“How do you balance medical school and CrossFit?” This is the one question to which it seems everyone wants to know the answer. I usually just smile or laugh and remark with a similar expression of perplexity, “I don’t know either – I’m still trying to figure it out!” I could talk about time management tips and strategies for maximizing efficiency, but those who are close to me know that I am far from mastering any of these skills. The truth of the matter is that in my experience, more importantly than time management, achieving balance begins with defining reasonable goals.
Last year, I entered medical school at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine with a goal of also competing in the 2012 CrossFit Games. With a good understanding of the first-year curriculum, I knew that it would be possible to dedicate the necessary time to training while still fulfilling my medical school requirements. Knowing that the path toward these two tasks I was simultaneously attempting to surmount would be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining, it was also important for me to spend time reflecting on why I wanted to pursue each one. As the year progressed, this reflection would prove invaluable as I reminded myself of these reasons with each moment of doubt, frustration, or exhaustion along the way, empowering me to steadily press forward. The incredible support of family and close friends in and out of the gym also kept me focused and reminded me of what is truly most important in life.
Based purely on my own limited experience, here is my best advice for achieving balance:
- Identify your goals and what motivates you, deep down, to achieve them. Why do you want to compete in the CrossFit Games? Or pursue a particular degree, or job? Will this reason be enough to sustain you when the path toward this goal becomes dark and windy?
- Decide how much time you have to dedicate to each goal. No matter who you are, there are only 24 hours in a day. My engineering degree is more than a year old now, but I can still do this math: the more goals you have, the less time you have to spend on each one. Family, friends, jobs, etc are all important – prioritize and make sure you spend time on the things that matter most to you.
- Work like crazy with the time you have dedicated to each goal to reach and surpass it. Give 100% effort to whatever you are doing in each moment of time.*
- Have reasonable expectations. If you only dedicate 3 hours per week to training, no matter how hard you work during those 3 hours it might be unreasonable to expect to stand on top of the podium at next year’s CrossFit Games (but hey, who’s to say?).
- Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others who have completely different lives and sets of goals. If you are dedicating 3 hours per week of training it would be hard to compare yourself to another athlete in the CrossFit Games Open or Regionals who has the luxury of putting in 15 hours. Stand firm in your original motivations and the goals you set for yourself and celebrate each of your personal accomplishments.
- Take time to reflect. As you work steadily toward your goals, it is important to periodically stop and notice your progress. Notice whether your goals or motivations have changed, and re-direct as necessary.
*Note: This in itself is a lofty goal and one that I struggle most with!
Now comes the hard part: it is time to take my own advice. As I look toward the upcoming year, I again must define my goals and ask myself why I am choosing to pursue each one. This second year of medical school is a critical one in my program, with increased classroom commitments and a significant demand to prepare for the first medical board exam in June. As I pursue my goal of becoming the best physician I can be, this year stands out as one that will lay the groundwork for caring for patients in the future. Recognizing the importance of this goal and the time commitment necessary to pursue it, I know that this year it must be prioritized above others, including competing in the 2013 CrossFit Games. As much as it pains me to consider not competing in the sport I love, that has become a part of who I am and who I aspire to become, I know that in this particular year, I have another goal that has to take precedence. I have considered every possibility (believe me, every possibility), and I have decided that rather than giving half an effort to medical school and half an effort to the CrossFit Games this year, I must shift my focus to dedicating a full effort to school and the board exam.
It is important to set our goals high and to push ourselves beyond what we think we are capable of so that we may ultimately reach our full potential. I believe it is also important to remember that we are human – and that some goals are just too important to sacrifice. I would never want to look back on this year and my career and wonder whether I could have done better had I not been distracted by training for the CrossFit Games. This year my goal is to crush the USMLE Step 1 exam, and in order to reach my full potential in this endeavor I know it requires me to sacrifice training for the 2013 CrossFit Games. But don’t you worry – I’ve still got my eye on the top of the podium in 2014, and training for that particular goal starts today.