“Saturday’s child works hard for a living”, the saying goes. I was born on a Saturday afternoon in July. My father had to work, so he missed my birth. My mother always told me that working hard was the only way one could ever achieve anything in this world. I was also raised to believe that I was special, although still not quite living up to my potential.
Needless to say, I grew up to be a hard-driving perfectionist. I chose to become a doctor, not because my mother wanted me to, but out of my own experiences being a somewhat sickly child, even hospitalized at an early age with belly pains.
Like many doctors, I have always pushed myself to deliver the best care I can to my patients, modeled after what medicine was like when I first fell in love with the role of the doctor. My ingrained work ethic, steel trap memory, knack for finding polite words in difficult situations and my ability to switch between hyperfocusing and pulling back to see the big picture have helped me in my career. These qualities have also to some degree kept me from living my personal life to the fullest. My perfectionism and my tendency to want things “my way” have caused me to miss noticing many of life’s small pleasures.
What I didn’t learn early on was how to play and how to listen to my own needs, or how to “go with the flow”. My ability to forge – force, if you will – a positive outcome out of a chaotic situation that others might have called impossible has been my burnout skill.
There was a time when all my appointments ran exactly on time, sometimes causing both me and my patients undue stress. There have been countless situations where I have wasted minutes and hours of my allotted lifetime fretting about why things aren’t the way I want them to be, instead of just figuring out how to deal with what is.
Two books I recently came across have illustrated this phenomenon. One book is about finding the unique purpose we have in life, where our parents are vehicles but not drivers of our evolution toward fulfilling our calling. The other book is about the active role our parents can or should play.
The Jungian therapist James Hillman, in “The Soul’s Code, In search of character and calling”, writes about the Acorn Theory. He believes in the notion that we are all born with a specific purpose or calling that works to find a way to express itself naturally in our lives.
I have certainly felt as if moved by a force other than my own through my education, emigration and into my professional career, as a physician and a writer. The Acorn analogy fit my life until a few years ago, but now I think I would be better served by learning how to be less driven and by not always resisting the inevitable changes happening all around me.
New Age and Ayurvedic physician Deepak Chopra’s book, “The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents” describes how we as children need to learn how to “go with the flow” and not resist Nature’s way.
Chopra’s advice to parents rang in my ears as words this middle-aged physician needed to hear as a young child. I also need to repeat them to myself today as I watch the kind of medicine I first fell in love with fade further and further away into the distance, ever again succeeded by one reincarnation after another.
Chopra says of The Law of Least Resistance:
“The biggest obstacle is our work ethic, which holds that more work reaps greater rewards. There are two flaws in this. First, Nature herself operates through least effort – the laws of physics dictate that any process, from the spin of an electron to the spin of a galaxy, must function according to the most efficient expenditure of energy, with the least drag. Second, human advancement always comes through ideas, inspiration and desire. These occur spontaneously; there is no amount of work that can force inspiration, or desire, or even consistently good ideas….
When you assume that other people exist to block you from achieving what you want, you have no choice but to constantly defend yourself….
Each of us is responsible for how we feel, what we wish for and how we decide to approach life’s challenges. The highest responsibility is fulfilled not by doing a huge amount of work but by doing the work of spirit in an attitude of joy and creativity. This is the only way that life without struggle becomes possible.”
I need to remind myself often: My calling is to be a doctor, a healer. I need to always view my work in a larger perspective than this season’s medicopolitical fashion trends. I need to not feel paralyzed by what the healthcare system is like or what tools are not immediately at my disposal, be it medications, medical supplies, or technological tools. I am a doctor with more resources than most fellow physicians on this planet. I have patients who trust me with their illnesses, their stories, their hopes and their fears.
And this is how it flows, through me, effortlessly: After a day of really engaging with my patients instead of thinking about the flaws in the health care system, I feel good about my work, if not always energized. And I have time and space for the other parts of my life.
I firmly believe that my acorn, in Hillman’s analogy, contained the seed for me to be fulfilled all my days as a doctor. Curiously, shortly after I was born, my parents planted an acorn at our camp. Every year they took a picture of me standing next to the young oak. After all these years, it still doesn’t look like much of an oak tree, shadowed by an older, large pine standing much too close.
My own acorn has done better, and I intend to nurture it and give it the space it needs to continue to grow the way Nature intended it. I have arrived. I need to cultivate joy and creativity. I need to go with the flow.