As a resident, I thought night float was going to be a very productive time for me. Work for 10 hours at night and then get home by 9 am. That would leave me at least a few hours to study, work on projects, or run errands during the day when everyone is available and everything is open. I scheduled multiple projects or meetings during the morning after my night shift, excited about the prospects of “getting things done.” One factor I did not consider was the issue of actually having the motivation to work on these projects or show up for these meetings. I did not realize what it took to interpret imaging studies for 10 hours straight without breaks in a busy ED. This shift essentially depleted me of my motivation in the short-term. Sadly, in the end, I got next to nothing done that month--disheartening but a good lesson for the future.
Though disheartening at the time, it taught me that there is only so much “energy” one has during a day. I now know that it is difficult for me to work a busy clinical day and then expect to be able to put forth the same effort after work on projects or meetings unless I “refuel” by spending some time with family or friends, relaxing in front of the TV, taking a nap, or getting some exercise. I now believe that this “energy” I refer to is probably what experts have termed self-control. Self-control is defined as the conscious inhibition of innate or habitual behaviors, urges, emotions, or wants that interfere will completion of tasks geared toward goals or aspirations. It is clearly a learned skill as babies and toddlers do not possess it, and adults, on some level, do. Different individuals have different level of self-control, whether due to nurture or nature. I would imagine, most physicians have a very high level of self-control; however, no matter how much discipline one has, it is essential to understand that self-control is finite. Over-extending oneself can lead to disappointment, discouragement, and failure. For example, how many times have you seen someone on a strict diet decide to go ahead and binge or give up on a diet because they slipped up and had a piece of cake or some ice cream. The slip up gives the person a rationalization to quit: “This is too hard; I can’t do this.” It would have been far better for the dieter to realize that self-control is finite and build in some leeway for some comfort food so that they did not expend all their self-control. In fact, rather than dieting, a healthy lifestyle marked by moderation and consumption of a well-balanced diet (including some junk food) would be far better and achievable in the long run.
I am not saying that you should not strive to be the best you can be. I simply encourage you to lead your life with the long-term in mind. Though cliché, it is so true; life (and your career) is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself well, mixing in intense periods with times of relative rest or relaxation, and you will finish the race happy and productive.