For the past week, I have been wracking my brain to answer the question that is often posed to me: “How do you do it all?” I think other working mothers are often asked this question, and maybe they too struggle with how to answer.
I suppose I could show you my Instagram pictures, which suggest that I have a perfectly synchronous life, adeptly balancing being a cardiologist, a mother, a writer, a daughter, a friend, a mate, all while being fabulous in the process. But that would simply not be true. In fact, the deepest, darkest secret women hide from the world (and sometimes from each other) is that there is really no such thing as a flawless balancing act. No one can do it all, no matter what it looks like on the outside (especially on social media). Most of us are leaning in so hard that we are on the verge of tipping over.
Rather than balance, I think what is really going on, to be honest, is compromise. I don’t see my choices as achieving anything like balance, but I do see them as compromising—as choosing what and where to put my energy for best effect. Most of the time, I have a stack of papers on the table. Sometimes I cook, but more often I end up ordering in. Sometimes I will decide to exercise for an extra 45 minutes before going home to my son, knowing full well that I am compromising time with him. The next day, I might make a quick trip to the farmers’ market and compromise by skipping exercise so I can get home early to make dinner and be with my son. It’s all a dance, a constant moving puzzle. But by necessity, I am in the center of it, and that means that my well-being is the cornerstone of what makes it all work.
Most days, I start off with a little mental trick: I put my best self in front of the day. (If I don’t do that, everything becomes more challenging for me—more difficult, more stressful.) I do that by meditating and preparing for what’s to come, and putting a positive spin on it. I consider this time critical and necessary. People often ask me how I have time to meditate, but I can’t imagine how I would have time not to meditate, as it seems to add time to my day by increasing my sense of calm, productivity, focus, and my ability to multi-task. It helps me hear my inner voice that guides my intuition. This is why, even if I don’t have the time to meditate, I make sure I find the time.
I wasn’t always this way. For many years I neglected my own needs, giving and giving until I made myself literally sick. At some point in my life journey, however, I realized how much I, as a person, mattered to all that was going on around me. I started realizing that if I put myself last, as women so often do, the engine that was driving the whole machine was going to burn out. I could not do that to my son. I could not do that to my patients. Caring for and loving myself was the key to making it all work. I always tell my son, “Just be the best Spencer you can be, and that’s good enough.” I live by those words for myself, and meditation helps me know and better understand who the “best Suzanne I can be” really is.
Even so, the compromising continues. As I am writing this, I see the pile of papers to my left that really should be filed in a drawer. My dogs are practically pointing at the clock telling me that it is way past time that I take them out. It’s time to put my son to bed. I can always see what is out of balance but I have chosen to live my life by prioritizing, by compromising, and by putting my energy into those things that are clear, balanced and functional.
After seeing my patients today, I exercised (I take a high-intensity class filled with cardio and weight training), came home, and actually cooked dinner. It wasn’t extravagant—couscous and grilled salmon—but it was healthy. If I had to choose the one most important thing after meditation that helps me get through the day intact it would certainly be exercise. Somehow exercise not only works me physically, but also allows me to review my day, think about my patients, and sometimes make decisions about them or get perspective on other pressing matters. Exercise gives me the room to feel grounded, healthy and vital. It matters to me, so I make time for that…for as long as I can…and as long as it doesn’t jeopardize time that I need to be with my son or at my job or with my family.
I guess the bottom line is just this: Take care of yourself and you will make it—with energy and love to spare for the people who need you. For me, that means:
- Meditating for 20 minutes twice a day.
- Exercising four times a week.
- Eating a healthful diet.
- Drinking lots of water.
- Trying to get enough sleep (always a challenge for me!).
I prioritize these things not because I feel like I am “doing it all,” but because this is the only way I know I will even come close. Life is not easy—not for anyone—but how you choose to manage your challenges makes a difference. I choose to accept that even though I can’t maintain any real balance, I can be content getting through each day with as much ease, grace, inner-peace and, of course, with as much love as I can manage.
I guess in a way, depending on how you look at it, that is “having it all.”
Click here to buy Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s book, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, or visit her website http://drsuzannesteinbaum.com.