It’s ok to get off the damn hamster wheel

Dear President Biden,

It might not rank in the tippy-top tier of Big Lies, but the tyranny of glorifying uber-productivity and over-extension is certainly right up there on the list. Moreover, I’m convinced that it’s purposely wielded like a cudgel to keep scads of us off-balance and mired in shame and self-doubt, constantly worrying that we aren’t doing enough, that we’re falling short, that we really don’t have what it takes. I’m trusting that you, in your Uncle Joe mode, won’t see this as an overly dramatic rendering of the issues and that you’ll actually get that I’m really not going full throttle on this, that to say it’s bad out here is a profound understatement.

At the risk of TMI-ing you, I’m going to tell you about my day yesterday to (very partially) illustrate the points above. Yesterday was Thursday and on a typical Thursday I’ll have one or two patients scheduled, a meeting or two with individual colleagues, a clinical team meeting, and a two-hour systems-oriented meeting along with various paper and grant deadlines to juggle. Well, yesterday was one of those “the stars are misaligned” days when three major, atypical, additional things were on my schedule – a two-hour review of an outside project, a talk, and a half-day retreat. Oh, and then there were reminders to complete the merit pay votes for several hundred people in my department, most of whom I don’t know, and of those I do know, none are eligible for merit pay.

I had expressly told the outside project scheduler that I couldn’t meet during the time when I was seeing my patient, but of course it was the ONLY time EVERYONE ELSE could meet so couldn’t I please come? Well, my first and second rad self-preservation moves were 1) not to try and reschedule my patient into the open hour between the outside project meeting and the talk I had to give, and 2) to only attend the meeting for the first hour. Yes, I would have been within my karmic rights to skip the outside project meeting all together, but that didn’t seem necessary or prudent.

My other rad self-preservation moves were to let my clinical team leader know I was maxed out and couldn’t attend the clinical team meeting over the noon hour, to skip the 40-minute live breakout session during the retreat, and to not go a half-hour late to the afternoon two hour systems meeting after the retreat ended (after making sure they would have quorum). Plus, I told the merit pay vote-nudger directly that I was not going to be completing that ballot because it was a pointless waste of time (though I said it much more diplomatically).

Technically, I could have stuffed it all into the day, and martyred myself, and been a complete wreck. But that seemed like a colossally bad idea so I didn’t.

As it happened, the keynote speaker at the half-day retreat was a dynamic woman named Tiffany Dufu who wrote a book called Drop The Ball: Achieving More By Doing Less. She shared a dozen or more pithy stories about how she came to see the wisdom of letting go of trying to do it all all the time and in being more intentional about where one puts one’s time and energy. It was helpful to hear that she rather stumbled into seeing how untenable it really is to just keep piling on. And it was super helpful to get to hear someone articulate this way of being on the very day when I’d just instinctively pared things back to keep them semi-manageable. Now, of course, the trick is going to be enacting this sort of intentionality on regular days. We’ll see. At least I have a constructive framework for making such choices now and a bit of a reality check that the sky doesn’t fall when Tracy opts out of some stuff.

May we all be (and feel) safe to step back and take care of ourselves.
May we all decide that it’s ok to get off the damn hamster wheel.
May we strengthen whatever those facial and vocal cord muscles are that form the word “no.”
May we learn to accept that less really can be more (pleasant, fun, realistic, humane).

Tracy Simpson

One Reply to “It’s ok to get off the damn hamster wheel”

  1. Hey, Tracy. I read this letter and I felt it. I have had similar work experiences like the ones you describe. I sat with that for a while and I have to say that I am happy to be off the “damn hamster wheel.” I hope the week ahead is better for you and that you can enjoy doing some of the work you have to do. Namaste, Didi.🙏

    Sent from my iPhone



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