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HomemicontactManaging the Pendulum of Life

Managing the Pendulum of Life

One of the most interesting sessions I’ve ever attended at a conference was titled, Life is a pendulum – have a chocolate, presented at the AUSCRS conference in Queenstown, NZ during July 2019.

The programme for the 2019 Australasian Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (AUSCRS) Conference described the session, Life is a pendulum – have a chocolate as follows; ‘There is much written about achieving life work balance and certainly this is pertinent to the vocation of becoming a physician and particularly an ophthalmic surgeon. The decisions that have to be made as one transitions through an early career, midlife success and transitioning to retirement can be daunting and perhaps a pendulum would be a more appropriate metaphor than a constant state of perfect balance.’

Many successful surgeons and doctors generally do not have balance in their lives…

Eight panel members representing these life phases shared statistics, along with their thoughts and experiences, in the illusive search for perfect balance. There was also plenty of audience participation.

It takes extreme commitment and passion to succeed above and beyond, and burning the midnight oil can take its toll. Decision making, as well as career and financial pressures can all cause stress. Prioritising things is essential, as one can only do so much. It may seem strange that doctors are stressed by financial pressures as most do rather well. Surgeons, for example, sit at the number one slot of top individual income earners in Australia. However, this comes after many years of working on a low income while studying, travelling for job opportunities, and often raising a family.


An all-in 100% focus on work can be complicated by the ebbs and flow of personal life that may, for example, involve taking time off for parental leave. However, after getting through those early stages, surgeons are usually successful and things become easier. Thereafter they enter their mid-career. For some the dreaded midlife crisis can throw a spanner in the works. Some take on too much, having not learnt how to say no. Goals and knowing what’s important are essential. Having a filter and being able to triage and prioritise things is vital. Participants at the session reported that as many as 87% of doctors are stressed beyond being productive, over 50% are in burnout territory, while 37% are thriving.

Obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar traits and psychopathic tendencies among some specialists were also mentioned. Some doctors may, during their career, require counselling; drugs and alcohol can be an issue.

It’s also important to note that you can’t rev non-stop at 14,000rpm like a Ferrari without blowing the engine – you may be enjoying the experience, but it won’t be good for you. Similarly, low performance and low enjoyment equals burnout. The pendulum swings.

Dr Steve Schallhorn, a former US top-gun fighter pilot turned ophthalmologist, made one of the most memorable comments at this session saying, “If you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right”. If there’s a work and life message to take on board, that’s it.

At some stage in their career, most surgeons study and work overseas. Doing so can be extremely stressful, as can immigration. This can be a good motivator, as it teaches humility. It can however also exaggerate the harsh realities of life and may add marital and financial pressures. Many doctors and optometrists can identify with this.

Surgeons need to have big egos and a degree of arrogance and self-belief to do what they do. Some liken it to a ‘God complex’, which carries its own pressures. The late Dr Lewis Thomas, respected doctor, educator, writer, and high achiever put it rather well saying, “Self-confidence is by general consent one of the essentials of the practice of medicine, for it breeds confidence, faith, and hope…”


Retirement can be a challenge but those with interests and hobbies outside their profession usually cope.

There is much more to this discussion. Many of us will experience some of the issues described during the various stages of our career. If you are suffering from burnout, stress or depression, don’t carry the burden alone. Seek help.

To read more about AUSCRS 2019, visit www.mivision.com.au/2019/09/crystalclear- auscrs-2019/