As U.S. Advisor to Central Clinical Hospital of the President of the Russian Federation (CCH), I worked with my U.S. hospital partners and Russian colleagues to create a state-of-the-art International Patient Department (IPD). As a contractor, I also taught contingency planning, negotiation skills, and leadership to a cadre of future healthcare leaders.
I rented a small apartment (43 meters) not far from Red Square, at 8 Ulitsa Malaya Polyanka, and like they say in real estate, “Location, location, location.” Adjacent to the French Embassy, and the local Dannon Store, it was in a ‘safe’ area and within walking distance of two metro stations.
The Central Clinical Hospital of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation (Центральная клиническая больница c поликлиникой Управления делами Президента Российской Федерации) (also called “Kremlin Hospital”) is a heavily guarded, 10-Corpus (building) facility in an exclusive, wooded suburban area known as Kuntsevo. Many consider CCH to be the best hospital in Russia, and my colleagues on both sides of the ocean worked diligently to make it so. Forget HIPAA…patients included Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, multiple Ambassadors, and of course, President Boris Yeltsin.
For U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering, political violence was to be expected. Yet no one expected the turmoil that occurred in October of 1993 when the Russian White House burned. While Embassy staff were protected in the underground gymnasium within the compound, those of us less privileged professionals were subject to a firsthand view of the resistance. Deadly street-fighting ensued, and the streets were cleared of as many civilians as possible.
My friends at CCH were concerned for my safety, and their goal was to ‘place me in hiding for 24 hours’ and then escort me to Sheremetyevo II Airport for a swift departure to Western Europe or the U.S. They decided that the safest place to hide would be at Michurinsky Hospital, and that while I was ‘in hiding,’ I could also provide nursing care to the wounded. Among the wounded was a reporter from The New York Post, and I gladly provided care for the young man, contacted his mother in NYC by phone, and arranged for follow-up for him once he arrived home.
Although I was accustomed to working in the NIS/CEE countries for two weeks out of every month for over 10 years, and although I had worked in Bosnia, Herzegovina, Tirana, and beyond, I did not expect to be a part of an evacuation procedure. Although I had taught contingency planning in the International Nursing Leadership Institute (INLI), I did not anticipate practicing those contingencies myself. Forty-eight hours later, I was on a plane bound for the U.S. through Stockholm…and happy to be heading home!
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You probably remember the story of the man in the yellow hat, and his curious little sidekick, a monkey aptly named, “Curious George.” I read this book to my kids, and to my young grandkids, and I enjoyed the series more with each reading. Georgie, as we affectionately called him, was a class act, always one step ahead of the game, always CURIOUS.
Are you…curious, that is? Do you, as an adult, have the same level of curiosity that you exhibited as a young child – when everything was new and exciting – when you saw things through the eyes of an innocent child?
Some little-known facts about George: he lived in New York City (yes, the man with the yellow hat had a permit to keep him housed in a NY apartment). George is what is known as a ‘little monkey’ – yet, he has no tail, and that means that he is probably an ape.
The book, written by Hans Augusto Rey and Margret Rey has been popular for decades among children of all ages. What makes George so attractive? It is his sense of curiosity, of course.
The master of childhood entertainment, Walt Disney, once said, “We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
Are you ready to enter a new path? Are you prepared to learn more, do more, and to be more? Perhaps it is time to stay curious…just like George, and never stop questioning.
Think stress doesn’t have an impact on your body, your memory, and your outlook on life?
Check out these statistics:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60% to 70% of all disease and illness is stress-related.
- An estimated 75% to 90% of visits to physicians are stress related.
- According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 60% of women surveyed said work stress was their biggest problem.
- Job pressures cause more health complaints than any other stressor, says the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Resisting Change: The Allure of the Status Quo
I can guess what you’re thinking… here’s one more thing I have to worry about. Let me tell you straight away that when you invest in the program I’m about to share with you, your whole life will improve.
Some helpful information about stress
You can’t – nor do you ever want to – eliminate stress altogether. Some stress is beneficial. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that stress by itself is never actually harmful or bad. It’s your reaction to stress that creates problems.
We’re simply trained to ignore the signs of stress in an attempt to keep the problems at bay. No wonder: changing life-long behaviors is in itself stressful.
This is a classic mind-body disconnect.
The Three Phases of Stress
As you know, just being in business today creates stress. Here’s how most people react to a stressor (such as: earnings announcement, problem at home, manufacturing flaw, countless and mind-numbing meetings):
- First, in what is called the “Alarm Phase”, they react to the stressor. This might result in a burst of anger, shock, or surprise.
- Second, they move into the “Resistance Phase,” when they begin to adapt to the stressor. They learn to cope with the dysfunction, lack of sleep, or 16-hour work days. This phase can last for years, and after awhile will feel very “normal.”
- Third, the body finally loses steam. They go into the “Exhaustion Phase,” where their ability to resist is reduced. They’ll feel tired, unable to concentrate, and will often catch colds or become ill – the body’s way of slowing them down.
I know from experience that there are many ways to more effectively handle the everyday stressors, as well as those big once-in-awhile stressors. I’ve taught meditation, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and disseminated countless bits of information on general nutrition and the benefits of regular exercise.
But, I can’t be there with you to keep you going when all bedlam breaks loose at the office. And, in times of trouble, the first thing to go – always – is personal care. I don’t care if you’re the CEO or the Janitor. When stressors hit, self-care is the first thing to go.
At what point in your childhood did you ever experience bullying and a feeling of ‘not belonging?’ How did you respond? Who did you tell? Who did you turn to, and what was the outcome? Did you ever feel as if you were not a member of the team, a cherished friend and colleague, and equal counterpart? Chances are your response is, “Yes.”
Think “Dory” – an adorable, memory-challenged hatchling living the safe life with mom and dad – not a fear in the world, other than the frequent memory lapses. Fast forward to adventure, the process of growing up, finding friends within the Marine Life Institute, and paying it forward. Dory is able to overcome chaos and in the process, celebrate her cognitive and physical differences. She is indeed ‘different’ and yet, so very special. Dory teaches viewers that solidarity and kinship matter – that friends and family are critical to one’s being.
Forget bullying and being excluded from the group, the team, the game! Embrace the story and Dory’s true strengths as she demonstrates inclusivity at its finest!
Sunbathing, swimming, barbequing and outdoor sports are all part of summertime fun. However, without the right precautions these leisure activities can be major hazards and lead to skin cancer, heat stroke, food poisoning, dehydration and drowning.
Health Hazzard #1: Skin Cancer
This is the most common form of cancer in the United States- one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime. Due to the increased amount of time people spend outside during the summer months, overexposure to the sun’s rays can lead to skin cancer.
People Who Have a Higher Risk for Skin Cancer:
- Have spent a long amount of time in the sun or have been sunburned
- Have fair skin, hair and eyes
- Have a family member who has had skin cancer
- Are over the age 50
Preventing Skin Cancer
- Use sunscreen: Choose a sunscreen that uses at least SPF 15.
- Wear protective clothing: Wear clothing and hats to protect your skin from harmful rays.
- Avoid Direct Sun: Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is when the sun’s rays are strongest. Avoid prolonged sun exposure during this time.
Health Hazard #2: Heat Stroke
This form of hyperthermia occurs when the body cannot rid itself of heat. Heat stroke is caused by extreme heat, high humidity or vigorous activity in the sun.
Symptoms of Heat Stroke
- Disorienation or confusion
- Hot, dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty
- Fatigue and headache
- Rapid heart beat
Preventing Heat Stroke
- Drink Fluids: Hydrate your body with water frequently when participating in outside activities.
- Avoid coffee, soda, tea and alcohol; these can actually cause dehydration.
- Plan for the Day: Schedule outside activities before or after the hottest times of the day (between 10
- a.m. and 4 p.m.).
- Dress Appropriately: Wear light-weight, loose-fitting clothing.
Health Hazard#3: Food Poisoning
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are about 76 million cases of food poisoning each year. Due to the use of grills and coolers, and food being left out in the sun, food poisoning increases drastically during the summer months.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low grade fever
- Diarrhea and abdominal cramping
Preventing Food Poisoning
- Smart Shopping: Look at expiration dates while shopping, and get your frozen section items last before heading home. Look for supermarkets that have clean deli sections and that keep food at the correct temperature.
- Washing: Even produce you peel needs to be washed before consumption. Don’t forget to also wash your hands, countertops, knives and cutting boards for each food item.
- Temperature: Bacteria multiply the fastest between 40 and 140 degrees. Make sure that you cook meat thoroughly and keep foods needing refrigeration cold. Make sure to also reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees before eating.
Health Hazard #4: Dehydration
Your body’s weight being 75 percent water, it is extremely important to replenish your body frequently. Dehydration is when the amount of water leaving the body is greater than the amount going in it.
Causes of Dehydration
- Drink Water: Because your body releases so much water, (through sweating, bowel movements, and breathing) you need to rehydrate it with water often. A good rule of thumb is to drink one ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight each day.
- Avoid Heat: Again, planning outdoor activities before or after the hottest part of the day will lower your chances of dehydration. Also, remember to take advantage of shaded areas which can be up to 10 degrees cooler than areas in the direct sun.
Health Hazard #5: Drowning
Each year more than 3,000 people die from drowning, and nearly 20 percent of child drowning deaths take place at a public pool where a trained lifeguard was on the scene. With summertime fun, remember safety when it comes to water activities.
Water Safety Tips
- Put a fence around all pools and spas.
- Always wear life jackets, especially in open water areas. Do not let yourself or children swim alone.
- Take CPR and life-saving classes.
From infusion to evolution
I am often asked how I could write infusion therapy textbooks for 25 years, and then write about work/life balance. How is it possible to shift paradigms so dramatically and connect the dots? I am often asked how I could possibly transition from the world of sick-care and chronic disease to the wonderful world of wellness. What was the trigger that I was out of balance, and that I needed to do something about it? And, how, after so many years, could I evolve into a wellness professional and seek balance for myself?
My story could easily be your story. Working 100+ hours per week, and well aware of the toll that this schedule placed on my own body/mind/family/relationships, I knew that something had to change. And, it was my global work colleagues who introduced me to the concept of work/life balance.Picture this. During the month of August, hospitals in the former Soviet Union traditionally close to allow time for the staff to visit a remote Sanatoria for a 24-day respite. Who do you know in this country that offers 24 days of vacation time to all employees, regardless of status, and then mandates that they actually take the time for a much-needed rest? Maternity leave in that part of the world is a minimum of two years, during which your job is held for you! Who do you know in this country that offers extended parental leave time equal to two years? If you are like me, no one measures up to those standards. And while I was not considering parental leave for myself, nor would I ever stay in one place long enough for a 24-day rest, I did start to think about working less and playing more. I was intrigued by the concept of a life in balance and what that might look like.
Picture this. During the month of August, hospitals in the former Soviet Union traditionally close to allow time for the staff to visit a remote Sanatoria for a 24-day respite. Who do you know in this country that offers 24 days of vacation time to all employees, regardless of status, and then mandates that they actually take the time for a much-needed rest? Maternity leave in that part of the world is a minimum of two years, during which your job is held for you! Who do you know in this country that offers extended parental leave time equal to two years? If you are like me, no one measures up to those standards. And while I was not considering parental leave for myself, nor would I ever stay in one place long enough for a 24-day rest, I did start to think about working less and playing more. I was intrigued by the concept of a life in balance and what that might look like.
Perhaps you have had the same experience…perhaps you realize that your work and home life are intertwined and that there is no longer time for you and those near and dear to you. Perhaps you have thought, “What if I could take that much-needed vacation, attend that graduation, or just relax?”
The Art of Reinvention
I chose to reinvent myself as a wellness professional with a focus on health prevention and promotion, rather than on managing chronic disease and acute illness. I thought about the words of Harold Whitman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I decided to come alive, enjoy life, family, career, and more – and to write about the experience.
It’s time to reinvent a new us that will take us through our second adulthood. I have done it, and so can you. So who are you? Who do you want to be when you grow up – a question that my kids often ask of me? This time, you get to decide.
Use these steps to relieve the stressors that are holding you back:
Decide what’s most important in your life.
Identify three areas of your life that are most important; for me, the three include (1) health and well-being, (2) family, and (3) professional work. If health is a priority for you, take time to achieve it. Eat well, be well, do well – begin an exercise program, if you have not already done so.
Know your purpose.
Life purpose is what gives meaning to our lives and a reason why we are here on earth. Each individual life has a natural reason for being. Think about what brings you the greatest joy in your life, and pursue it.
To be successful in our lives, we must set goals. So, know your purpose, and then set goals. In order to be a goal, it must first be specific and measurable.
Know your Limitations
We just do not know how to say ‘no.’ In B is for Balance, I talk about ‘no’ being a complete sentence, and it is okay to learn how to use the word to bring balance to our lives. If something does not fall within your priorities, it is okay to say the magic word, ‘no.’ You must avoid taking on more than you can possibly handle. Negotiate for workplace balance by knowing yourself and your limitations. “No” can be the best time management tool that you have!
How to Seek Help
Successful, balanced professionals are not afraid to ask for help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and reaching out is an admirable skill. Be acutely aware of the stressors in your schedule and in your life. Know thyself first! Manage yourself, and take advantage of counseling, coaches, professional peers, mentors and more.
Knowing my limitations allowed me to transition from the sick-care industry to the wellness industry. I connect those dots by using my nursing platform to share the wonderful world of wellness – one that is available to you as well, with you live a life in balance.
I just saw Zootopia! I have seen lots of kids’ movies and to see them with one’s grandchildren is so much fun. I admit that I love some of the storylines, and that I walk away from others wondering what they were all about. Of course, I admit that it took me awhile to figure out Back to the Future, and it was not until the spiritual leader in our congregation gave a ‘message’ from Back to the Future that I actually got it!
Zootopia is different! In Zootopia, the first rabbit to join the police force learns that she has to go the extra mile to demonstrate her expertise, to reach the boardroom and the pinnacle of success. From the largest elephant to the smallest shrew, the city of Zootopia is a mammal metropolis where various animals live and thrive. When our heroine rabbit leaves her family of multiples behind and goes to the big city of Zootopia to forge her police career, she learns lessons that we can all use. Judy Hopps is the first bunny cop and she quickly learns how tough it is to enforce the law. She also discovers that breaking barriers can be an uphill climb, especially when the other cops in the force are imposing in size and personality.
Judy has what it takes – resilience and she jumps at the opportunity to solve a mysterious case even though it requires her to work with someone quite challenging, sly, and pushy. Might that describe someone with whom you have worked? Might you be Judy? Did you ever have to go the extra mile to prove your worth and to advance within your profession?
Zootopia teaches that stereotypes hurt everyone, bullying comes in all shapes and sizes, life is sometimes unfair, and change is possible! Is your mind open to the possibilities out there? Do you have what it takes to be Judy?
So you are the Chief – Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer or Chief Information Officer! What is that “C” contributing to your stress levels, and what are you willing to do to relieve the stress. Do you really think that stress doesn’t have an impact on your body, your memory, your ability to function as a Chief, and your outlook on life?
The numbers tell it all about body
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 60% to 70% of all disease and illness is stress-related.
• An estimated 75% to 90% of visits to physicians are stress related.
• According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association, 60% of women surveyed said work stress was their biggest problem.
• Job pressures cause more health complaints than any other stressor, says the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
I can guess what you’re thinking… here’s one more thing I have to worry about. As a senior executive, you need to worry! You can’t – nor do you ever want to – eliminate stress altogether. Some stress is beneficial. I’ll even go out on a limb and say that stress by itself is never actually harmful or bad. It’s your reaction to stress that creates problems. It’s your outlook that counts!
We’re simply trained to ignore the signs of stress in an attempt to keep the problems at bay. No wonder: changing life-long behaviors is in itself stressful. This is a classic mind-body disconnect.
The Three Phases of Stress
As you know, just being in business today creates stress, and at your level, stress is more prevalent. Here’s how most people react to a stressor (such as: earnings announcement, problem at home, manufacturing flaw, countless and mind-numbing meetings):
• First, in what is called the “Alarm Phase,” they react to the stressor. This might result in a burst of anger, shock, or surprise.
• Second, they move into the “Resistance Phase,” when they begin to adapt to the stressor. They learn to cope with the dysfunction, lack of sleep, or 16-hour work days. This phase can last for years, and after a while will feel very “normal.”
• Third, the body finally loses steam. They go into the “Exhaustion Phase,” where their ability to resist is reduced. They’ll feel tired, unable to concentrate, and will often catch colds or become ill – the body’s way of slowing them down.
I know from experience that there are many ways to more effectively handle the everyday stressors, as well as those big once-in-awhile stressors. I’ve taught meditation, mindfulness training, breathing exercises, and disseminated countless bits of information on general nutrition and the benefits of regular exercise. Perhaps, as the C-suite executive, it is time for you to learn how to relax!
Squeeze a few minutes of relaxation into each day
Far too many of us lead lives that are frenzied and hurried from the moment we wake up in the morning to the moment we crawl into bed at night. The more packed every moment of your day is the more you need to make time to relax; for a few minutes of deep breathing to 20 minutes of deep relaxation or yoga. Making this a habit will keep you in better stress shape for the day that chronic stress knocks on your door, which it almost certainly will if it hasn’t already. After all, in your senior position, the problems land at your door.
The human system can tolerate a tremendous amount of stress. Over the years, however, too much stress breaks down your resistance to illness and disease and impacts your memory. Remember, the negative consequences of your stress are strongly influenced by your rest habits. Since stress is unlikely to diminish in our high-pressured American lifestyle, take the time throughout your day for the natural unwinding of your stress response.
There are only 24 hours in each day
You don’t have time to rest, you say? You have more time than you think you do. You could:
• Do deep breathing while driving to work and during other stressful moments throughout your day.
• Get up 15 minutes earlier and spend the time doing deep relaxation, yoga or journaling.
• Take 2 minutes several times a day to tense tight muscle groups for 10 to 15 seconds, and then relax them completely. Repeat this two to three times each round.
So you are the Chief
How is the C-Suite treating you today? There is no better time to consider the actions that you will take to enhance your role and to preserve your ability to function as a Chief.
About the Author
Sharon is an energetic, motivating and highly skilled speaker who educates others, enriches their lives, and empowers them to achieve balance in their own lives. Sharon draws on her own life experiences to help others gain control of their life purpose. Sharon is Adjunct Clinical Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, College of Nursing and a member of the Kaplan University School of Nursing Advisory Board. She is a Fellow of the American College of Wellness and the American Academy of Nursing.
Sharon is a member of the National Speakers Association, and she’s available to address Stress Management with your C-Suite executives!
Let’s face it…all good stories begin that way. Think about the stories your parents or a caregiver told you as a child! Think about the stories that you have told to those in your care: children, grandchildren and more! Chances are that you started your bedtime stories the same way. It did not matter if the story was within the pages of a well-worn book, or one that you created ad-lib. I have found that my young grandchildren particularly enjoy the stories that I tell from memory. Perhaps it is the tale of my husband and his cousin sliding down the laundry shute together as kids. Or, maybe it is the story of how we closed off our cul-de-sac and played street hockey for many years in New Jersey. A true favorite is how my husband used to drive to Beach Haven, NJ every Saturday to watch Batman in black and white with our young son. In those days, Batman was not available on Cherry Hill, NJ local television. Choices then were limited; there was no Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more. “Once upon a time” is now a series on Hulu – and it has taken on new meaning.
Stories of the past stemmed from one’s imagination, whether the storyteller was a tried and true author, or a tried and true caregiver. The goal was the same – to entice, to excite, and perhaps to enhance the experience and make it come to life! Storytelling awakens young minds to their past, to the present, and to the future. It develops the world of imagination and creative thinking. “Once upon a time” is a phrase that all kids should know – regardless of their socioeconomic background and demographics. The adventure might begin at one’s local library, in a classroom, or at home. Storytelling unlocks the doors to adventure…and once upon a time…can begin today!
Do you eat better during the holidays – more fruits and veggies – but the same amount of snack foods? If so, you are possibly doubling your caloric intake rather than controlling it. How will you survive holiday eating? And, how will that prepare you for a New Year?
For years, society has tried to assure ambitious young women that if they worked hard enough, they could juggle both a high demanding career and a family. However Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, says otherwise. Sandberg admitted that balancing both worlds is extremely difficult but a necessity if we wish to have more women leaders in the workforce.
What about the rest of us? As women, we do everything for others before we do anything for ourselves; in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we are ‘Earth’ personalities who care for others first. We are givers! We are nurturers and caregivers, and we always provide support for others – at home and at work! But, we are also capable, creative, and resourceful; that is why we are so adept at multitasking and can outwork many of the men in our lives.
Perhaps it is time to get unstuck – because as a working woman, you can accomplish balance by focusing on these 7 balance strategies:
Decide what’s most important in your life.
Know your purpose.
Know your limits
Know how to seek help
Have the Right People in the Right Seats on the Bus
Utilize the “I’ll think about it overnight theory.”
Good employers recognize the value of good employees and are often willing to find or create ways to help employees deal with family situations by making short-term or permanent changes in work schedules. Options include flextime, job-sharing, telecommuting, and part-time employment. If you know your skills, abilities, and performance record are strong and valued, you have a solid footing for negotiating flexible work arrangements. If you are your own employer, rethink your business goals and prioritize time for yourself!!!
When your work life and personal life blend together under the guise of “multi-tasking,” both suffer. When you are at work, focus on the job to be done. When you are finished with work, don’t bring it home with you. Make time for your personal life and your personal health. Take time for you.
If your work materials are dispersed throughout nearly every room of your house, you have no place for a real retreat. You’re not spending high-quality time with friends or family members if you’re talking on your cell phone or checking your email when you’re with them. Take time to focus exclusively on your friends and family members when you’re with them; then you won’t feel guilty when you have to concentrate on work. Create high-quality work and personal experiences for yourself by keeping them separate. Follow these proven methods to attain and maintain the work/life balance that you, as a working woman, need and deserve. Don’t listen to what society says…listen instead to your inner self!
We often speak of our personal and professionals lives as if they are subsumed; in ways, they are because each of us given but one life to life. And, in order to make the most of that life, we need to maintain work/life balance…a barometer for well being…
I have found that the best way to begin is by keeping it simple, and keeping it simple is indeed a voluntary process and well within your realm. T. S. Eliot wrote, “Finding a way to live the simple life is one of life’s supreme complications.” Each of us, at one time or another, has felt overwhelmed. We hesitate to take a holiday because when we return, the paperwork will be piled sky-high. We hesitate to attend a professional development program because when we return, our development will be stifled by his amount of work that has been generated during our absence. The sheer complexity of our lives creates internal distress and can wreak havoc on our bodies. Dis-tress is a contributor to dis-ease, and we know what they can do to our minds as well as to our bodies. The cardiac system is over-stimulated, the immune system is suppressed, and our hormones are out of balance,
Complexity is addictive, and we cannot always find a way out. I know because I’ve been there. As a multi-tasker, I enjoy doing multiple things at the same time. I enjoy the challenge of the delicate balance between reasonable levels of work and overload. My life is now simplified compared to how it was between 1992 and 2004 when I worked about 100 hours per week and traveled monthly to countries in Eastern Europe. Now, with a 40 plus hour work week that is self-imposed, I feel as if I have simplified dramatically. I have the time that I need to work, write, teach, be with family, and give back to society. When I was first introduced to the concept of work/life balance in 2002, I realized that I needed radical change in my own life if I was to walk the talk. I understood what a positive impact simplification could have on my work, my family, and my health…and I set out on a mission to simply my own life.
For me, this required a huge paradigm shift. Think back to your own childhood. My dad was a contractor, so we had lots of bathrooms in our home, and even with 5 kids sharing bedrooms, we did not have to share a bath. My best friend’s family consisted of mom and dad, plus two teenage girls. They had a 4 bedroom home with only one bathroom, and there were constant battles to see who got to use the bathroom first. If someone had a date, or required additional prep time, the coveted space could be tied up for quite some time. One thing that we did lack was closet space, and most hanging space seemed to come from freestanding dressers with closet rods. When I think of how our own kids have grown up, with private rooms most of the time, luxury kitchens, wonderful yards, a phone in every room and more…I wonder how we existed. When our daughters ask me how we existed without something as simple as pantyhose, I smile and think back of the days of nursing school with garter belts and hose.
And then, I think about today’s young people with computers in every room, DVD, HDTV, cellular phones, IPOD and more. I think about the luxuries that they consider necessities and how complicated their lives are with so many gadgets. I think of our own PDAs and blackberries, and how simple our own lives would be without such devices.
Do we truly clutter our lives with far too many things? In my travels to less developed countries, I witnessed firsthand how simple things could be. Immediately following the earthquake in Yerevan, Armenia, the only decent housing was found in a former government hotel. Although there was neither heat nor hot water, there was a roof over my head and a clean bed. While there was not food in the hospital, our hosts found moldy bread to eat, and we ate it repeatedly for weeks – sometimes with cheese or tomato sauce – but always with an appreciation for what we had. Although it was impossible to get hot water in a tub, it was possible to use an electric coil to warm some water and use it to rinse the shampoo out of one’s hair. And, although our colleagues lacked so much…they had a refinement of spirit and a passion for their work that was unsurpassed. They lived the simple life…nearly a sparse life…but a life of gratitude.
I always thought that I had a strong work ethic – I worked until, and beyond the time that a job was done. One of my supervisors once paid me the ultimate compliment when he said, “You’re my only finisher.” I attributed that to the fact that most of our staff was fresh out of university, and that as someone who had been working since age 14, I was accustomed to giving 100% plus. I always believed that anything worth doing was worth doing well.
When I hosted delegations here, I always hoped that they would take back the good things that they could learn and not imitate our mistakes. My colleagues marveled at my ability to juggle schedules, to consistently be tied to a phone as if it were an appendage, and to be on top of 30 projects simultaneously. What I mistook for admiration and respect might well have been sorrow – for the good times that I missed, for the family occasions that I skipped, for downtime. Although they worked long hours in less than ideal circumstances in their own countries, they led the simple life…they understood the need for simple pleasures.
A personal choice
Simplifying one’s life is a personal choice as well as a process. To start, examine all areas of your life and determine at least five that can be simplified. For example, in the housing market crunch, my home was for sale for more than one year. That meant that each and every day, the beds had to be made, the dishwasher filled, the laundry put away, the countertops clean. That meant fresh flowers in the kitchen and bathrooms and a decluttered environment. How does someone juggling multiple tasks declutter an environment – clear a desk in a home-based office? It is difficult…yet possible.
As a nursing student in a diploma school, we were often short-staffed. There may have been 40 patients on a ward with only a registered nurse, a student, and an aide. We all know that medications and treatments take priority, and we adjusted our time accordingly. If there was insufficient time for a full bath, we gave sponge baths or washed face, hands and bottoms. After all, no one ever died of dirt – they died of not having treatments done or not getting their medications. We simplified, and while we may not have been proud of the process, the outcomes were good.
So, think of five things in your own life, and then begin your process! Eat simpler foods, but eat as a family. Drop membership on a committee to free your time. Clear out the clutter in your life to make it easier to find things. Put things in their place. Do the laundry every other day, and straighten up – but do not clean up every day. Turn off the TV and spend TV time with the family.