Vinay Prasad, MD, hematologist-oncologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, offers advice on work/life balance.
1. Your value as a person is not linked to your career. Promotions and accolades don’t make you a better partner, child, parent, or friend, and in the end, these matter most.
2. Things you don’t want to do matter less than you think. There are undoubtedly things you do not want to do, but feel obliged to. Often, a senior person asked you to do something that makes you cringe, and you feel you can’t say no. The truth is you can. People will forget faster than you imagine because others do not think about you as much as you believe they do (the universal truth of life).
3. Extra money is rarely worth it. Of course, the entire reason to work is to make money. If I had enough, I would be on the island of Maui. There may, occasionally, be opportunities to make a little extra. Stay late or cover the weekend, and pick up a few extra bucks. A small honorarium to participate in a Saturday event. Money to take an extra overnight shift. These are almost never “worth it” in the long run. They rob you of downtime, and the additional money is usually not enough to change anything about your life. You may pay back your loans 0.00001% faster, or have 0.00001% more in your bank account when you die.
4. It’s OK to make a career change. If you are deeply unhappy and frustrated at work, the right answer may be to do something else with your life. It is OK to say: this isn’t for me. I am going to change. It is OK to quit — ideally in a blaze of glory — and do something else. The more we stigmatize making life changes, the more we let people sit in situations where they are unhappy.
5. If it is truly important, they will email twice. Don’t get me wrong. I aspire to be polite and punctual and responsive by email, but the truth is, inevitably, we all fall short. Don’t beat yourself up. If it is really important, the sender will email twice. And, if not, well, the earth still revolves around the sun.
6. Most things will happen without you. It is hard to hear the bitter truth that 99.99999% of us are replaceable at work, but none of us are replaceable at home.
7. If you achieve everything you want you will be the 2,245,234,235th most important person who lived; if you fail at everything you will be the 2,245,234,236th most important. Sometimes, it is valuable to view the world from the vantage of all of human history. There are few great people, whom I define as those who changed the course of civilization, for better or worse. Think about your place in the history of the world. Most of us are not leading the Roman Empire, or contributing to its fall. If all the world’s a stage, we aren’t just players, we are bit players.
8. Don’t compare yourself to your peers. No one took your opportunity. Recently, I was speaking to a college-bound senior. He lamented that he did not get into his top-rank school, and noted that a classmate was selected. “He took my spot,” he mused. The comment is practically unhelpful because time spent thinking of yourself as a victim is time that could be used for productively living your life.
9. When you love what you do, it isn’t work. The opposite of being willing to decline some things you don’t want to do is to acknowledge the sheer pleasure it is to be paid to do some of the things that you do. In the course of human civilization, it is a rare pleasure to wed doing something that you might otherwise do anyway with earning a living for doing it. Thinking about this, and trying to maximize it in your life, may help achieve the elusive balance.
10. Spend less time wanting to be known, and more time having something to say. Like a watched pot, aspiring to be respected is the surest way to never achieve it. Improve yourself internally. Figure out what you have to say. What you believe in. Read more, talk less. If and when you have something to say, say it, and if it doesn’t come, then relax. Authenticity can be spotted from an airplane. We all want to escape the person who aspires to be known, but we can’t get enough of people who have something to say.