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Work-life integration is the new work-life balance


As opposed to trying to balance personal and professional commitments, dermatologists should align values and strengths and build their lives around these. One expert explains how one’s passion can translate to work.

Work-life balance has been a popular goal for many who juggle the demands of their professional and personal lives. But to think you can keep all the plates in the air in perfect balance isn’t realistic and can be stressful, according to leadership coach Melissa Thornley, of Chicago-based Tiara Leadership Coaching.

There may be a better alternative, according to Thornley, who spoke to physicians during the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) annual meeting (Chicago, October 2015). 

READ: Find your work-life balance

“I think there is this unsaid perfectionism around work-life balance, whereas life integration is looking at your whole life and how different areas of your life integrate,” Ms. Thornley says. 

As opposed to trying to balance work, personal life, caring for an aging parent or young child, volunteering in the community and more, dermatologists should integrate their values and strengths and build their lives around those.

Why am I doing this? 

In essence, identify what values drive you. Those values don’t have to be the stereotypical family, friends, etc. Values can be anything that inspire you and make you more alive. 

“It’s looking to those values and having those values inform what you’re doing,” Ms. Thornley explains. 

Getting caught up in life’s daily grind can cause us to lose focus of what drives us, she says. Reconnecting to your values and strengths might require you to pause and ask the question: Why am I doing this? 

“Sometimes we forget what our strengths are because they come naturally to us. [Life integration is] a combination of being and doing. It’s who are we being while we’re accomplishing all these things that we want to accomplish in our lives,” Ms. Thornley says. 

NEXT: Drilling down


Drilling down

For some dermatologists, being of service could be a value and a driver. Making a difference in people’s lives could be another. A fascination with new technologies or scientific discoveries and how to bring those to patients could be yet another. The possibilities are endless.

Identifying your drivers and reminding yourself of them could make your daily professional activities feel more right and more fulfilling. 

READ: Burnout is increasing among U.S. dermatologists

“When we’re connected to our values and strengths… it helps guide us and it helps us make choices,” Ms. Thornley says. 

A dermatologist who thrives when taking care of patients but feels stressed with business aspects of a practice might be better off not opening a private practice, according to Thornley. For that same dermatologist, being on the board in his or her community might be a good fit, because the dermatologist is involved and connected. But being president of that board could be another matter. The value is integrated in the doctor’s personal and professional lives.

Another example of how a passion in one’s personal life can translate to work: A dermatologist who loves to surf might incorporate that passion in his or her work, by getting involved in sun protection for surfers and other beach goers. 

Finding the sweet spot of professional activity based on one’s values and strengths is the key, according to Ms. Thornley. 

NEXT: Three things you can do now


Three things you can do now

Tip 1: Ms. Thornley suggests that dermatologists who feel like something is missing in their lives should think back to a time when they were thriving. What was it back then that made you feel accomplished, proud, happy, thriving? 

“Think about what values were present during that time,” she says, then reconnect to those things and feelings.

Tip 2: Pay attention to your day and notice when you’re feeling inspired, versus when you feel like you’re not getting a return on your energy. Stay connected to those values. Write them down, if needed. And refer to them throughout the day to answer the question: Why am I doing this? 

“I bet every dermatologist can think back on certain patients they’ve had, where they’ve had an experience that has moved them. The why. The purpose. That’s kind of what we’re talking about: feeling connected to our purpose,” Thornley says. 

Tip 3: You don’t have to do this alone. In fact, it’s better to have accountability partners who know your values, understand your strengths and can help to keep you on track, according to Ms. Thornley. Potential partners include colleagues, business associates, staff members, friends or family members. 

The outcome

Achieving life integration means living according to your values and strengths. So, even if you have a lot of plates in the air and they’re out of balance, you’ll continue to be internally aligned. You’ll do more of what fuels you, less of what doesn’t, and you’ll be better able to answer the question: Why am I doing this? DT

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