Family, General, Life, School

The balancing act/spending time

01.12.11 | Comment?

One thing that has struck me as odd during my many years of didactic education is the way students view studying, especially intensely, as for tests. We might get cranky because those who aren’t studying are out enjoying life. In college studying imposes quite a bit less than in graduate and professional school (in my experience anyway), perhaps because there’s less studying to do, or because our friends are also studying. Now our peers are working 8-5; their time seems their own. Especially my younger classmates – a lot of my peers have kids to take care of when they leave work, but mid twenties? They’re set. Medical school is not 8-5 (try as I may to make it so). One simply cannot study enough. There’s always more to know, more we could do; we are limited by our mental attention and capacity, willpower, and time.

Many of us become theives, stealing time and energy that might otherwise be devoted to exercise, home organization, preparing healthier meals, or fostering relationships with loved ones. Or just garden variety down time – relaxation, escape. (Then we swing the other way and it becomes the studies that suffer.)

I hear a lot of complaints that med school ruins social lives. “I never go out anymore,” or “My significant other is so frustrated that I don’t have enough time for him/her,” or “I just feel so isolated.” As I was discussing with a fellow student today, I think this aspect is easier for me. “Going out” never has been part of my life – to me the whole thing is more anxiety-provoking and exhausting than anything else I could be doing. Relationship-wise, my family and friends understand what I’m doing, and we talk when we can. Joel and I spent most of our courtship in different cities, sometimes states. He’s really busy, too, so we understand when there’s no time for a cutesy heart to heart. This is also where being married/living together has advantages. If we had to schedule a date amidst our other activities – forget it. If we weren’t established and were trying to nuture a budding romance, I can imagine the difficulty to find time and energy for that. So I do feel for my dating classmates, if it’s something they’re missing. As far as isolation – I like being in my own little community – school is my escape from what I consider the more stressful day-to-day life. But if I didn’t have my Zoe and Joel and Chief, I know I’d be terribly lonely sometimes.

Anyway I would hear these complaints and just didn’t comprehend. I don’t feel pulled to bars or parties. But then I think about how I do spend my spare non-studying time. I do feel pulled to zoo outings with Zoe. I need zoning-out-walking-around-Target-or-the-mall time. I look forward to well-prepared meals and television shows the way my classmates might anticipate a hot date or some other debauchery. So when I spend more time studying and these things get put on the back burner, I feel the stress. Forgive me for having been judgmental about how people restore their souls. And it’s not like I’m some zen master – maybe I could learn a thing or two about letting go.

When I was making the decision to apply to med school, I weighed my desire to have a family very heavily. I wanted to have enough time to do it the way I envisioned parenting: being there, being engaged and involved, having real time together. Perhaps my reluctance to develop and adhere to a rigid schedule is from fear that we’ll become this super efficient family who does get everything done but it means that we come home, make and eat dinner, get a bath, get in bed, and never really engage. So we hem and haw and stay up late… There’s probably a middle ground.

Anyway I looked at my friends in med school and saw they still had lives, still went out, and figured if that wasn’t something I would do, certainly I had time for my family. You spend your time. You make and find time for what’s important to you. Sometimes priorities get changed temporarily, but in the end what you value gets your time. We have agency. That’s true for 8-5ers, stay at home parents, and students with jobs. Our time actually is our own, and we are choosing how to spend it. (Especially as med students. When we get to rotations and residency and competitive jobs, we are owned for awhile – thought it is a choice we make.) How we spend it reflects what we value. Lately I’ve been trying to realize this and own it – be honest with myself about what I’m choosing is important to me.

Most of it seems so external – deadlines, pressures from bosses, coworkers, family, friends, our children, “the schedule” – but we have a lot of control over what we deem important. Yes we have to make money to pay for things. When we work to cover our rent/mortgage, groceries, and car payment, we are valuing shelter, food and lifestyle. We are choosing those basics/comforts over the stress of being homeless or hungry. (My perspective falls apart when someone is working three jobs, not sleeping, and still has a hungry family – I hope this doesn’t happen.) Being honest with myself, then, I’m choosing these years of taking out loans and having Zoe in daycare to have the career I want and the happiness that fulfilling work will create for me and – please please please I hope this happiness will extend to – my family.

In a related story, when I select my categories or tags for posts, it seems silly to select life, health, family, and school separately. Because that’s what all these are about. They’re synonyms at this point.

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