Overcoming the Pressures of 'Living Your Best Life'

Jennifer Frank, MD


November 19, 2021

It's very on-trend right now to "live your best life." I hear this everywhere – from my sister describing how my 8-year-old niece is living her best life by embracing school and a budding gymnastics career to a friend's husband battling stage 4 cancer who is trying to live his best life in the time remaining. Truthfully, what I once found positive and aspirational — live your best life — has become another obligation and worry — am I living my best life? What does that even mean? How do I figure it out? What do I need to do to live my best life?

These questions join the growing list of open files in my brain. In my search for living my best life, I spend too much time analyzing my own moment-to-moment feelings. There is actually an entire app called MyLife Meditation: Mindfulness where you can record how you are feeling throughout the day. Ugh! I don't need any more ways to monitor my own self-improvement or help me with self-management.

At a certain point, the quest for living my best life is actually sapping my enthusiasm. Is vegging out in front of Netflix living my best life because I am honoring my need to relax, or is it not living my best life because I'm not engaged in an intellect-boosting, character-building enterprise?

In order to live my best life, I am supposed to get awesome sleep every night, maintain a healthy gut microbiome, live with authenticity (does giving a bad driver the finger count?), own my experience (as if I was able to rent it out for cash money), meditate and journal, exercise (but not too much or in the wrong way), use the right cosmetics and creams to look 10 years younger (hey, living my own experience does not extend to wrinkles or gray hair), and eat only whole and unprocessed foods.

It's downright exhausting.

When you add all this self-actualization on top of being a physician in 2021, it becomes overwhelming. I've started re-reading a mystery series I enjoyed as a college student. It is set in 1980s Boston, and I find it soothing to temporarily enter a world where when you leave your house the only way someone can reach you is to mail you a letter or come find you.

In addition to the absence of texting and email, there is also a more simple and straightforward way of living your life. Less navel-gazing and more outward involvement in the world around you. Less self-reflection and more conversation. Less pressure (unless someone is trying to murder you — it is a mystery series after all) and more relaxation.

Our efforts to optimize everything — from our afternoon snack to the organisms that live in our intestines — extend to the exam room. I'm experienced (or old) enough to remember when I would pick up the patient's chart and walk in the room and ask them what I could do for them that day. The patient largely set the agenda, and I really focused on what their concerns were. Now, each primary care visit is an opportunity to catch the patient up on all screenings, labs, immunizations, screen for depression, update their HCC diagnoses, check the boxes in the template, and engage in shared decision-making for everything from COVID vaccine to antibiotics for sinusitis. I'm sure these visits are as draining for the patients as they are for me at times.

Work-life balance is about more than the balance between the professional and the personal. It is also the balance between what helps you live your best life — whatever that means to you — and optimizing every single thing you do. It's about the balance between a salad and a bowl of mint chocolate chip or the balance between the simple human connection of a patient visit and the important preventive health interventions.

How do you live your best life without losing your mind? What does it mean to you to live your best life?

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About Dr Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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