By Valerie A. Kremer, 1st Year Naturopathic Doctoral Medical Student, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine
When I entered my first semester at naturopathic medical school, only five months ago, I wanted to do my best and get everything right. I quickly learned that with 11 classes on my plate each semester that was NOT going to be attainable. If I focused on making sure every little detail was in place, and that every t was crossed, I wouldn’t be able to get my assignments done on time, or sleep and take care of myself. This model had to become less rigid if I wanted to succeed — both in school and my own practice. So back to the drawing board I went.
I came to the hard realization that I would have to loosen my concept of what I felt was perfect or complete. Perfect is an illusion that I chased for a long, long time. I learned that there is no such thing as perfect. I tried SO hard to find it in so many ways. I always found that there was one more draft, more edits, more work to do, more rehearsing, more weight to lose, more things to buy, more and more and more. For me, a survivor of bulimia, searching for perfect led me to a very dark and lonely place in my teens, like being in a bottomless hole of despair. Once out of that hole, I knew I needed to find a new way to live. And that included new tools and a new outlook, while tossing out the word perfect from my vocabulary.
Today, I am glad I don’t have to resort to self-destruction when I can’t get to that ‘perfect place.’ Instead, my motto is one of compassion, self-love, and awareness. Many days, my motto is, “I am doing the best I can with what I have.” Some days I just keep repeating this and use it as a mantra. Other days, my mantra is simply “Thank you.” I am thankful that in naturopathic medical school, I have these tools to be gentle on myself when the going gets tough. Self-care has become one of the best tools in my toolkit.
In changing my strategy of tackling naturopathic medical school, I needed to settle for ‘good enough’ to be able to whack a DONE stamp on each project, conversation, meal, etc. What did that look like? How was it going to get done? Papers still had to be completed by their deadlines, exams still had to be written, workouts still had to be a part of my schedule, and I needed to be mindful and show up for the people around me. I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, at least all of the time, but I was going to try this strategy out and take it for a spin. It worked and led me to completing all 11 classes in my first semester.
Here are some tools I use to get to ‘done’ and ‘good enough:’
- Start with a vision and work on it each day. I knew what assignments were due ahead of time and how much time I had to work on them each day. I created drafts of them and just plugged away until I felt like I put in my best effort.
- Pause, breathe, and let God/universe/creator in the door first. Often we rush into a room or building without being mindful or aware. Before I enter a room, I take a pause, breathe, and allow something greater than me into the room first, and then I walk in. If I just rush in with all of my ego, worries, and concerns in first, I find that my experience is not as peaceful and just mostly ego-driven.
- Have realistic goals about what you can achieve each day. In my past career as a public affairs specialist for the Navy, I had so many tasks on my plate but still wanted to get it all done in less than 24 hours. I quickly realized that writing, studying, and being creative takes time. I had to bring that skill with me to medical school and realize that although it looked like I could get all of my assignments done in about 3 hours, I had to plan for at least 9 hours.
- Be gentle with yourself. During the process of competing each task, meeting, assignment, class, I need to be gentle with myself in what each of those outcomes will look like. It’s ok if they don’t go as planned or if every word I had prepared wasn’t said. At least each task is done.
- What to do with writer’s block? Agh! My biggest hurdle sometimes is writer’s block. I have found that if I breathe through it, ask the universe for the right words, they always come through. If I just let go and let the words flow through me, the outcome is always better.
As I come upon another 11 classes this semester, I will be using all of these tips to stay sane, healthy and humble. Hope they help you too! What tips do you use to help with productivity?
Mental Health Week Jan. 23-27, at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, gives us a time to reflect, learn great self-care practices, and how to avoid burnout, among others. For more information about what we are doing at CCNM during Mental Health Week, check out: https://www.facebook.com/MentalHealthCCNM/