Over the last few days, I've come to a realization that much of the dissatisfaction I have with life - which isn't much, truly - comes from distractedness. Diffusion of my attention across a bunch of interests, disparate goals and lingering fantasies of possible other lives.
In high school, my cross country coach did his best to drill into our mushy, teenaged heads that the key to success in life is the avoidance of distractions. "No distractions" was his motto. He meant it in the context of cross country success - but he also meant it for life. Good grades and running - those were the two things he wanted us focused on. Distractions, for Coach, included (foremost) girls, TV, video games and other "time wasters."
As many of us realize as we grow up, the adults in our childhood were right about many things. For me, I've always been plagued with distractions. Girls, definitely - though they've been the source of much happiness too, and especially now that I am in a stable relationship. TV, movies, games - yes, I've always been a movie lover and addict to certain TV series. Books have been a major distraction. I love them. I buy them. I even sometimes read them.
But more deeply, my distractions have been in my own mind. When I get bored or negative about my work as a physician, I start to get distracted by fantasies of "what I could have been," or "what else I could be doing." These kinds of thoughts undermine my motivation to stay engaged in my real-life job: doctoring well. I slack off in my reading of medical literature and don't stay as up-to-date. I go through the motions in supervising and teaching residents. I coast on what I've already learned, and don't learn much else.
So, this week, I re-committed to the choices I've made in life. I have one life to live, and as Irvin Yalom quotes in his wonderful book about mortality, Staring at the Sun, "things fade; alternatives exclude." I've chosen this path. It is mine to make of what I will, and coasting, half-assing it, wishing I was somewhere else, is not going to ease the path for me. I've chosen, and other paths are thereby excluded. I can't go back and become a history professor, nor an FBI agent, nor a lawyer, nor an astronaut (to name but a few alternatives I considered) any more than I can go back and re-live my days in cross country.
Time to grow up, shed distractions, and get re-engaged with the task at hand.