In retrospect, I'm a little surprised that it took me as long as it did to start protecting my time. I've known from the very beginning of my training that, in order for my career to be sustainable, I need to have some time to recharge. And I've done very well at protecting my time when it comes to vacations. I've taken all of my allowed vacation days, and I've refused to do any work or studying when on vacation. But when it comes to the day to day, I've let myself take on far more work than I can handle permanently without being miserable. So why?
I spent nine years in medical training (4 years medical school, 3 years residency, and 2 years fellowship), and seven years in undergraduate/graduate school before that. As a trainee, I got very limited choice about things. My courses were mostly decided for me, someone else set my schedule, and saying no to things was almost never an option. So I just sucked it up. For years. I suppressed my desire to sleep and eat healthy food and have strong relationships as much as I possibly could, and I survived in a sugar- and caffeine-fueled haze because I had to.
And then, I came out on the other side, and it took a while to occur to me that I was in charge for once. Since starting my job, I've somewhat reflexively said yes to things, because that's simply what I've always done. But I actually don't have to do that. For once, I get to make the decisions.
Denial (It'll Get Better Soon):
Whenever I look at my schedule, I think "Once <insert current thing that is taking up too much of my time> is over, I'll get a chance to catch up". Except I never do. Current thing gets replaced by next thing, and my schedule stays busy and overwhelming. It has been like this for almost four years, and yet it is only now that I'm really waking up to the fact that my schedule will always be overwhelming unless I deliberately take steps to slow down.
I really have absolutely zero to complain about when it comes to my money. I am paid very well, and since I started working in 2015, I've paid off my six-figure student line of credit and accumulated almost 1/3 of what I need to retire. I am doing great, and I know there are a lot of people who would be very happy to swap financial situations with me. I recognize how fortunate I am financially, and I am incredibly grateful for that.
And yet...I still worry. What will happen if I become disabled*? If my province radically cuts healthcare funding and my job changes or disappears? If I burn out and am no longer able to work?
The worry drives me to accumulate. To build up my cash savings and my investments as protection against all of the uncertainty of life. Working less means earning less, and while it would still be more than enough, it feels scary to someone who is as security-focused as I am.
Other people do more than me. They see more patients, do (waaaay) more research, and have more administrative responsibilities. Lots of them have spouses and/or children, so they have a whole second set of duties to take care of when they go home. And when I look at these people, I wonder "Why am I complaining about my much emptier schedule? Why can't I do as much as they do without complaining so much?"
It is hard to accept that I simply can't. Whether it's because of my anxiety, or being an introvert, or my perfectionism, or some combination of that fabulous trifecta, I simply cannot do as much as other people do. And more importantly, I don't want to. I want to not panic if I have to add an extra patient to a clinic because of an emergency. I want to sleep through the night without experiencing anxiety-induced insomnia. I want to have unstructured time at home to just breathe and exist, without having to constantly run through my to-do list in my head.
I want to be happy, at least most of the time.
What makes it hard for you to say no?
*I have some, but not enough, disability insurance right now. This is one of those "important but not urgent" things that I've been putting off for too long.