Monday, March 14, 2011

Finding Balance

I am on Spring Break, although Spring seems to have missed the memo. While the weather isn’t cooperating I am enjoying some precious free time during my first year of medical school. The year has been wild. It’s no joke that medical school keeps you busy, that’s a good description of the experience. Too busy might be better, insanely busy may be better yet. In this post I want to write about different ways I have tried to stay balanced this year in the hopes that as I write this I can explore this idea of “balance” and better gauge my own sense of it.

Balance is a relative concept. It has many factors involved, our genetically-influenced personalities and our environments which include experiences we choose to encounter and others we don’t. Balance changes with time as our focuses or even our personalities change. There are different ways to balance. Some people have to leave each day feeling balanced, others can go on stretches where the focus shifts one way or another, both sides equaling out over the long run. Here’s how my year has gone.

Last summer my balance was shifted in favor of a more relaxed lifestyle with far too much free time. At the time I was in Thailand filling my days with shopping trips, online games, and trips to the beach. I was having a blast, but my hard-wired ‘busy-body’ self was getting antsy. I needed things to do that would make me feel more productive.

In August I started medical school. At first things were easy to keep balanced, the first course was constructed in a way to give us a lot of free time which I used going on long bike rides, exploring sites around Rochester including Niagra Falls, and spending quality time with Melanie. These were good times.

The next course was a little more difficult. What changed most was the weather. Rochester winters are harsh. It seems like it snows every day and your body starts craving sunshine. I think I wouldn’t mind the winter so much if I had developed snow-related activities to enjoy. Unfortunately (probably due to my southern California upbringing) I never did, and I spend most of my free time watching TV with Melanie. Since I wasn’t getting as much physical activity as I usually do I tried experimenting with my diet. We cut out red meat, then all meat, then all meat except fish, and ended up with a ‘eat-meat-sparingly’ kind of diet (meat being displaced by whole foods especially fruits and vegetables). The diet experiments were actually a lot of fun and I think my body is grateful for the effort.

I just finished the biochemistry part of year one. While interesting, this was a class I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I feel lucky to be at Rochester, without the outstanding lecturing and the time I was able to spend developing clinical skills I very well may have lost my sanity. Even with these assets, however, I found myself spending far too much time in the library and not enough time at home. Melanie started getting lonely, and I was at fault. My life had shifted to the other end of the continuum, not nearly enough free time. My life was suffering for it.

Now that I have a break I am free to analyze how things went, and what I can do once school starts again to better balance things out. I don’t really have any solutions. Here are a few factors involved in my balancing act:

  1. One tool I have is volleyball. I have found a group of people who play competitive volleyball at the med center twice a week. I join them every Saturday for a few hours, releasing a lot of the stress accumulated over the course of the week.
  2. Another is spiritual worship. I started reading the Old Testament every morning as I eat my cereal. I only read one chapter a day, but I find that I get caught up in the stories and characters and think about them throughout the day. I also take Sundays off (minus a few hours of studying here and there) which allows me to attend church, catch up with Melanie, and participate in various forms of service in the community. These activities remind me that life is more than the day-to-day grind, and I have a purpose in the eternal scheme and things like family and love are of utmost importance.
  3. I love movies. I love getting caught up in a good story, feeling the emotions characters experience and learning more about myself and life in the process. Books fall into this category as well.
  4. I like going on walks. Sometimes I have the opportunity to do this in the mountains (or woods here in NY), other times I just walk to school or walk with Mel on a Sunday afternoon. Now that the weather is letting up (knock on wood) I hope to get out more and pursue more of this medium for quiet reflection and meditation. Cycling falls under this category as well.
  5. I enjoy learning new things. This aspect of my life isn’t very hard to satisfy in my current context.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but by writing it I think I have a better idea of where I am and what I can do to improve. I don’t know if anyone reads my blog anymore, I haven’t given you anything to read in almost a year, but please share your thoughts about balancing your life and maybe we can help each other in the process. Thanks for reading.

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