sleep at night. To get in that hour for myself to do my fitness routine in the basement while everyone else is still sleeping before I start my day. To forgive myself when I miss my own inner deadline to get the next paper or task off my to do list. I can only do so much. This is not to say that I am not working as hard as I used to. I am just refocusing my energy in a different way and trying to find my new rhythm so I can still meet my own goals, check off those tasks on my to do lists and have no regrets as I try to blend my home life and work in those precious 24 hours.
Self kindness is a journey. It is one we are prone to fall off the wagon from time to time…no matter what career, profession or walk of life. We must learn to accept our own limits and forgive ourselves. To be present for our children, we must refuel. And in doing so, we model self-acceptance, self-discipline and patience to our children, which is so fundamentally important. I have been on my own journey of self-kindness and re-establishing my own sleep-wake and fitness routines for the past 3 months…and guess what? I am much happier. I feel better. I feel more engaged.
Do I still get papers rejected? Absolutely. Do I still have a list of things to do? Umm, have you seen my whiteboard at my office? Are there still times I question what I am doing and how I spend my time? YES. But, do I have successes in work? Yes. Have I identified a cohort of people I like to surround myself with while in the throes of a grant or project? Thankfully, yes! Do I have a supportive and nurturing family? One of the best! Do I feel like I have the time to spend with my family? Yes. I have learned it takes a shift in my mindset so I can handle the ups and downs but at a much more sane pace.
My message to all of you is so cliché but it is true…life is too short. In the wake of all the gun violence and the hatred in the world today, please live each day with no regrets. Start with being kind to yourself. It will help re-center you and give you the freedom to live each day with the energy and acceptance we all need in today’s world. And if you fall down or experience a set back? Give yourself a pat on the back and know that each day is a new day and there are folks around you who will be there to support you on your journey.