05/27/2014 04:29 pm ET Updated Jul 27, 2014

Finding Freedom in Everyday Life

Have you ever played the game Tetris? My husband and kids love this game and are really good at it. Me? I don't like it at all. Trying to quickly fit the shapes into the available spaces before I run out of time isn't fun -- it just makes me anxious. And yet, it's become painfully clear to me that I live my life like a Tetris game.


By that, I mean that I constantly try to make everything in my life fit neatly together. If I squeeze this in today, I'll be able to do that tomorrow. And if I make arrangements for something this week, it will be ready next week when I need it. While you might argue that this is organized and smart, it's limiting to live your life this way. As I began to notice that, life came along to show me that I'm not in control the way I try to be. I just can't make everything fit -- and maybe I should stop trying.

After living in Virginia for five years, our daughter decided to return to California for graduate school. We carefully planned a cross-country trip to drive her belongings back home. Each day and evening were arranged with great care and excitement -- mileage, interesting places to see, parks to hike, people to visit. And then she received an offer for a wonderful opportunity in Philadelphia the following week. All of our plans had to be cancelled -- in the blink of an eye.

My mind immediately switched into Tetris mode -- the blocks had changed shape and I needed to quickly fit them into the new spaces. Then I stopped. Why not just live each of the days, suddenly vacant of plans, according to what presented itself? Clearly, all of our planning had not created the trip we had imagined, so why not keep our minds and imaginations open and decide what we wanted to do as each day unfolded?

Most of us don't have a lot of experience with this way of living. As a physician, my life included a prolonged and prescribed journey through medical school and residency -- there was little choice and my days were determined not by my preferences, but by the requirements and expectations of each position. Once out of training, I joined the corps of busy working people. Fitting in work, family, service and other activities we enjoy requires us to schedule ourselves tightly and this becomes our default way of life. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

After a short stay in Philadelphia, we headed out for our long awaited trip. As we continued on our drive, nature again intervened to help me resist the familiar tug to fill each day with predetermined plans. The night before we were to hike in the Mark Twain National Forest, a fierce thunderstorm left cold and windy weather and soaked, muddy grounds. Hiking was clearly not an enticing option, so we consulted a guidebook and found a spectacular Basilica, hidden in a residential neighborhood of St. Louis. I'm still awed by the serenity and beauty we experienced when we entered the church. It was a highpoint of our trip, and one we would have missed if we hadn't allowed ourselves to do something different than we had planned.

When was the last time you woke up and said, "What do I feel like doing today?"

As a physician life coach, I work with doctors who are struggling with a medical system that demands they see more patients in shorter visits, depriving them of the close relationships they enjoyed with patients and the sense of satisfaction with their ability to properly care for their patients. More often than before, they speak longingly of their vacations. Asked what they like about vacation, they nearly always say it's the lack of structure -- being able to do whatever they want to do, when they want to do it.

How can we give ourselves that sense of freedom in the midst of our busy lives?

Is there a day, or part of a day -- maybe this coming weekend -- when you can just stop and ask yourself, "What do I want to do for the next few hours?" And then just do that. Suspend the Tetris blocks, see what your heart and imagination suggest, and enjoy the excitement and wonder of spontaneity.

What possibilities await you?

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