In the past year, our family had the opportunity to enjoy some wonderful trips to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Mount Rushmore, Paris, and the Grand Canyon. This summer, we were ready for a vacation.
The words “trip” and “vacation” are often used interchangeably, but I consider them to be completely different. A trip is an adventure — an opportunity to travel somewhere different and have new experiences. Trips are often exciting, can be challenging, and provide the opportunity to expand your literal and figurative horizons. Vacations, on the other hand, are times to step away from ordinary life to relax, reflect, and recharge.
As I write this blog, I am still in my pajamas at 10:30 in the morning, looking out a giant window onto a peaceful bay, watching the sunlight sparkle on passing waves. I had started my morning with a cup of coffee sitting on the dock while my son told me about all the pranks he played at camp and showed me the numerous scars he has acquired this summer from scraping his foot along the bottom of the pool or climbing and three. We still haven’t decided what we’re going to do today — languish at our rental cottage or go explore familiar hiking trails that we’ve navigated since the kids were young enough to need to be carried up the hills.
I’m always surprised when I meet colleagues who haven’t taken meaningful time away from work for years. I pretty much use all of my available time away every year, despite enjoying my job and finding it both fulfilling and challenging. Those breaks — whether to have a staycation or to explore a new part of the world — recharge me in important ways and make me a better doctor when I return.
One of my key discoveries about work-life balance is the importance of these longer periods of time taken away from work, whether a trip or a vacation, that allow us (sometimes force us, through poor wi-fi connectivity) to sign out our in-baskets and mentally check out from the demands of medical practice. Time away allows us to adjust our perspective.
Medicine is often immediately demanding, both with actual emergencies and things considered emergencies by someone else. It is also endlessly distracting. When was the last time you got through a task from start to finish without at least one interruption? Being able to disconnect for an evening or a week is a necessary skill if your life is not going to be consumed by medicine.
Which One Do You Need?
As you are planning time away, consider whether your body and mind need a trip or a vacation. Trips are essential for shaping us through new experiences, new perspectives, and itineraries that pull us into a schedule of adventure and novelty. Vacations are equally essential for allowing us to slow down our often hectic pace of living, to linger over beautiful views, play a board game with our kids without watching the clock, and to enjoy an itinerary that includes a nap in the hammock, falling asleep to the rustle of leaves in the trees.
Physicians are notorious for not taking their own good advice. We don’t always eat healthy or exercise regularly, and our entire training schedule is predicated on the mistaken notion that sleep is for the weak-minded and uncommitted. We are able to observe a patient across the exam room who is running themselves ragged, exhausted in body and mind, overwhelmed and stressed. We see the evidence of the strain in their blood pressure and lab work, observe the telltale signs of an overwhelmed body as we do their exam. Easily, we dispense advice that we should be taking ourselves. Slow down, rest, sleep, eat right.
As summer winds to a close over the next few weeks, consider what rest and recovery you need to schedule into your own calendar. It may be the simple break of eating lunch away from your desk or a longer weekend away enjoying nature or a Broadway musical. And, for extra credit (and an easier return to your practice), sign out your in-basket to a colleague, and leave your computer at home.
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About Dr. Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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