If you’re not someone who reads The Oatmeal on a routine basis, I’m not going to chastise you right now (though having a baby vs. having a cat is fantastic and you’ve totally missed out). Instead I’m going to refer you immediately to a recent post on unhappy. (h/t Jessica Blumhagen, excellent surgery intern and human)
Now that you’ve read that, I want you to think about if you are truly, completely joy filled every moment when you are doing the things in your life that mean the most to you.
I’ll start: I’m not.
Do I have those moments of indescribable joy when I’m doing my clinical work, when a learner has an “Ah-Ha!” moment, when I finish a half marathon…you know, those things that I find to have meaning?
Sure, I do. But it’s not every single minute that I’m there. Some days it’s a vast minority of them. Recent example: I ran the Bozeman half marathon on Sunday morning after a fairly tough call week. It showed in my performance, which was still a strong run (just not my best). I had LOTS of not-so-fun, definitely not joy-filled moments during the run, even though the scenery absolutely helped. When I was 100 yards from the finish line and looked over to see my mom and my Olivia-dog? Joy. And a reminder of my accomplishment, something I am lucky to do.
And during my Sunday run, as we’ve all had in the midst of meaningful activities when we get into a “zone,” I also was in that amazing state of flow. It’s a state that as surgeons we find ourselves in during the middle of one of those great cases, when it’s all just going and you’re completely wrapped up in it and nothing can get into your bubble. It’s something that my running friends will recognize when you realize you’ve just clicked off 3 or 4 miles seemingly effortlessly.
I love the idea that to achieve flow that you need to do things that are challenging to you- it’s not the easy stuff when it happens. Matt Inman’s description of being “perfectly unhappy” aligns nicely with that idea when he talks about running 50 miles, reading hard books, and working long days. I think that his comic struck a nerve for me because distance running (not 50 miles!), reading literary fiction, and well…y’all know about my job…anyway, I understood what he was saying about doing things that are meaningful to us and the importance of that even when those things are hard.
I’ll give my usual disclaimer: your meaningful isn’t going to be my meaningful. You may not run, and you may not love complicated books, and you may not have found “your” career niche. That’s okay, and it’s important that we each be a little different from one another.
But I did want to remind us all (and perhaps maybe myself more than anyone right now) that it’s not going to be fun every day and it’s not going to be easy every day. What it should be every day is a celebration of doing something that is meaningful to you. My new going to bed at night question that I ask myself is, “How did you show up today?” It provides me a compass for meaningful activities every day, keeping my focus on doing those things that I love.
(And thanks to Susan Piver for this lovely thought that was perfectly timed for my post. THIS is why we keep doing the hard and meaningful things.)