How many of us feel stuck in the same daily routine and are looking for change? I, for one, find my daily morning commute to work excruciating. Roadworks that seem never-ending, unnecessary excessive honking from other drivers, trying to avoid cyclists, the amount of traffic to navigate – all of which happens before I even start my 9am clinic! As you can imagine, it doesn’t make for a great start to the day, does it? I’ve gradually noticed that after battling awful traffic in the morning, I end up being less patient and empathetic towards patients, which can make work feel intolerable at times.
Over the past few months, I have reflected on the impact my morning commute has had on my attitude and enthusiasm at work. I thought about the reason I wanted to be a doctor, which was to help people. Yet, how am I to ensure that I stay true to that calling and allow myself a sustainable career in the next 30 years if I were to continue this trajectory? How am I to avoid getting inevitably burned out with time?
I decided that if I allowed things to happen naturally in this scenario, nothing would realistically change. I would only end up finding myself in a deeper rut of demoralisation and thinking, “How did I even get here?”
I knew that something needed to change, and it had to be intentional. I thought about the few things I love: family, nature and God. These are things that I engage with effortlessly and that put me in a good frame of mind. So, I wondered, how do I intentionally allow these things to take centre stage when it comes to the awful task of a morning commute and work stress?
I started with my family. I decided to call my mum a few days a week on my way to work. She lives over 6,000 miles away across the world and has a very busy life as a pastor. Yet she always makes time for me, and our conversations are thoroughly enjoyable and encouraging, which sets the tone for the rest of my day! It is such a pleasure to share our lives and to feel close to a loved one. This connectedness with family reminds me of my identity as a much-loved daughter.
The next thing I focused on was nature. There are big leafy trees in the carpark at work that attract wildlife such as squirrels and foxes. As I parked up my car a few weeks ago, I noticed three squirrels playing with each other while jumping from branch to branch. This was strangely mesmerising, and I ended up sitting in my car quietly for fifteen minutes just to watch them play. Their energy and carefree spirits were almost contagious! I walked into work with a genuine smile on my face, almost forgetting the terrible traffic earlier that day. It is so easy to go through life trying to fulfil our duties and responsibilities. Having a connection with nature reinforces the simple yet often forgotten truth that there is so much beauty to behold in the natural world. In fact, research has shown that spending time in green spaces or bringing nature into our everyday lives can be incredibly beneficial to our mental and physical wellbeing.
And finally, God! I decided to commit to a 3-part prayer before work every morning, asking God to bless the day, to bless my lips and hands as I interact with patients and to make me a blessing to those I would cross paths with. Can I truly live up to my self-professed identity as a follower of Christ every day, even when it is difficult or inconvenient? The prayer served as a reminder that being Christ-like is something that permeates beyond a Sunday service. British theologian Leslie Newbigin wrote, “Live your life in such a way that people ask you questions to which the gospel is the answer.” The connectedness with God through prayer reminds me of my unshaken identity as His much-loved daughter and that the Lord is a never-ending source of strength from which I can draw in abundance.
The three changes I made were not difficult ones because I am effortlessly drawn to family, nature and God, yet growing in connection with them has made all the difference in my response to some of the struggles in life. Some of life’s circumstances may not be within our control to easily alter, but we can be flexible, and reach out for the low-hanging resources available to us to influence a positive change in perspective.
The New Year is a perfect time to commit to making little changes that have lasting effects. When do you feel most alive? What keeps you most grounded? With whom do you spend time where you feel most valued and loved? These are a few questions to ponder as you find the things you connect with, which can make all the difference.