Originally published in "Discussions with Don S. Dizon" on The Oncologist.
It’s been a busy few months. In addition to professional transitions last fall, I continued to travel across the country and internationally, lecturing. I immersed myself in the significantly greater administrative responsibilities of my new role, with days scheduled for meeting with my new colleagues, fellows, institutional leaders, and staff. I loved it (still do). But, it also meant I wasn’t home often—and when I was, I would make dinner, eat dinner, retire to my office for a couple of hours, and go to sleep so I could wake early and do it all over again.
I had scheduled a week off in February, which coincided with winter break for my kids. I was looking forward to the time off, but being away for a week also made me anxious. I had so much to do—presentation deadlines to meet, travel arrangements to make, chapters to write, articles to edit, and the list goes on.
As my time off approached, I would come home to three kids very excited to be going away. They were immersed in vacation mode—what they were going to pack, what they wanted to do, wanting to know more about where we were staying. I would listen to them talk, answer their questions about Mexico, and we would sit at dinner talking about all things we could do. I got excited too, but I still had work to do. So typically, I would leave the dinner table and do more work.
Knock, knock. I looked up and my youngest daughter came in to my office.
“Dad, can I ask you a question?” she asked.
“Anytime, love!” I answered, looking up from my computer. “What’s up?”
“I can’t wait to go on vacation! It will be nice to be with you. You work so hard.” She said.
I smiled and said, “Me too, sweetie. It will be nice to get away.” With that, I returned to my work, punching keys on my laptop. A few minutes passed and I realized Sophie was still in my office, quietly watching me work.
“Did you need something else, sweetie? Daddy has a lot to do before we go on vacation,” I told her.
“No,” she said. “I just miss you. Do you mind if I sit here and stay with you?” she answered.
With that, I looked at my little girl, and I suddenly realized how much I wasn’t around. I also realized that if I wasn’t careful, she would grow up without my realizing it, and I would miss out on watching her, and the rest of my kids, grow up. With that one exchange, I knew what I had to do. I decided that when we left, I would use the week to be with my family. I would unplug: no smartphone, no work. I would ensure a partner covered my patients, turn on my out-of-office notification, and not answer emails.
What did I learn from unplugging? A lot, actually. First, the world went on without me. Patients got cared for, deadlines (though missed) were extended, and colleagues (both locally and not) stepped up to ensure critical issues were answered. While I have many roles, I am not as essential as I might imagine myself to be.
Second, unplugging let me experience a profound sense of relaxation. I was able to forget about deadlines, oncology practice, administration, and clinical trials. In their place, I marveled at the sea, enjoyed the sun, and the taste of local food and libations.
Most importantly, I got to rediscover my family. I made them laugh, and they made me laugh too. I hugged them often and held their hands, as we ate every meal together and enjoyed excursions around the local area, all as a family. I remembered that while my passion remains in my chosen profession, my family comes first.
And you know what? I came back even more energized to do what I needed to do. It turns out that the fuel I need to work on continued academic and clinical productivity came not from an internal driver, but from the support and love of those most important to me.