Post-Training Mistakes Residents and Other Professionals Make: Part V by Clark Gaither, MD, MRO, FAAFP

Each of us have four primary life realms—mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. Each must be attended to and nourished. They do not require equal time or weight, but all require some of our time and attention. It isn’t as if you won’t have a long life, a successful career, or a happy and peaceful existence if you ignore one or more of your life’s realms. You will just not have the best life possible.

This is the fifth blog post in a series on post-training mistakes medical residents and other professionals make as they enter the workforce and begin their careers. Here, I will describe the mistake and subsequent consequences of living a life out of balance.

Humans are multifaceted, multidimensional creatures. This has been demonstrated time and again throughout human history and is deeply reflected in the eastern philosophies. We reluctantly acknowledge life is a struggle and wrought with suffering. Yet, we come well equipped to meet head-on the difficulties, obstacles, and struggles life will throw at us. We have adaptive mechanisms to both serve and protect us for an endless variety of circumstances. That is, if those mechanisms are functioning properly. We have an inherent capacity to reason our way through tough situations and problem solve, to innovate and create, but only if we maintain mental agility through continuous learning, drawing on lessons from the past. We have an inherent physicality to fight or flea when danger presents, but only if we are in good physical condition and free of disease. We have the inherent wherewithal to process, buffer, compartmentalize, and mature emotionally, but only if we make sure our emotional needs are being met and truly know just who we are as individuals. We have an inherent spiritual nature. An internal compass, a set of morals or standards which can guide us through the toughest of times, help us make good decisions, and provide us with the best possible chance for happiness and fulfillment, but only if we know just what our values are and only if we live by them.

Together, these attributes can teach us, guide us, care for us, protect us, and save us as needed when balanced. When out of balance, life can become an endless series of self-imposed struggles and adversities. I believe most will agree, life is hard enough without the extra suffering living a life out of balance will cause. It is impossible to live your best life, a life of happiness and passion driven purpose, if your life is out of balance.

Too often, after finally finishing our educational training and entering the workforce we tend toward a unidirectional lifestyle, one primarily centered around work. We become too much about work and earning money, and too little about spending time on the other things which matter, are just as important, and give our lives more meaning. Professionals are pretty good at feeding their mental realm as they dive into their careers. It is usually a requirement in order to keep up with the daily flood of information. Continuous learning comes with the territory in many fields, especially medicine. The danger is failing to learn outside of your chosen profession which can make you monolithic in your thinking. Besides, learning outside of your field of endeavor can help you within your field of endeavor by providing different perspectives, unexpected insights, and sparking intuitive leaps. I truly believe learning something about such things as honey bees, the way things are made, human nature, QED, biographies, history, and many other things in general will make you better at whatever you do.

The realm most often ignored is the physical realm. Routine exercise seems to take the back seat first after people begin their careers. As people’s lives become busy, regular visits to the gym cease. The elevator is taken instead of the stairs. For the sake of expediency, we have come to prefer to have our food handed to us through a window as we sit inside our cars. Spectator sports replaced participation. Down time has come to mean “do as little as possible” time. The usual results from this are physical deconditioning and overweight. Much less than one percent of the adult population can run a sub twelve-minute mile without stopping and two out of three people in the US are either overweight or obese. This will shorten any life, even if it is an otherwise extraordinary one.

Technology abounds. The myriad of ways humans can communicate are too numerous to count. An individual’s reach is now worldwide and literally at their fingertips. Yet, at a time when we are the most connected we have ever been, we are the least connected we have ever been. Seemingly, we would rather be on a device than have actual conversation in the presence of another human. If you doubt this, the next time you are in a restaurant, put your own phone down and look around the room. What are people doing? How are they engaged? Chance are the majority of the people sitting at the table are staring at their devices. I see it every day. Increasingly, how people feel about themselves and their day is dictated by how many LIKES and heart emojis they get in response to something they’ve posted on social media, even if it is just a picture of food someone else took the time to prepare. Studies show continuous comparisons with others provided by social media is an emotional depressant. Not to mention we now have permanently offended classes of citizenry made so by accepting how others say they should feel about this or that rather than forming their own opinions through personal interactions and experience. Is it any wonder in this modern era, most people are not getting their emotional needs adequately met? Knowing one’s likes, dislikes, needs and wants and being able to express that to another human being while sitting in their presence is becoming a lost skill of emotional intelligence.

Lastly, but not least, pay attention to your spiritual realm. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean religion. It can mean religion if that is what feeds your spirit but it can mean more than religion. Do you have core values? If you say yes, do you know what they are? Can you name your top five? Do you live by them? Do you make decisions based on your values? Do you have a philosophy of life or a manifesto on living and do you live by it? Do you get away by yourself periodically to think about where you are in life versus where you want to be? Do you feel connected to people and to the natural world? These are all spiritual pursuits. To ignore them is to disadvantage yourself in this world.

My advice—live a life that’s balanced. Pay some attention to all four of your life’s realms—emotional, physical, spiritual, as well as your mental realm. Get outside. Exercise regularly. Get plenty of rest. Eat well. Read books. Spend time with friends and family. Practice emotional intelligence. Develop a personal philosophy of life or manifesto on living. Know your top five core values and live by them. Visit museums. Volunteer. Be a teacher. Be a student. Take vacations. Nourish relationships with people. Play. Be silly on purpose. Have some fun. Laugh. Laugh some more.

Remember, you cannot live a life of happiness and passion driven purpose if your life is out of balance.