I have had a really long relationship with the word “hard.”
I believe it all began when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and I took some standardized admissions tests because my parents wanted to see if they could enroll me in a private college prep school for academically advanced kids.
Apparently I didn’t ace those tests, because afterwards I remember my Dad telling me that I wasn’t as smart as my eldest brother, but that was okay because I was a really hard worker like my mom, a family physician. And if I worked hard like her, I could achieve anything.
So that’s exactly what I did from middle school all the way through high school. I worked really hard on my academics, taking as many AP (Advanced Placement) classes as I could and even enrolling in community college over the summers as a high school student. Many of the college kids there couldn’t believe they had a high schooler in their class with them who oftentimes was getting better grades than them.
But not only that, I also participated in lots of extracurricular activities, everything from debate team, Model UN, varsity tennis, track and field and even studied and performed Indian Classical Music.
None of it was easy for me, but I knew I could make up with hard work what I lacked in innate giftedness or raw talent. I would wake up at 5 AM most mornings even and would study while others were out with friends.
I knew I could outwork nearly all of my classmates with hard work and ended up graduating #3 in my class of 500 (beat out only by two boys, one of whom was the principal’s son) at a very competitive high school. Not bad for a girl who wasn’t “bright enough” to be admitted to the private college prep school.
Even though I wasn’t number one in my class, I had proven to myself hard work could get me pretty far.
So the pattern of hustling and over-achieving continued on into undergrad where I graduated in just 2 years and even obtained a Masters degree before I turned 21 and could even drink alcohol.
Med school and emergency medicine residency brought on a whole new level of “hard” and demanded even more hard work from me. Perhaps I even chose emergency medicine because it is such a hard and challenging environment to work in. I often joked with my colleagues that we never had an easy button working in the ER.
The thing was, “hard” became my new normal
I felt as though if something wasn’t hard and complicated, I wasn’t doing it right.
Work was hard. Cooking was hard. Parenting was hard.
I realize now that there were perhaps many things in life I was making harder than they needed to be. This carried over into my personal life, certain relationships with extended family members and even into my fitness routines where I got really into doing intense workouts like Insanity and P90X.
But after having kids and working in the ER for over a decade as an attending physician and perhaps also after having burnt out my adrenal glands, I decided I had done enough hard things in life and that I didn’t want everything in life to be hard anymore. In fact, dare I say, I wanted life to be easy now. (It almost sounds sacrilegious to say, especially as a physician.)
What was I trying to prove anyway by making life so hard all the time? When I answered that question, I decided I no longer had anything to prove to myself nor others, so I was going to let life be easy.
I started to ask myself: how can I let it be easy?
I started to go for easy walks or bike rides around the neighborhood instead of always doing high intensity interval workouts. EASY!
I began cooking simple and easy meals at home instead of complex recipes. EASY!
Instead of trying to host another Pinterest worthy party, I booked easy to host birthday parties for my kids at party venues where everything was done for me and all I had to do was send out invitations. EASY, AGAIN!
At work, I ended up pivoting to a new setting seeing urgent care patients via telemedicine. At first transitioning to telemedicine was really jarring because especially compared to the complex and critical patients I would care for in the ER, these cases were very easy. I would find myself complicating the simplest cases like UTIs or Sore Throats.
“Not everything has to be hard and complicated,” I would remind myself. “Just let it be easy,” became my new mantra.
And that’s when I decided to get my very own easy button, you know, the one they sell at Staples. Whenever I allowed things to be easy and simple and not overly complicated in life, I would hit the button and smile as the device said, “That was easy!”
It was a really good way to retrain my brain to let things be easy and to celebrate things when they are. Because after all who said everything has to be hard and perhaps when it’s easy it’s actually a sign things are flowing and aligned, I’m doing something right or it’s something I’ve already mastered.
So let me ask you, have you had a long lasting relationship with “hard”? If so, where in life can you simply let it be easy?
Archana Shrestha, MD is a physician, life coach, speaker and entrepreneur in Chicago. She is the Cofounder and Chief Wellness Officer at Women in White Coats and co-author of “The Chronicles of Women in White Coats” book series. Learn more about her by going to MightyMomMD.com. She can be followed on Instagram @MightyMomMD