Cheers to a Messy Life

Since I started this blog, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.  A LOT.  Which has been wonderful, although my brain has decided that it is perfectly acceptable to wake me up like clockwork at 3:30 a.m. so I can sit at my computer and get more thoughts out into cyberspace.  This would be no problem if I wrote for a living and didn’t actually have to get up and work in the morning.

Not that I’m complaining though.  For the first time in a very long time, I can honestly say that I love my job.  Or make that jobs.  Actually, looking at my life from the outside, one could argue that it has become somewhat messy.

Two years ago, I essentially walked away from my previous life.  In all fairness, my husband and I both took a massive leap of faith together.  On paper, we had supposedly been living the American dream.  He was a big-city, big-firm lawyer, and I was an academic physician at a well-known university hospital.  We had the dream house, three cars, and pulled in a half million dollars a year between the two of us.

And we were f**king miserable.

We both hated being smothered by the systems we worked for and had no voice in fixing. We ended up resenting our clients, who were the reason we were employed in the first place.  We grew to loath the suburban Garden of Eden we had bought into.  We drank too much.  We lived to get away for vacation, and then were even more miserable when we came back and it took us a month just to dig out from under the stack of work, charts, and emails that had been slowly breeding while we were gone.

But it took us years to actually figure out that we just really didn’t like how we were living.

We had naturally assumed that we had everything we were supposed to want in life, and something just must have been wrong with us.  Though we’re not quite sure exactly how it happened, eventually we both realized that the things that are supposed to make us happy in life simply didn’t.  We are just not those kind of people.

And then miraculously (you could almost hear the stars lining up in the sky,) in this crappy, terrifying economy, my husband got an invitation to join a small boutique law firm in the south.  Far, far away from our Yankee roots, not to mention both our extended families and life-long friends.  It would mean cutting almost every tie we had, and leaving the place we had grown up and lived in virtually all our lives.  It would mean leaving behind careers and reputations we had spent decades building.

I tendered my resignation immediately.

Some of my colleagues, of course, were horrified.  After all, I was a successful (at least by their terms) physician with a good reputation and a solid academic position.  How could I possibly ditch all that?  And to rub salt into the wound, I had absolutely no job lined up for after we moved.  Terrifying, right?

I actually found it to be incredibly exhilarating.

I have never been defined by my job.  I certainly am not criticizing those who are.  I am just not one of those people who takes a lot of stock in making my M.D. part of my identity.  I am the last person at a party who is going to introduce themselves as “Dr. St. Claire” (especially since people are so uninhibited about asking you grotesquely inappropriate medical advice after they have had some hors d’oeuvres and slugged down a couple of glasses of wine.)  My good friend once described me as “the most reluctant pediatrician I have ever met.”

So for me, I didn’t really view this as a period of mourning.  I had a great run.  I was leaving on a high note.  And I couldn’t wait to see how things settled out for me in our new life. Perhaps I was totally naive (actually, I’m sure I was.)  But honestly, I think it really worked in my favor.  I have discovered several important things in the process of relocating my life:

1. After eleven years in the field, I finally figured out that I just don’t like primary care medicine that much.  I am much better as a specialist and a consultant.

2. I absolutely, positively, love being my own boss.  And my own scheduler.  Although I have on occasion been overheard complaining that I need to fire my scheduler when I’ve really overextended myself.  Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often.

3. After 37 years of living just outside a northeastern urban metropolis, I have discovered that I really do not like living just outside a northeastern urban metropolis.

4. I like my life messy.

Let me clear – messy does not mean chaotic.  My life is unbelievably scheduled.  I have a speaking engagement I just put on the calendar for April….of 2013.  But this discipline and organization has ironically afforded me the chance to be spontaneous much more than before.  For one, I don’t take call anymore.  I also rarely schedule anything over a weekend.  You can imagine after eleven years of being tethered to a pager and spending a good number of weekends on call or in the hospital, how this has blown open my life in terms of new opportunities.  For the love of all that is holy, I learned to cook after we moved.

For me, messy just means unbound.  I am always open to new ideas, especially when it comes to work.  I was just offered some consulting work in an area that is closely related to my field, but is something I haven’t had the time to focus on until now.  I snapped it up like a bear standing in a river during a salmon spawn.

Sure, it’s unpredictable.  But for me, that’s what keeps it intriguing.  Yes, there are times where money is tight, and then times where I can hardly breathe I have so much work.  It keeps me honest and prevents me from taking my successes for granted.  In my case, leaving clinical medicine simply allowed me to pursue other avenues in life that bring me joy.

Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, said that the best advice she ever got was from Eric Schmidt at Google.  When she was considering turning down an offer she received to be Google’s general manager, Eric told her, “Stop being an idiot; all that matters is growth.”

My life is full of growth.  My life is messy.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

~lumi

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RELATED LINKS:

Leaving Medicine

Women Leaving Medicine

Half of Primary Care Doctors in Survey Would Leave Medicine

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12 thoughts on “Cheers to a Messy Life

  1. “But it took us years to actually figure out that we just really didn’t like how we were living.” — That is a terrifying prospect. I’m happy you finally came to that realization. It sounds like you enjoy this new life a lot more.

    P.S. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but all this time I thought you were a guy! haha…

    • Hi Victor-
      Thanks for reading, as always! I actually didn’t intend for that to sound terrifying, and I still don’t. I think it’s just life, to be quite honest. For some reason in this country and this culture, we are raised to choose what we think we want to do with our lives, and then stick to it at all costs (and sometimes, the costs are quite high). How can you know if you like a thing if you haven’t done the thing yet?
      Even though it may sound like it at times, I don’t regret my time in clinical medicine at all – it made me who I am today, and I couldn’t be doing the work I am doing now without that training and experience. I guess I just wish I had listened to that little voice inside a little earlier. (Better late than never!)

      ~lumi

      P.S. It’s kind of intriguing to know ny name comes across as gender-vague in cyberspace!

      • My use of “terrifying” was unclear. I was thinking about the passage I quoted in my comment from my perspective–thinking about the past four years as a pre-med and as a Biology major and how I really have not enjoyed a lot of the experiences that came from those two things. Like you said, I have tended to stick to things relating to my academic career “at all costs” even when I do not enjoy them.

        I meant to say the prospect of doing that in whatever form in the future is terrifying to me because I don’t want to be committed to things that are disagreeable to me and not have the resolve to make changes.

      • I truly believe that this kind of flexibility is somewhat of an acquired skill. To be honest, I certainly subscribed to the “one way only” mindset when I was an undergraduate pre-med. For what it’s worth, the fact that you are even entertaining these kinds of thoughts and discussions at this time in your life puts you ahead of the curve in my opinion!

        ~lumi

  2. Hi Lumi,

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I am currently a gyn oncology fellow, who decided to get my head out of the sand a few month ago and start speaking up about what I see happening in health care in this country. You remind me why I could not do pediatrics…ever. It’s the parents, not the kids. 😉

    More importantly, you are giving voice to the very real problem of burn-out in our profession. I think a lot about how to keep residents motivated, how to recreate continuity of care within the work-hour limits, and how to eat well and get enough sleep. I am figuring out how to use social media. Is it just another time-suck or could be made into a useful tool?

    I look forward to future posts. I wonder what sort of consulting you do, if maybe we’d cross paths at some point. For now, I’m tweeting your blog (@EijeanMD). When you will appear in the Twitter-verse?

    Best,
    Eijean

    • Hi Eijean,

      Thanks for such a thoughtful post! I think the reason most people don’t go into peds is because of the parents, not the kids! 😉 Just like I couldn’t bring myself to do adult medicine and try to take care of patients who refuse to take care of themselves. We are definitely all made of different stuff.

      Ironically, I DO have a Twitter account, which I just signed up for a week or so ago. And my account was mysteriously suspended this morning when my post went live on KevinMD. There were about 25 medical Twitter sites that retweeted my blog, and apparently I must have looked like an “aggressive Tweeter”, even though I had no control over any of that! Pretty odd. Hopefully it will get resolved soon and then I’ll see you in TwitterSpace.

      Keep on speaking up, and thanks for reading!

      ~lumi

  3. Lumi, I’m so glad you found my blog because it has led me to yours! I felt like I was reading my own post when I read this. Congrats to you on having the courage to make your life messy. Mine is messy too now, and I’m so much happier and feel like a new person. I look back and realize that messy is what I have wanted all along– just never thought to describe it that way. One of the things I didn’t like about being a dentist was this idea that I was so boxed into a boring, square life. Yes, it was secure, but there was no color in it, and ultimately very little joy. Creating the space in my life to allow in more joy was the best change I made. No more call for me either– woohoo!!

    I have a million thoughts in reply to this post… so I must just stop there. What you have said is right on in so many ways. Thanks for saying it!

    • I am so glad you rediscovered the color and space in your life. I am right there with you! (And yes, it is an indescribable feeling to chuck the on-call pager – something most people will never experience for themselves.) I raise my messy glass to yours – cheers!

      As always, thanks for reading.

      ~lumi

  4. After 13 years of clinical practice, I transitioned to hospital administration. That was 16 years ago and I have reached my final burn-out point. I found this on medscape: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/757765 and then I found your website. Yes, it is time for another shift in my career. Thanks for your insights. I have included your blog in my reading list.

    • Hi merlmd,

      Glad you found my blog to be some help. Best of luck re-redefining your career! I think you illustrate the point I try to make beautifully – there is not necessarily one “forever job” for each of us. Sometimes change can be a wonderful thing.

      Thanks for reading-

      ~lumi

  5. Hi, Lumi – I just discovered your blog today and will be following with interest. I quit medicine 26 years ago, after the first year of what was supposed to be a two-year fellowship in rheumatology, and have never looked back. I’m now an academic librarian at a four-year college, working with students and faculty from our excellent nursing and other allied health programs, and I LOVE my job! Congratulations to you for having the courage to make the leap.

    -Rachel

    • Hi Rachel-
      Thank for sharing your own story – it’s wonderful to hear when folks have found something that makes them happy and fulfilled! Sounds like you have found the perfect environment for your talents.

      Thanks for reading-

      ~lumi

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