Have you ever thought that your life, your time, was not your own? I have! And, it was true in so many ways. My life is simplified now, compared to the years between 1992 and 2004, when I worked about 100 hours per week and traveled monthly to countries in Eastern Europe. At that time, I directed the office of international affairs for a large hospital alliance, and 50 percent of my time was sub-contracted to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). My role was to foster international partnerships between U.S. hospitals and their foreign counterparts. I loved the work, I loved the people with whom I interacted, and I loved my job. The hours were extreme, and I found myself in a constant state of catching-up and was always tired. Now, with a self-imposed work week of 40 hours, I feel I have dramatically simplified my life. I now have time to work, write, teach, be with family, and give back to society. I have simplified my life by keeping up with less, not more.
I’ve taken lessons learned in less developed countries to heart as I have simplified my life. In my travels, I witnessed firsthand how simple life can be. Immediately following the earthquake in Yerevan, Armenia, on December 7, 1988, the only decent housing was in a former government hotel. Although we had neither heat nor hot water, I had a roof over my head and a clean bed. When there was no food in the hospital, our hosts found moldy bread. We ate this for weeks—sometimes with cheese or tomato sauce—and always with an appreciation for what we had. Although it was impossible to get hot water in a tub, we could use an electric coil to warm some water and rinse the shampoo out of our hair. Our colleagues lacked so much, but their refinement of spirit and passion for their work were unsurpassed. They lived a simple life—nearly a sparse life—yet a life of gratitude.
Now, as I visit this part of the world and see the progress that has been made, I am sometimes saddened by the fact that my colleagues are now living more complex lives, just as I once did. They too are burning the candle at both ends; they too are dealing with car pools, school-aged kids, aging parents, and work-life balance. Call it progress…I do not!