The award-winning medical practitioner follows her heart to pursue other passions and live a life she loves
Just over ten years ago, I had a very different view of success. This explains, in part, why I got so totally lost – and why I was so unsuccessful. To the world, I looked like a classic success: a young doctor who had won all kinds of academic awards, now an emergency medicine resident at a top trauma hospital.
Except I couldn’t stand what I was doing and was totally miserable.
If you base your definition of success on how everyone else seems to define it, it will get you into trouble. You may have lots of money and possessions, and people will admire and even envy you for them, but you will eventually hit a wall and hit it hard. Being an entrepreneur, in particular, is very difficult. If you’re not doing it because you deeply want to do it, and don’t personally believe deeply in your own business, you either won’t make it to the other side or will feel empty when you get there.
And if you reach what you have defined as success, but get there without your health or relationships intact, or you don’t have a sense of meaning from what you’ve accomplished, you may also find yourself wishing you’d done things differently.
When I crashed and burned, I seized my desperation as an opportunity to recreate my life. I became determined to build a life that would feel successful on my terms, even if the world thought I was crazy.
My second attempt at success was much more unconventional yet much more successful on all levels. I remember the day that I fully realized what I had managed to accomplish: I was living in a little beach villa in Cabo, Mexico, performing for and teaching dance to celebrities, being invited to speak across North America, and running a thriving life and health coaching business.
I was so much happier and healthier, and decided to look back and figure out how I’d reinvented myself and my entire life so that I could help others enjoy the same kind of success, not just in their careers but across all aspects of their life. In my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You, I share how I transformed myself from a depressed, frustrated emergency physician into a health and happiness expert who speaks, writes, coaches, consults and gives commentary to international media, in addition to a professional flamenco dancer. It still amazes me.
Here are the seven steps, which I hope will help you achieve deeply fulfilling success on multiple levels in your life:
Allow yourself to be you.
What talents and passions define you? Are you personally passionate about your business or career? Does it inspire you and resonate so much with you that you’d be willing to do whatever it takes to make it work?
Both my personal and business life began to flourish when I decided to show up as the real me. My big shift came during a stress leave I took when I hit rock bottom during my emergency medicine residency.
I took a tropical vacation, and while resting and recovering I had two epiphanies: (1) While watching a salsa dance team perform one night, I remembered that when I was a little girl I had been obsessed with becoming a dancer and (2) while writing in my journal, I discovered that I wanted to be a writer.
I realized that to save my life, I’d have to start honouring the real me. I went home, resigned from my residency and got my licence to practice as a general practitioner/family doctor. I signed up for salsa dance lessons and started submitting articles to magazines. I developed a new vision for my life in which I generate all my income from activities I was born or love to do. Not all passions lend themselves to generating income, but you’d be surprised how many do.
By nurturing my unique talents (such as dancing) and following the strange things nudged by my heart, such as moving to Mexico and starting a flamenco dance company, I lived myself into a business model that I didn’t even know existed. I never thought I’d publish a book about my life story, or that my dancing would add a unique, highly marketable element to my business as a motivational speaker.
Your unique talents and personality, leveraged and marketed in a creative way, make you and your business stand out and succeed in a crowded market. Don’t be afraid to be different – celebrate it and watch what happens.
Learn to love yourself.
To survive and thrive in an intense business environment, you need to learn to be good to yourself. Support yourself in every way that you can. Observe which people give you energy, nurture you and make you laugh, then spend time with them, even if it’s just a quick phone call.
Be patient and forgiving with yourself: allow yourself to make mistakes, and praise yourself for taking actions and risks. Fill your mind with positive thoughts. Inspirational books and stories about successful people keep me going when I start doubting or feeling afraid. Stay away from negative influences.
You can’t be everything to everybody, so don’t try. Focus on what counts most, do your best and love yourself even if you fall short of your ideals.
Honour your body.
I have both a degree in medicine and dietetics, yet the love for my work often overrides my knowledge of wellness and balance, and I end up pushing myself too hard. Thankfully, my body starts to complain if I take this too far – I might catch a cold or my back begins to ache or I get grumpy, weepy or tired.
What’s your body telling you? Are you listening?
Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. I often tell clients that in order to reach your peak potential in business, you need to treat yourself like a high-performance athlete. Pay attention if you’re starting to wear down and take some downtime before your body forces you to. Try to take at least one absolute day off a week (no work or business emails allowed).
Get enough sleep and eat healthy proteins, whole grains and as many fruits and vegetables as you can throughout the day. Drink lots of water and resist the temptation to jolt your body into short-lived productivity through excess caffeine or sugar. With good fuel, regular rest and exercise (even just a 20-minute brisk walk around the block), you’ll have the physical and mental focus, health and energy you need to succeed over the long haul.
Rescue and revitalize your relationships.
Taking time regularly to connect with others can be protective of your health and critical to meaningful professional success. Try to learn something personal about every person involved with your business. Don’t assume that friends and family will be there once your business is finally running itself (especially if you ignore them for long periods of time!).
I’m naturally introverted, so I have to work hard at tending to my relationships. If your significant other, children or friends complain about the time you spend working, try to do something with them as soon as you can, however small, to show them how important they are. And please don’t check your phone constantly when you’re with people. When I get the urge, I’ll sit on my hands if I have to.
Get a life.
Business people and entrepreneurs run a high risk of focusing on business to the exclusion of everything else. Though we’re usually creative and visionary people, we can lose that magic through the slog of running a business, especially if we never manage to step away.
To prevent burnout, take breaks, get outside, go on mini-adventures in your own town, and take a vacation whenever you can. Spend a weekend being silly with whoever you love most in the world. Seize any opportunity to laugh. It will rejuvenate you and help you to continue to access the creativity you need to solve problems and build your business.
Make room for the divine.
Study after study has shown that people with a spiritual belief system enjoy better physical and mental health. If you believe that there’s a greater force at work in the world and your life, and that there’s a reason for all that happens, good or bad, it deeply transforms your experience of “failure,” crisis and disappointment. When you know you’re not alone in this world, you will find it much easier to soar above any setbacks. At least that’s been my experience.
Make someday today.
Putting off what counts will kill your dreams, ideas and business. If you have a great idea, take the first step to start executing it, whether it’s researching competitors online or checking out potential suppliers.
If you’re suffering from “lone ranger syndrome” and trying to do it all yourself, find an intern or virtual assistant to take some pressure off you so you can focus on what you do best. If there’s a special trip or activity you always talk about with a friend or loved one, find an opportunity to do it. Don’t wait until you retire or sell your business to live a meaningful life that you love.
Follow these seven steps and your entire life will bloom and thrive, right alongside your business.