My View: A reflection on work-life balance
October 15, 2018
Dr. Amisha Singh
I wear two hats. I love both my hats dearly. The one of motherhood is worn in and faded. It feels like jeans, washed a hundred times, like a second skin, comfort and home and happiness. That hat is sometimes covered in peas and carrots and often has crayon demarcations of handsome princes riding horses under a nostalgic stick and circle sun, drawn on with tiny hands still learning their way in the world. The hat of the professional woman in me is cleaned and pressed, sharp lines and perfection; it is woven with threads of doing well by doing good for the world, of leaving the profession and our planet a little better than I found it.
The problem is both of the hats refuse to fit at the same time. The mom hat gets carrot goop on the professional hat. The professional hat pokes my kiddos when I give hugs with its sharp, prestigious corners. I used to think I could snip a little here and add a little there and somehow Frankenstein out a hat which I could wear all the time, the best pieces of both genres of finery. I have now realized this is impossible. If I changed either hat, it would not be complete.
I read Shonda Rhimes’ “Year of Yes” about a year ago (“Grey’s Anatomy” marathons carry no shame, people). I actually had an obscenely long commute and listened to it on audiobook. Day in, day out I would sit outside my office at the time trying to get a few more words in. Shonda talked so candidly about a subject that I grappled with on a daily basis: having it all. Her words hit home so hard that I was reaching for tissues on E-470 while driving home.
“How do you do it all? The answer is this: I don’t. Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means that I am failing in another area of my life. That is the trade off.” – Shonda Rhimes, “Year of Yes.”
We are told repeatedly as little girls that having it all is the dream. It is the vision. It is the expectation. But it is also impossible. When you peek into my life from outside windows, you may think that, indeed, I finally have it all. I succeeded. I made it. Box checked; mission accomplished. I lecture, and I write, and I speak, and I am a dentist, and I mentor and essentially conquer the world while still being a mom. I make Halloween costumes and go on field trips and make pancakes with whipped cream smiley faces. But every moment of success in one realm is a moment of failure in another. Every one of my moments of success is also a moment in which the other part of me is failing. If I am lecturing to dental students in Orlando, I am missing bedtime and stories with the kids who ask grandma where mommy went … again. If I am at home, building forts in our living room and bringing the wrath of the tickle monster, I am avoiding a blog that needs to be written or some other task that needs to be reviewed.
So how do I, type-A personality extraordinaire, perfectionist to the max, survive this failure? I train myself to make failure feel comfortable. It is a horrid exercise, painful, uncomfortable and hard. But it is also necessary. The founders of The Skimm, my favorite start-up and my favorite news source, has a tradition in their company: they celebrate failure. They believe that if you are not failing, at least a little, you are not trying hard enough. So their new year’s resolution was to “fail faster and harder,” and I have since been pursuing exercises in failing faster and harder myself. These exercises do what life has thus been unable to so far: they make failing feel natural and less absolute. They allow me to think in terms of seasons.
In life, every human goes through seasons. If you are single and focusing on building your empire, you may not go out on many dates. That is okay, because you are currently living in a season of growth and personal development. For me, when I met my husband back in 2009, I was hustling, applying to medical schools and on a one-way road headed right toward my ideal career. And then, fate intervened. I met the love of my life and got married. My season and thus my definition of an ideal career consequently changed. I hit pause, took a gap year, planned a wedding and reconstructed what work-life balance looked like for me. While I was in dental school, again I was in a season of focusing on my career, which would mean missed Valentine dates (which my darling husband took in stride) and late nights in a lab. But when I got pregnant with my oldest son, literally with the appearance of a second pink line, another season set in. It was a season of focusing on health, happiness and calm. It was a season of applying 100 percent of my effort and energy into being a stable and warm home for my growing child. So crowns that would not seat or patients who would not show, sheer calamities previously became small hurdles.
Ask yourself, what is your current season? What are your current goals? As the seasons change outside of the window letting sun in while I write this, I feel my season changing too. I am learning how to identify my success with my current goals and this is subsequently changing my life. It is the only way I know how to balance work and life. Your hats may not look like mine. Your seasons may not have the same challenges as mine. But the world you have dedicated your life to is my world. You are my community. We tried with this issue to help you tackle your problems and to provide solutions for you, no matter your season, no matter your goals. The ADA’s community is my support system, the way in which I find my tribe and learn how I get to wear both of my beloved hats concurrently, beautifully, completely. We are here for you in all of your seasons.
This editorial, reprinted with permission, first appeared in the MDDS Articulator, the publication of the Metro Denver Dental Society, on June 12. Dr. Singh is the editor of the publication and practices in Parker, Colorado.