I’m now mid-way through my fourth year as faculty and I did something this year for the first time over twelve years spanning medical school, general surgery residency, fellowship, and the first few years of my faculty position—I’ve never completely unplugged from work and really allowed myself to become immersed in vacation. Maybe part of it is because my wife and I had not previously been in a position to travel internationally to more remote parts of the world where cell phone reception and the internet aren’t readily available. But, this year we did and let me say it really was an effective way to recharge the battery.
We live in an age where if you aren’t checking email on your phone, then you’re on Facebook seeing what everyone else is doing, or you’re busy on Twitter, or you’re posting on Instagram, or maybe you’re sending a message on SnapChat, etc, etc, etc. My point is, technology has become such an integral and readily accessible part of our lives, it is often the first thing we reach for when we wake in the morning and the last thing we do before we put our head on the pillow at night. I personally have a hard time putting my phone down when I leave work because there is always something to follow-up on, an aspect of my research to finish, or a smoldering fire to be dealt with. However, this year I believe I’ve learned an important lesson—not everything, but by in large the VAST majority of things will either take care of themselves or the issue can wait.
Earlier this year, my wife and I were very fortunate to travel with friends to a place where there was no cell phone reception at all and a stable WiFi connection was a pipe dream. So, I spent 4 days completely unplugged. At first, I will admit that it felt a little weird not being able to find out how my patients were doing or to check emails. But, then I remembered two important things: 1.) I have incredibly dedicated, capable partners who I respect and would trust to take care of me if I were sick, so I didn’t really have to worry about my patients; 2.) I was in an amazing place with my wife and great friends, so was there anything in my email that could be more important than that? It turns out there wasn’t.
I spent the first couple of years as faculty feeling compelled to always keep work in the back of mind and to constantly be available. I worried that if I didn’t I would be viewed as selfish for wanting time away or that my patients might view me as not being dedicated. It turns out I was wrong on both counts. With regard to the former, taking time away and completely unplugging from the technologies that kept work at my fingertips helped me to really and truly relax for the first time in a decade. Regarding the latter, when I told my patients I would be away on vacation, they were always incredibly understanding and supportive.
I don’t know why it has taken me twelve years to realize, implement, and learn that it is ok for me to take time away from work for myself and my family. For those who haven’t yet made this a regular part of your life, you should. For my part, I’m incredibly grateful that I am now willing to get off the grid. Better late than never I suppose.