“Aside from Velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” – Dave Barry
Two weeks ago in my Friday Flash message, we affirmed that we all play an important role in assuring our patients and families receive the best possible care. At the same time, however, we acknowledge that in health care, it’s nearly impossible to always anticipate just what to expect and when. Thus, there is importance in being prepared, knowledgeable and flexible in our jobs, because we never know when there will be a new challenge around the corner.
That was the case over the past couple of weeks, as UTMB Health prepared to proudly step forward as a leader in Texas for the management and treatment of infectious diseases like Ebola. Our teams in Epidemiology, Facilities, Nursing, the Galveston National Lab, Infectious Diseases, the Emergency Department and countless other areas rose to the occasion as they worked diligently to prepare for the care of any potential patient. While this scenario fortunately did not come about, we were given a very important opportunity as an organization to prepare for future possibilities and to be recognized as a state, national and global resource in the fight against and treatment of infectious diseases.
With all the work that had taken place during this time, I felt like this weekend I should take a moment to recharge my batteries and spend some quality time with my family. I know that I could work around the clock if I let myself, because my job is important to me—I always want to give it everything I’ve got! But at the same time, there are other very important parts of my life that make it meaningful. Sometimes the small things do matter! Good time management means making the time to do all of the things that are most important to me.
Being more balanced doesn’t mean a dramatic upheaval in our lives. It can simply mean changing the way we think about our situation. I know at times, we may tend to think of ourselves as standing in the middle of a big swirling circle of tasks, burdens, problems and responsibilities—I often refer to an old Ed Sullivan performer who was a master at the art of plate spinning when I think of these moments. At every second, we have a dozen different things to do, a dozen problems to solve, a dozen burdens to endure. After some time, we can feel like we’re on overdrive and overtired.
The timing of a story recently sent to me by a friend seemed appropriate to address the feeling of being under pressure. It was about a young lady who was leading a seminar on stress management. She confidently walked around the room with a raised glass of water, and everyone in the audience expected that she was going to ask the ultimate question: “Half empty or half full?” But instead, she asked, “How heavy is this glass of water?” Answers called out ranged anywhere from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, you may need to call an ambulance!”
And that’s the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won’t be able to carry on. We have to put the glass of water—our stress—down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we’re refreshed, we can carry on, performing better each time.
Although feeling overtired and sometimes surrounded by our tasks and problems is a common mental picture, it is one that is totally false. No one of us, however crowded his or her life, has such an existence! Rather, it is how we think about the tasks, and whether or not we choose to put them aside from time to time.
What is the true picture of your life?
Another story I came across suggests that instead of thinking of our tasks and challenges as coming at us all at once, we should instead imagine an hourglass on our desk. The bowl at the top of the hour glass is connected to the bowl at the bottom with a tube so thin that only one grain of sand can pass through it at a time. That is the true picture of your life, even on a super-busy day. The crowded hours come to you always one moment at a time—that is the only way they can come! The day may bring many tasks, and sometime many problems, but invariably they come in single file.
The third thing that came to mind was a book I recently read (and recommend) called Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life, by Richard J. Leider and David A Shapiro. One of the authors was inspired to write the book after a backpacking trip in East Africa. He had bought a giant, expensive backpack stuffed with hi-tech supplies for the trip. But his guide, a Maasai elder, carried only a spear and a stick. After a long day of hiking, the guide was curious about the backpack and asked to see the contents. The traveler unpacked his bag, proudly displaying all his possessions. Then the guide asks him a simple question: “Does all this make you happy?”
The author couldn’t answer his guide right away, or that evening, and even weeks afterward. Over the course of his trip, though, he ended up giving many of the things he was carrying to the local villages. It turned out he didn’t need many of the things he thought he had to have. In fact, he was happier without them.
Sometimes it is the things we think we need to carry around with us that are unnecessary. We become so consumed thinking about the weight of our backpack, we forget to look at the world with a sense of curiosity and a feeling of wonder.
Quite simply, we must continually unpack and repack our bags, and take a long, hard look at what we’re carrying and why—are they still helping us move forward, or are they weighing us down? And, we must continually repack. This is the ongoing and continuous activity of reflection and choice: rearranging our priorities; reframing our vision of the good life; and recovering a new sense of being alive.
What are some things you can do today to lighten your load and repack your bag?
Taking some time to put our worries aside and do the things we love will help us remain continually engaged in our life and work so as to stay vital, fully in the present moment, and hopeful for the future to come. I hope you take some time to do the things you enjoy over the weekend and come back next week feeling refreshed, renewed and reinvigorated!