Is Achieving A Goal Worth The Sacrifices?

For four years of college, I sacrificed the “typical” college experience – casual sex, sorority life, keg parties, and late nights doing crazy things – because I was pre-med, had 7am lab classes, and needed to get good grades so I would be accepted into medical school.

After that, for eight years of medical school and residency, I sacrificed sleep, sanity, my health, my marriage, many of my friendships, and the financial security I would have earned had I gotten a good job straight out of college.

For two more years after I was a full fledged doctor, I sacrificed vacations and time off and the luxuries I had delayed for so long so I could collect cases for my OB/GYN boards and earn a difficult board certification.

Finally, at the age of 32, I had done it.  I was a well-respected board-certified OB/GYN who had graduated from prestigious universities, and I had earned a full partnership in a group medical practice with a busy patient load and a six-figure salary.

What I Gave Up

But when I looked back, at the ripe old age of 33, at what I had sacrificed in the wake of my achievement, I felt sick to my stomach.

I had married a fellow medical student, but as much as we loved each other, our marriage didn’t survive residency. I had then married a veterinary student – and that marriage hadn’t survived either.

I had lost four loved ones, but I couldn’t even attend all their funerals, much less fully grieve their loss.

I had been diagnosed with a whole slew of “chronic,” “incurable” illnesses and was popping seven medications per day to keep my symptoms under control.

I was unable to take care of myself, much less another living being, so I had to give my beloved dog to my parents.

My friends and family had essentially written me off as a lost cause. While they understood they couldn’t expect much of me because I was a busy doctor doing important things in the world, I had missed their birthdays, forgotten to return phone calls, said “No” too many times when they had invited me out, and failed to be available when they needed me. Over time, they had put me into the category of “We love her but we can’t count on her.” It’s not exactly a recipe for intimacy.

It’s All About Me

For many years, my life became a strange mix of noble self-sacrifice and focused self-centeredness. At work, I was revered as a physician willing to give up my own needs for sleep, food, bathroom breaks, relationships, or self care – for the good of my patients.

But in my personal life, it was all about Lissa – my work out-prioritized pretty much everything else. If other people wanted to spend time with me, I pretty much expected them to drop everything the minute I had a blink of free time. And because I was a doctor, people sort of nodded and reluctantly accepted my terms.

Thinking about this still elicits feelings of shame in me, especially because it’s not all in the past. I still find myself behaving this way.

When Does It Stop?

I’m no longer practicing clinical medicine, so I no longer have to make all these sacrifices on behalf of my patients, but now it’s all about my mission – to help heal health care, to lift up my fellow visionary mentoring clients so they can change the world, to speak at events like TEDx, to write books like my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine, or to create curriculum for the training program I’m developing for doctors at the Whole Health Medicine Institute.

When I’m focused on writing my next book or creating content for the Whole Health Medicine Institute or writing a speech, I hear my husband telling my daughter, “Don’t bother Mommy. She’s doing important things to change the world.”

But how long will she need to leave me alone so I can achieve some lofty vision?

My cousin wants me to come to her daughter and son’s birthday party in May, but it’s right after Mind Over Medicine launches, so I’ll be in the midst of a media frenzy and book tour. So her invitation came with the requisite disclaimer – “I understand if you can’t come because your book comes out at the same time.”

My best friend was sick and needed and wanted someone to make her soup or stroke her hair until she felt better. But my calendar was already overbooked with days in the studio, where I was recording the audio version of my book at my publisher’s request.

How much longer will my friends and family have to wait to have reasonable expectations that I will be available when they want and need me?

Then there’s my own self care, which, in spite of my business manager Melanie’s brilliant attempts to protect my self care time on my calendar, sometimes gets sacrificed in the name of achieving a goal.

So then I wind up flattened with a virus my immune system would normally fight off, or my dog dies and I’m so leveled by grief that I can’t even meet my professional obligations.

Taking Stock

At some point, you have to question whether it’s worth it.

Is it worth it if someone cures cancer but dies alone?

Is it worth it if you’ve sung every glorious song that might have otherwise gone unsung, but you sang at the top of your lungs at the expense of your relationships with your kids?

Is it worth it if you’ve changed the world in noble ways, if you’ve helped people heal, if you get love letters every day from those whose lives you’ve touched, but you’ve done it at the price of those you most love?

Is it worth it if the toll such sacrifices take on your body shorten your life?

What Price Are You Willing To Pay?

When you’re going after a challenging goal – whether you’re finishing graduate school, writing a book, rounding up funding for your charity, or starting up an entrepreneurial visionary business, how much sacrifice is worth it? And for how long?

Does the payoff of pursuing a dream, following a calling, and changing the world overweigh the price you sometimes have to pay to achieve what you dream?

If you choose not to pay the price, can you make peace with letting go of the dream, tending the wounds of your disappointment with the payoff of taking better care of your relationships and your health?

When Is Enough Enough?

I can’t help asking myself when do I say, “Enough is enough.”

As I wrote in this post Stop Striving, You’re Already Enough, it’s easy to get caught up in perpetual striving, chasing after the proverbial brass ring that is always just out of reach.  Then you blink, and life passes you by, and at the end, you’ve achieved phenomenal success only to realize you missed the point.

Or did you? If you helped a million people along the way, creating a legacy that will long outlast you, are the sacrifices worth the price?

It All Comes Down To Priorities

I think each of our answers will differ. This is a very personal question. But for me, I’ve decided it’s worth the price in the short run – that to achieve greatness in anything you really care about, there’s usually a sacrifice you must pay in the short term. But there comes a time when it’s time to get your priorities straight – to really dig deep into what matters in your life, what you want your life to be about, how much you care about the health of your body, and how you want to be in relationship with those you love.

If you fail to reevaluate when that time comes, it’s way too easy to get on the treadmill and wind up running blindly towards a “there” that never comes. And then at the end, you’re saddled with regret about what you gave up to get what you got.

But that’s just me.

What do YOU think?

How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to fulfill a dream, change the world, or serve others? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Still noodling and curious about your thoughts,

Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD: Creator of the health and wellness communities and, author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House, 2013), TEDx speaker, and Health Care Evolutionary. Join her newsletter list for free guidance on healing yourself, and check her out on Twitter and Facebook.


Diana S.
Diana S4 years ago

I find myself with exactly the opposite problem - my mother drummed it into my head from the time I was four-five years old that, no matter what I chose to do with my life, it was ALWAYS my responsibility to "pay the rent FIRST." So, no matter how hard I wanted that career singing opera around the world, FIRST I had to find a job to pay the bills.

So, after having lost my voice twice due to emotional traumas, and having lost my top octave permanently, I still sing, every chance I get, and will take any opportunity that is offered to do so, I'm now a little too old to start a major operatic career.

At least I didn't let myself get talked into "settling" for a marriage just for the added financial security, or "littering out" because it was my "job as a woman," or staying in some little jerkwater burg in the wilds of northern California because I had a couple of siblings living there.

And I will STILL jump at the chance for an acting role, or a singing role, or a voice-over gig - and walk out on my dead-end office-grunt job in a heartbeat to follow my dreams. Yes, I still have the same dreams, and, YES, I will continue to pursue them as long as I live (and the kitties agree with me)!

Helen Krummenacker

It seems to me there's a huge difference between giving up undergrad partying to get your degree and not calling your sick dad while you're focusing on homework. Family/close friends and goals are both high priorities, along with self-care, and need balance. On the other hand, it would be a very bad thing if no one was willing to do the work to be doctors or scientists. What we really need is a society which demanded a little less sacrifice to make success-- what if students didn't have to work to afford college, or you could do 12 units instead of 20 and still graduate on time?

Ken W.
Ken W4 years ago

A prison in your own mind .

Denise Morley
Denise Morley4 years ago

It seems to me that achieving balance will always require sacrifice, one cannot have everything one wants... unless one wants less

Jeannette Gravett

Stop doing all this - or will you have a heart attack if you do stop?

Kirsten B.
Past Member 4 years ago

Personally, I would never sacrifice a decade and more to the expense of everything else. Life needs balance, a person needs balance.
I'm more than happy to sacrifice a few weeks at a time, but then make sure I take a good amount of time (preferably balanced - same length) to be with me, my family, my friends and my needs.
Maybe I would have got my publishing contract last year if I'd sacrificed another 3 weeks of intense activity. But my family was too important.

What's 6 months in the career / fame big picture?
What is 6 months in your family and friend and own care circle?

I know which one makes the biggest difference to me and which one will satisfy, nourish and support me: physically, mentally and emotionally more.
But those are just my own personal feelings on the issue.

Christine Stewart

I think you do have to make some sacrifices to succeed, but you have to know when to put the brakes on, and decide when you have done enough to get to where you want to be. Do you really need to go on that book tour or go to so many speaking engagements? Maybe make a video, so you don't have to go to all of those places yourself? If I wanted to further my career I could put more hours into the job, further my education, blah blah blah- but I am not going to sacrifice any more than I already do. My family and my pets deserve me, too!

Piper W.
Piper W.4 years ago

I think it's more that you're a driven person, than what you're driven by. I don't think it would have mattered what your goal was, you would have still been just as driven. You pretty much proved that when you changed your life and gave up the MD, but find yourself still driven to be or do whatever today's goal is at the cost of everything & everyone else. It's not really self-sacrifice, it's you being you. Essentially, "No matter where you go, there you are." I, also, think the most important people in life are those who aren't remembered for anything important. Peace. :)

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard4 years ago


Nicole W.
Nicole W4 years ago

noted, thank you