Sonya M. Sloan, MD, shares how she has been able to balance her career as an orthopedic surgeon with family life.
There is a proverb that says, “You cannot have your cake and eat it too.” This age-old adage has been thrust upon women specifically throughout a historic change of women’s rights. Women now live in a time of empowering movement for the better. The belief that you can have something (or the thought of it) but cannot enjoy it simultaneously is an oxymoron. Thus yes, you can have your cake and eat it too…better yet…you can have it all.
As a female orthopedic surgeon, author, speaker, entrepreneur, owner of two nonprofits, the wife to a senior pastor of a mega-church in one of the largest cities in the country, and the mother of 13-, 11-, and 7-year-old children, I can honestly say yes, my life can be a little hectic. But I asked for all of it and then some. I am keenly aware that life does not always play fair nor follow any given pattern; but I submit to you my ultimate equation for having it all. I have learned that in life, having it all is about one’s perspective, near perfect timing, and an enormous amount of discipline.
The idea that you can juggle and have it all is not new. But to be successful at it, you must understand what you believe and why. Women have been shaped to believe and think a certain way by their parents, family, and other outside forces that I call the
“Disney Effect.” If you grew up in the past 60 years or so, you have been exposed to living “happily-ever-after.” Little girls have idolized and celebrated beautiful female characters whom invariably become a damsel in distress, requiring rescue by a prince or other “knight in shining armor.”
At best these characters demonstrated how strong women truly are, from surviving a poison apple from a wicked stepmother to living in a wooded forest with seven little men (side-eye). We as women had to believe in fairytales with magical fairy godmothers who could design contour ball gowns and glass slippers with the passing of a wand. The Disney-Effect has impacted little girls and mothers to become somewhat co-dependent on others and trivialized their own mind and power to make things happen.
Moreover, perspective is realizing that we have placated to images of women in media for the past half a century. What images did we see? Either the stay-at-home, pregnant woman whose sole care was taking care of her family. Or working women who were bullied, told they were inferior, and would never be on a man’s level, much less get paid the same money for the same job (think Mary Tyler Moore, Alice, or the mother from “One Day at a Time” — all sitcoms I grew up watching).
The one sided thrust of media’s perspective for what a woman should do and be has been skewed and historically written by men. Most women in media never had the option to live out their own passions or dreams.
The female characters played on prominent television shows would shape how women viewed themselves and the expectations society had for us: “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Good Times,” and so many more. The perspective you have for yourself has been shaped by what you have been exposed to, your belief systems, and your thought processes. You may not be totally convinced that you can have it all, but if your perspective changes to realize it’s a possibility you are taking the first step to fixing things.
Today, in an era of women’s movements, it has become easier to believe you can have it all. The role models and mentors vary from people like The Notorious RBG (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) who has changed the legal landscape for women’s rights. And then there is the Oprah-Effect, countering the Disney-Effect by helping women to dream big and feel good about themselves while doing it. How about Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton and the previous FLOTUS (First Lady of the United States) Michelle Obama, both showing the dichotomy of a woman’s role at various times in her life while still having it all. So today our girls and young women grow up with so much more perspective. Hopefully, they realize they can be successful and have it all.
I am a believer in the biblical context of Ecclesiastics 3:1 — to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heavens. That being said, understand that “having it all” comes in phases and at certain times in your life. In the early years of my practice of medicine, I operated as an orthopedic surgeon until I was eight months pregnant and could not reach the table any more. Being a surgeon didn’t faze me, but once I became a mother of three children, I admit that I had met my match. Being a new mother was so much harder than being a surgeon, but I appreciated the journey. I was not angry that I had to take a break from the operating table. I basked in the privilege of motherhood. I understood that nurturing these special people was critical, and they would not be little for long. So yes, you should live in the now. Experience what life has to offer at any given moment but be ready, willing, and able to adjust with the understanding it may be just for a season.
Lastly, and probably the most important trait you need if you want to have it all is discipline. Your discipline will help you focus and hone in on what really is important to you. If you know exactly what you want, obtaining it is a matter of following a series of steps, having lots of positive thoughts, saying a few prayers, and a having a great group of people around you to help and support.
May I suggest you start by finding your passion or something that drives you? Add to your passion with earnest time spent plus a few defined goals and a realistic schedule. Rome was not built in a day, having it all in your personal and professional life is not much different. Becoming a surgeon took 14 years, becoming a mother over 15 years, and becoming an author took four years — all were the experience of a lifetime for me.
What you do with your passion, goals, and time is predicated on your discipline. What is your follow through? Who supports you? How well do you adjust to what life throws at you? All of these factors will and can make you the woman you are destined to be. More importantly, with a change in your perspective, great timing, and a whole lot of discipline…you can have it all.
More from Dr. Sloan on achieving work/life balance:
A shorter version of this article also appeared in Physician Family Magazine.