There was a time when I believed – when I was totally convinced – that I could not take a day off.
Maybe it was the example of my parents, whom I saw work tirelessly every single day, never letting go of the responsibilities of their jobs, and never taking a day off unless they were absolutely required to (and by that I mean, being so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital).
Or maybe it was medical school, where I learned by working alongside residents and fellows who would regularly show up to work sick, because they “couldn’t take a day off”. On one rotation, I recall the vascular surgery fellow being so rundown from flu-like symptoms that he had to dash out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink during a procedure he was performing. I watched wide-eyed and took everything in, my mind drawing the conclusion that “people with important jobs can never take a day off“.
I became determined to find work that would enable me to take a day off, and still be considered important.
The problem was, I really had no idea what was truly important to me. I had many concepts that had been implanted by messages from my family, from images in movies and advertisements, and from the culture in which I was living. “What’s important” was a moving target, a reaction to whatever “everyone else” appeared to be doing.
Meanwhile, in my heart I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world, to care about something genuinely, and to share my story somehow in this life.
But the only way I knew – based on what I had seen, learned, and been taught – was to put my head down and work.
I worked hard at everything I did. I didn’t take many days off. When I did, I remember feeling an odd combination of freedom and loss.
“Who am I without my email inbox full of requests and my voicemail full of messages?”
“Who am I when I am not answering to anyone else?”
“What would I choose to do if I had an entire day with no obligations, no one telling me where to be or what I had to do?”