Last week a friend of mine from medical school send me this snapshot from a book she’s reading: Constance Halls, “Like A Queen.” She felt that this sentence embodied me. Just the day before I told her that I was considering a specialty change. I confessed that one of the feelings holding me back was that of failure. In my mind, switching means failure.
The past few weeks have been a challenging time for me. For years now, I have thrown around the idea of changing specialties in medicine. Initially, the idea started because I struggled greatly with my work life balance: there is no room for family life in a surgical residency. When A. was diagnosed with ASD, I took some time off and realized that I needed to give more to my family. Despite that, I tried for a long time to convince myself that as long as I loved my job and enjoyed what I did while I was at work, the sacrifices at home would be worth it. I honestly believe that, even now. However, as more time goes by, I wonder if I really do enjoy my job as much as I tell myself I do.
Lately I find that I haven’t been as interested and engaged in my work. I do my work and I take care of my patients, but I haven’t really been enjoying myself. I wake up in the mornings dragging my feet and I spend a large proportion of the day waiting for it to come to an end so I can get home to my family. Surgery is technically challenging and pleasurable, but I don’t feel passion when I am in the OR – Just a sense of obligation. My call shifts are becoming more and more onerous, especially as they stack on top of each other: all I want to do is sleep. When I think ahead to the heavy rotations, the year of being chief resident, and the studying that is going to have to happen, I cringe. I know that not too far from now, I will have to neglect my family even more than I do now for an entire year if I want to pass my board exams. And, I just don’t think I’m willing to make that sacrifice.
So, does that mean I need to change my goals? Or am I just experiencing a bad case of burnout? Maybe a little bit of both? Is this really a good time to make a change in career paths?
I feel dissatisfied at work and I feel like I am falling short as a caring and engaged mother when I am at home. I know, for certain, that these two feeling are not exclusive of one another. Together these feelings play into a vicious negative-feedback cycle: I dislike my job because of how it affects my family life, and I feel guilty about what happens to my family because of how much I commit to my job. Inadequacy in all aspects of life make for an unhappy life. Despite all of this dissatisfaction, I feel frozen and unable to make a decision on how to move forward. Staying in the same place, expecting things to get better feels like the wrong decision. Yet, committing to change, admitting that I’m not happy, and taking a new path is frightening and feels like failure in disguise.
All these thoughts, ideas, and stressors have caused havoc in my mind. Just a few weeks ago, after decideding to move ahead with the change, I felt empowered and giddy with excitement that I was taking control of my life. That excitement has now completely dwindled away to leave only more anxiety and fear over the decision. I fear that I am making this decision for the wrong reasons and that one day I will regret not “sticking it out.” But I also fear the perception of failure.
I know I could finish this if I tried (and if I wanted to). But is it what I really want?