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The Importance of Finding Contentment Today

My life has been defined by four-year epochs over the last 18 years. First, there was high school. Then college. And, of course, this was followed by four years of medical school and four years of Anesthesiology residency. Finally, the monotony was broken by a one-year fellowship. Once that step was done, my mind didn’t know how to compute the fact that the “last step” had been accomplished. What was the next four-year obstacle to be tackled? Which was the next goal I would now strive toward?

It turns out that this is a difficult question to answer — and that the question itself might be a problem. And it might be the root of some of the burnout that I’ve experienced in the midst of all of my busyness.

Always Chasing

I recently asked one of my best friends to describe me in two words as part of a homework assignment for a course I was taking. Without hesitation, she said, “Compassionate Achiever.” That second word is a bit of a problem for me. I’ve learned that it is extremely challenging for me to be complacent or content in life. Even after the end of those four year epochs I mentioned, I chose to pursue academic medicine. I saw myself climbing up the academic ranks quickly.

In academia, the average increase in rank happens every six years. But I wanted my first promotion to associate professor to happen in four. And then, I wanted to become a full professor in no more than 9 or 10 years. Lofty goals, but that tends to be my way. I planned to publish prolifically, dive into teaching, and be a fantastic clinician. I was going to be a true “triple threat,” a rarity in academic medicine where people tend to be great at two of the three pillars (research, teaching, practice) but rarely all three.

In the midst of first-authoring three randomized control trials in my first year, winning teaching awards, and practicing the best medicine that I could … I found myself feeling like something was missing. Then, I discovered a passion in teaching physicians about personal finance, and the freedom that financial independence can provide. Thus, my blog was born, and I formed new goals.

Never Content

The end goal of all of this was to produce enough freedom from my main job, by generating an income on the side, to live the life that I was picturing living someday in my head. The problem, of course, is that “someday” never comes. There are always more things to achieve, more obstacles to clear. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Tomorrow, every Fault is to be amended; but that Tomorrow never comes.” The idea is that tomorrow always promises to be better but that better tomorrow never really comes. What Franklin is saying is that if we cannot learn to be content with today, we are unlikely to find contentment in the future.

This is my daily struggle: being content right now. Living in the moment. Counting my blessings, including my amazing wife and the three kids that I surely don’t deserve.

A Call Out

I am calling all of us out. I know that I am not the only one who fantasizes about a better tomorrow without appreciating today. We need to be intentional with our lives, and we need to start today. Here are some goals that I am going to try and focus on in the coming weeks:

  1. No phone when I get home until my kids are in bed. The phone will be on silent when I am not on call, and I will be present with my family.
  2. When my kids ask me to do something with them, I will not say “in a minute.”  I will put them first, and make them the priority that I claim they are.
  3. I will read Scripture like I know I should, and put my priorities back where they need to be.
  4. I will put my money where my mouth is; I’ll notice the people around me who are in need, and I will give generously to my church and to charity.
  5. At least twice a week, I will not only put my phone down prior to the kids’ bedtime, but I’ll keep it away while my wife and I spend time together thereafter.

I think this is a good place to start. And writing my goals down will hopefully hold me accountable. I encourage all of my readers to email me. Ask me how it is going. Encourage me to prioritize my family. And to enjoy today. Hopefully, this post can serve the same function for you, though I recognize your goals will likely look different than mine!

Take Home: We Only Live Once

Studies have shown that the anticipation we experience prior to a big event usually provides more satisfaction than the event itself. Our expectations almost always surpass reality. Despite learning this lesson time and time again, I never cease to yearn for tomorrow. Finding contentment in today seems impossible when tomorrow promises so much more! I’ve written before about the fact that we all know our own mortality. Tomorrow may never come. In medicine, we see that every day at work. On the rare occasion that I’ve witnessed someone attending their own funeral, they were not concerned with more shifts, more money, or more blog posts. Instead, those that I’ve witnessed on death’s bed were concerned with their faith, their families, their friends.

So, take note today of the things in your life that mean the most to you. Then, make an intentional choice to spend time chasing after and pursuing those things. It’s true, tomorrow may not have the faults of today — but tomorrow may never come.

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