If you were glued to the Olympic Games this summer like I was, then you probably know about the events surrounding Simone Biles.
As the leading gymnast on the US Team, Simone was expected to win multiple gold medals during the games. She qualified for the finals but she just did not feel like her usual self. Stunning practically the entire world, she decided to pull herself out of the majority of her final events because she knew she was not all there – mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Simone was experiencing something in gymnastics known as the “twisties”, which left her practically feeling lost in the air. As an accomplished gymnast, she knew that if she continued to compete while feeling this way, she could have sustained a career-ending injury and could have even risked her life.
Being such a popular athlete, she could have decided to push through just to make everyone else around her happy. Doing so would have put more strain and stress on her emotionally. Choosing to continue to compete could also have been dangerous to her physical health since her routines are complicated and contain moves that most gymnasts would never even attempt.
The pressure she felt likely is not new for her. She has participated in dozens of gymnastics competitions in her life. I am sure she has been taught through the years to just push through the aches and pains, the sprains, the tears, and the rips on her hands. I see it first hand in my 7-year-old daughter, who is a competitive gymnast. The drive within these girls is amazing!
Instead, Simone was proactive and took a step back. She knew she needed to take a break so that she could feel like her usual self again. It could have been a bad situation had she pushed through, yet she was secure enough in herself to speak up and prevent that from happening.
On the world’s stage, with everyone’s eyes watching and the pressure of it all, she decided to say “enough”.
Despite all the critics, she said “enough”.
Risking Olympic gold medals, she said “enough”.
Potentially letting her team down, she said, “enough”.
And when Simone finally felt ready to compete, she earned a Bronze medal on the beam. She was ecstatic and it seemed to still be worth it to her. She competed on her terms when she felt ready to do it.
What about us?
There are so many parallels that can be drawn between Simone Biles’ circumstance and us, as women in medicine. We push our way through college, medical school, and residency training. As women dedicated to our careers, we are constantly learning and striving to be better. You may even suffer from imposter syndrome – never feeling like you are good enough. You may feel this way even though those around you look at you like a shiny star – the best to ever do what you do.
I admit that I struggle with balancing my responsibilities at home and work. With five children and a husband at home, I feel like everyone is constantly depending on me, and I do not ever want to let them down. Many times, I push myself to the limit, sacrificing so much of myself for the sake of others.
I know I am not alone.
You may feel it is never okay to take a step back. Or maybe you feel a sense of failure or defeat when you need to take a break from your career or life demands to just focus on yourself. It may be hard for you to even come out and admit that you need a break, for fear of what others may think of you. You, too, may truly feel like the “weight of the world is on your shoulders”, as Simone Biles commented.
What can you do about it?
As a busy woman balancing multiple roles, you must take a step back, like Simone, for your own sake. Do not sacrifice your physical and emotional health. Do not wait until it is too late. Avoid pushing yourself to the limit because that will usually not end well. Remind yourself that “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. You will have nothing left to sacrifice if you are constantly giving parts of yourself to everyone else but never refilling. Yes, your family, friends, and co-workers may be depending on you. But, you will have more of an impact on the lives of others if you can take a break to be your best self.
Know that it is okay to say “enough”. You are human, not a machine. Although we are powerful strong women, none of us can be Superwoman. It is okay to be honest with those around you when you do not feel like you can perform to the best of your ability. It is better, to be honest than to push through, risking injury to yourself mentally and physically. When the weight of everything on your shoulders is too much, know yourself well enough to take a pause. Be confident enough to know that even the greatest among us sometimes needs to pause.
If you start to truly listen to yourself and take much-needed breaks, you will undoubtedly be happier and more victorious in the long run. The result will be that much more rewarding when you are well enough to reap the benefits of your success.
What do you need to start saying “enough” to in your life today? I encourage you to take an inventory of your life, think about what things you need to step away or take a break from, and practice saying “enough” today.
Petra McEwan, MD, FAAP, IBCLC, is a practicing Pediatrician and Lactation Consultant in South Florida, where she lives with her husband and five kids. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. On her website, https://www.wifeymommydoc.com, she helps working wives and moms balance their many roles. She can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @wifeymommydoc.