Growing up, the message was clear: You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all. I was an only child, and, as such, enjoyed complete support from my wonderful parents. As teachers, they made a very modest income, but there was always enough for dance lessons, piano lessons, recitals, etc. I did well in school, but really excelled in the arts. I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class, and it was assumed that I would likely end up on Broadway.
In college, my interests turned more toward science, and I soon found myself pursuing a career in medicine. It was important for me to do something where I could have an impact, make a difference, and leave the world a better place. Though I knew that part of me enjoyed the simple life, the other part was enamored by the “you can have it all” mantra. And so I went to medical school and became a surgeon.
It has been almost 8 months since the decision to leave my job as a full-time academic surgeon was firmly set in my mind. For months—or maybe even years, now that I think about it—I felt there was so much missing in my life. I had spent years studying and preparing myself for what I viewed as a very noble and worthy career of saving lives and alleviating pain. I had finally reached a point where I was pulling in a very nice salary and was poised to move up to a leadership position. But at what price? After years of missing school and family functions, paying others to raise my kids, relying on my husband to coordinate all the inner workings of our household, and neglecting my own health and fitness, I had had enough. I had known as a teenager that I never wanted to live to work, and yet I found myself doing exactly that at age 41. Of course, it didn’t help that I was about to “celebrate” my 42nd birthday—the age at which my mother met her untimely death. I had dreaded this age since I was 15. Never was my own sense of mortality and the urgency to live life to its fullest so apparent. Volunteering in the T1 Transition tent at Ironman Lake Placid, watching good friends and hundreds of strangers pull off what would turn out to be a mammoth feat of 140.6 miles in pouring rain, thunder, and lightening was the seal on the deal.
Being home with my family for the last 5½ months has been a dream come true. We’ve moved to the beach which, even in the harsh winter, is like living in paradise. Ending a brisk run by gazing at the surf hitting the snow-covered dunes is euphoric, and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to live in a place like this. We are much more active together as a family. My husband and I, having both been bitten by the triathlon bug, enjoy trainer rides and lap swims together every week. Involving the kids in our activities has also been a plus, with family swims and walks/rides to the beach on sunny days. And of course, following my dreams of self-employment and training for my own IM race (Lake Placid 2015!) are just icing on the cake. It makes me sad to think that most people spend decades working in jobs that suck every bit of life out of them, only to come home and collapse on the sofa for an hour before crashing in bed. By the time they can retire, they are too unhealthy and out of shape to take advantage of the free time—and that’s if they have any loved ones left to enjoy it with, after years of passive neglect. It reminds me of that classic song “Cat’s in the Cradle”, where the father is always telling his son he’ll play with him later, then before he knows it, his son has grown up and doesn’t have time for his father. I consider myself very fortunate to have figured this out early enough to make the change, heal the wounds, and “reinvent myself”, and hopefully create a better life for me and my family.
Today, I am sitting here working on paperwork to start a part-time position in the medical field. I have made some important discoveries—I do not want to work in medicine full-time, I do not want to work in academics, and I need to work to keep us financially sound while we grow our small business. I’ve also decided that my own health and fitness are too important to forsake. That said, it’s time for me to get back to using my skills to do some good for others as well as help provide for my family. I am trying to soothe the little anxious voice in my head asking me when I’m going to find time to continue to train for the Ironman. She also asks me nagging questions like, “Who will cook the meals? Who will host playdates? Won’t you miss your family?” The answer to the last one is a resounding “yes”. I will miss them terribly. But I also have the advantage of experience, and my “retrospectiscope” tells me that as long as we maintain a balance (there’s that elusive “b” word), as long as we keep things in moderation, that everyone will remain happy and healthy—and we’ll be able to pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy being a physician. There is nothing quite like fixing a human being’s ailment or alleviating their suffering. I am looking forward to returning to my work, but with one eye on that slippery slope down into the valley of darkness. I will not return to that dark place again. If I do it right this time, I should have ample time with my family, time to dedicate to the business, and less financial strain. Exactly how I will maintain my fitness and keep up with my triathlon training is still a bit of an unknown. But we triathletes tend to be creative people. Maybe I can find a call room to park my bike in and plunk it on the trainer while I field phone calls from the nurses. Maybe a short run at 5pm before heading home to avoid the evil rush hour traffic. Anyway, it’s only part-time. I’ll figure it out.
Some have asked me if I would ever encourage my kids to pursue a career in medicine. My response is usually that I will provide a healthy dose of reality if they express interest in this path. This would be my advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in any of the competitive professions: Know Thyself. If you know deep in your heart that travelling the world is a priority to you, then being a surgeon might not be the best decision. If spending your weekends fly fishing on a quiet river is your ultimate goal, then maybe you should choose a life other than that of a corporate attorney. Being successful does not necessarily require you to make 6 figures nor work 100 hours/week. Success should be measured in simpler currency: sipping a glass of wine while sitting on your front porch; the sound of children laughing during an evening walk on the beach; feeling the warm sun on your face during an early morning run. These are other markers of a successful life. A life full of health, friends, family, and the time to stop, inhale deeply, and just enjoy being. This is the next chapter in my success story.