The Physician Philosopher
discusses the importance of finding contentment today, instead of only focusing on what else needs to be achieved tomorrow. Here's how the realization of being a “compassionate achiever” changed his mindset on being grateful for the present.
Today’s Classic is republished from Physician Philosopher. You can see the original here.
My life has been defined by four year epochs for the past 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 up by a one year fellowship. Once that step was completed, 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? What goal would I now strive to achieve?
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.
I recently asked one of my best friends to describe me in two words as part of homework from 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 above, I chose to pursue academic medicine. In academics, I saw myself climbing up the academic ranks in quick order.
The average increase in rank was six years. I wanted my first promotion to associate professor to happen in four. And to become a full professor in no more than 9 or 10 years. Lofty goals, but that tends to be my way of life.
I planned to publish prolifically, dive into teaching, and be a fantastic clinician. I was going to be a true “triple threat,” which is a rarity in academic medicine where people tend to be great at two of the three pillars (research, teaching, and practice), but not 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 my passion to teach physicians about personal finance and the freedom that financial independence can provide. The blog was born, and new goals were formed.
Never Being Content
The end goal of all of this is to produce enough freedom from my main job through side income to live the life that I picture in my head will someday come into view. The problem, of course, is that “someday” often never comes. There are always more things to achieve, and 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 right now. Being content right now. Living in the moment. And 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 it starts today.
Here are some goals that I am going to try and focus on in the coming weeks:
- No phone when I get home until my kids are in bed. The phone will go on silent when I am not on call, and I will be present with my family.
- 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 that they are.
- I will read Scripture like I know I should, and put my priorities back where they need to be.
- My money will be put where my mouth is – I’ll notice the people around me who are in need. I will give generously to my church and to charity.
- At least twice each week, I will not only put my phone down prior to the kids going down, but I’ll keep it away while my wife and I spend time together.
I think this is a good place to start. And writing them down will help hold me accountable. I encourage all of my readers to email me. Ask me how it is going. Encourage me to pursue my family. And to enjoy today.
Hopefully, this post will serve the same function for you!
Take Home: We Only Live Once
Studies have shown that the anticipation that we experience prior to a big event usually provides more satisfaction than the big 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. We see that each 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 one more blog post.
Instead, those that I’ve witnessed on death’s bed were concerned with their faith, family, and friends.
So, take note today of the things in your life that mean that most to you. Then, make an intentional choice to spend time chasing after and pursuing that which matters most to you.
Tomorrow may not have the faults of today, but we must recognize that tomorrow may never come.
Do you struggle with finding contentment in today? Are you always looking forward to tomorrow?
Leave a comment below.
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