5 Ways to Reconnect With Your Purpose
Words: Jalan Burton
First step: You have to want to be well to do well.
I did all the “right” things: went to college, graduate school and medical school, got married, had children. Still, when I looked at my career, things just didn’t sit well.
I was a successful and young pediatrician working for one of the top academic medical centers in the country, and I loved my patients, but I was miserable. When I looked around, my colleagues were overworked, tired, and burnt out, too. It was the end of training: Wasn’t I supposed to have found happiness and my dream job?
I had some serious sit-downs with my husband and friends, ones where we spoke frankly about how our happiness was our responsibility. A quote from Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters replayed in my mind. In one scene a healer is talking to a woman with severe pain and disfigurement. She asks the woman, “Do you want to be well?” and goes on to share that there is a lot of responsibility in being well.
I took heed and began forging my path to wellness in my career—to harmony and balance in my life—so that I could be a better me to myself, a better partner to my spouse, a better mother, and a better pediatrician.
Here are some of the things that resonated with me on this journey:
1. Commit to greatness.
Reset your vision of what could have been and what should be.
I had spent a decade thinking about what my dream job would be. But when I distilled it down to its essence, I realized I wanted to do great work with children and families. I didn’t need a big hospital system or a fancy clinic to do that—in fact, they were getting in the way of my real, authentic work.
I now do house calls and telemedicine for children and families in my area and it feels great meeting families where they are. In order to do the work I was called to do, I had to think out of the box and get out of the suffocating systems of old-school medicine.
2. Tap into your network.
I have been with Mocha Moms, a support group for mothers of color, since my oldest was born in 2011. Over the years the group has shared so many stories of how other Mochas used entrepreneurship to orchestrate the lives that they and their families needed.
I let these stories inspire and encourage me. I reached out to other physicians in my area and nationally, and learned that my story was not unique and that I was not alone. I forged great collaborations with other house-call doctors, local midwives, and other small-business owners, and now have a thriving network that I check in with regularly.
3. Know that finding harmony in career and life is an iterative process with many starts and stops.
I am living this now. Forging a nontraditional path means experiencing things you never imagined. Sure, I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck telling me to check off a box on the computer system, but I still have a ton of paperwork. I remind myself daily that even when doing administrative tasks, I am working toward my vision and am improving children’s lives one home at a time.
This process also requires you to let go of many of the harmful habits that have shaped who you are. Just like the woman in The Salt Eaters who for so long had been defined by her severe pain and disfigurement—to truly be well, she had to redefine herself.
For those of us in high-stress fields and jobs, we have to redefine ourselves in a way that doesn’t use being exploited and constantly overworked as part of our defining characteristics. For me, that required and still requires self-reflection on what it means to be in service to others. Serving others does not mean being exploited or working crazy, unsustainable hours. It means being unwavering in my commitment to a life that allows me to serve sustainably and passionately for years to come.
4. Always keep a paying side hustle.
Entrepreneurship is ever-changing, but your rent, mortgage, and bills are not.
Even though your work is fulfilling and exciting, until you are getting a regular and sustainable paycheck, you will need to keep some side hustles in rotation.
5. Find all of the ways to bring joy into your life that you can.
Check in with your sisterhood circle regularly. (I do that on my parenting group’s ladies-only GroupMe.)
Check in and make time for loving relationships with your spouse or partner and commit to prioritizing your relationship with time and attention whenever you can. Try not to talk about your stressors for too long and also don’t talk about the kids on date night if you can!
Spend time out in nature. Research shows that time spent outside improves health.
Play outside with your kids. We try to take a family walk around the block every day and we use our local national parks for hiking as much as possible.
As the healer in The Salt Eaters said, there is so much responsibility in being well and it ultimately rests with each one of us. Let’s be well!
Jalan Burton, MD, MPH is a wife, mother, and pediatrician. She has over a decade of experience in keeping kids healthy and is the founder of Healthy Home Pediatrics, a house call and telemedicine based pediatric practice serving the District of Columbia and surrounding Maryland and Virginia. She is a writer and blogger with Mothers in Medicine and her practice’s blog. When she isn’t providing excellent patient care or doing medical consulting, you can find her spending time with her husband (a professor), their two young sons, extended family, and friends. She enjoys urban gardening and cooking.
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