For four years of college, I sacrificed the “typical” college experience – casual sex, sorority life, keg parties, and late nights doing crazy things – because I was pre-med, had 7am lab classes, and needed to get good grades so I would be accepted into medical school.
After that, for eight years of medical school and residency, I sacrificed sleep, sanity, my health, my marriage, many of my friendships, and the financial security I would have earned had I gotten a good job straight out of college.
For two more years after I was a full fledged doctor, I sacrificed vacations and time off and the luxuries I had delayed for so long so I could collect cases for my OB/GYN boards and earn a difficult board certification.
Finally, at the age of 32, I had done it. I was a well-respected board-certified OB/GYN who had graduated from prestigious universities, and I had earned a full partnership in a group medical practice with a busy patient load and a six-figure salary.
What I Gave Up
But when I looked back, at the ripe old age of 33, at what I had sacrificed in the wake of my achievement, I felt sick to my stomach.
I had married a fellow medical student, but as much as we loved each other, our marriage didn’t survive residency. I had then married a veterinary student – and that marriage hadn’t survived either.
I had lost four loved ones, but I couldn’t even attend all their funerals, much less fully grieve their loss.
I had been diagnosed with a whole slew of “chronic,” “incurable” illnesses and was popping seven medications per day to keep my symptoms under control.
I was unable to take care of myself, much less another living being, so I had to give my beloved dog to my parents.
My friends and family had essentially written me off as a lost cause. While they understood they couldn’t expect much of me because I was a busy doctor doing important things in the world, I had missed their birthdays, forgotten to return phone calls, said “No” too many times when they had invited me out, and failed to be available when they needed me. Over time, they had put me into the category of “We love her but we can’t count on her.” It’s not exactly a recipe for intimacy.
It’s All About Me
For many years, my life became a strange mix of noble self-sacrifice and focused self-centeredness. At work, I was revered as a physician willing to give up my own needs for sleep, food, bathroom breaks, relationships, or self-care – for the good of my patients.
But in my personal life, it was all about Lissa – my work out-prioritized pretty much everything else. If other people wanted to spend time with me, I pretty much expected them to drop everything the minute I had a blink of free time. And because I was a doctor, people sort of nodded and reluctantly accepted my terms.
Thinking about this still elicits feelings of shame in me, especially because it’s not all in the past. I still find myself behaving this way.
When Does It Stop?
I’m no longer practicing clinical medicine, so I no longer have to make all these sacrifices on behalf of my patients, but now it’s all about my mission – to help heal health care, to lift up my fellow visionary mentoring clients so they can change the world, to speak at events like TEDx, to write books like my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine, or to create curriculum for the training program I’m developing for doctors at the Whole Health Medicine Institute.
When I’m focused on writing my next book or creating content for the Whole Health Medicine Institute or writing a speech, I hear my husband telling my daughter, “Don’t bother Mommy. She’s doing important things to change the world.”
But how long will she need to leave me alone so I can achieve some lofty vision?
My cousin wants me to come to her daughter and son’s birthday party in May, but it’s right after Mind Over Medicine launches, so I’ll be in the midst of a media frenzy and book tour. So her invitation came with the requisite disclaimer – “I understand if you can’t come because your book comes out at the same time.”
My best friend was sick and needed and wanted someone to make her soup or stroke her hair until she felt better. But my calendar was already overbooked with days in the studio, where I was recording the audio version of my book at my publisher’s request.
How much longer will my friends and family have to wait to have reasonable expectations that I will be available when they want and need me?
Then there’s my own self-care, which, in spite of my business manager Melanie’s brilliant attempts to protect my self-care time on my calendar, sometimes gets sacrificed in the name of achieving a goal.
So then I wind up flattened with a virus my immune system would normally fight off, or my dog dies and I’m so leveled by grief that I can’t even meet my professional obligations.
At some point, you have to question whether it’s worth it.
Is it worth it if someone cures cancer but dies alone?
Is it worth it if you’ve sung every glorious song that might have otherwise gone unsung, but you sang at the top of your lungs at the expense of your relationships with your kids?
Is it worth it if you’ve changed the world in noble ways, if you’ve helped people heal, if you get love letters every day from those whose lives you’ve touched, but you’ve done it at the price of those you most love?
Is it worth it if the toll such sacrifices take on your body shorten your life?
What Price Are You Willing To Pay?
When you’re going after a challenging goal – whether you’re finishing graduate school, writing a book, rounding up funding for your charity, or starting up an entrepreneurial visionary business, how much sacrifice is worth it? And for how long?
Does the payoff of pursuing a dream, following a calling, and changing the world overweigh the price you sometimes have to pay to achieve what you dream?
If you choose not to pay the price, can you make peace with letting go of the dream, tending the wounds of your disappointment with the payoff of taking better care of your relationships and your health?
When Is Enough Enough?
I can’t help asking myself when do I say, “Enough is enough.”
As I wrote in this post Stop Striving, You’re Already Enough, it’s easy to get caught up in perpetual striving, chasing after the proverbial brass ring that is always just out of reach. Then you blink, and life passes you by, and at the end, you’ve achieved phenomenal success only to realize you missed the point.
Or did you? If you helped a million people along the way, creating a legacy that will long outlast you, are the sacrifices worth the price?
It All Comes Down To Priorities
I think each of our answers will differ. This is a very personal question. But for me, I’ve decided it’s worth the price in the short run – that to achieve greatness in anything you really care about, there’s usually a sacrifice you must pay in the short term. But there comes a time when it’s time to get your priorities straight – to really dig deep into what matters in your life, what you want your life to be about, how much you care about the health of your body, and how you want to be in relationship with those you love.
If you fail to reevaluate when that time comes, it’s way too easy to get on the treadmill and wind up running blindly towards a “there” that never comes. And then at the end, you’re saddled with regret about what you gave up to get what you got.
But that’s just me.
What do YOU think?
How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to fulfill a dream, change the world, or serve others? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Still noodling and curious about your thoughts,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.