November 4, 2021

A Life of Loose Ends

Nate LeBlanc

Hello everyone, my name is Nate LeBlanc. I’m the host of the Doorward Thinking Podcast and will be a regular contributor here on the Doorward Thinking Blog.

Life changes

The last two years of my life have brought about tremendous change and I’d like to share parts of my story with you. I think it will illustrate what so many of us are facing day by day. We live a life of “loose ends”, where we feel the pressure to do it all at our very best, just to have it unravel when we encounter a roadblock beyond our control.

I moved to St. Louis three years ago for medical school after working my way through college and a post-baccalaureate program. One of my classes, often considered the most challenging in pre-med, was organic chemistry. It’s hard enough during a regular term, but we fit a whole year of O-Chem into one summer – about 8-10 hours per day of brain-frying study – not to mention everything else we had on our plates.

As we struggled through our responsibilities, our professor, a brilliant man with a long flowy white beard and plenty of wit, introduced the idea of “academic triage” to my cohort. Academic triage, he said, was the exercise of assessing all the tasks assigned to us and choosing how to allocate our time and effort to each of those projects and assignments.

The shell game of priorities

In a sense, our group of high-achieving, type-A personalities was given permission to give less than our absolute best at every moment, provided we made all the pieces fit in the end.

Maybe that meant balanced effort for two assignments: missing a few points on each, instead of putting maximum effort into one and neglecting another. Maybe I’d stop studying for a test after passing a practice exam to be part of a research team. That could go on my CV after all. That belief sustained me for another 5 years; finishing up the post-bacc, taking my gap year, and for three years into medical school.

Unfortunately, my concept of “academic triage” was insufficient. As soon as I got the hang of one task and took the next step towards my degree, two new ones would take its place. I was now handling three responsibilities, decent at one and needing to grow in two others. With school as my priority, the learning and adjustment meant sacrifice. Priorities shifted. Friendships started to suffer: some completely unraveled. At this point I began to break and had reached a level of “incompetence”.

What was once manageable turned into many loose ends and I felt guilty for allowing things to get out of hand. Looking back, I recognize several of these moments of incompetence, resulting in shedding good relationships and enjoyable activities to strive for goals rooted in a desire to be secure in myself.

This is a real-life example of the “Peter Principle”, a theory on workplace promotion that seems to have social parallels as we grow. Dr. Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull posit that a person will be promoted to their level of incompetence.

We don't have to do it all

Imagine a dynamic and disciplined college graduate who has always excelled starting an entry level job. She keeps getting promoted in her company, sometimes to the highest levels, until small things fall through the cracks. She’s struggling to make it through. Sometimes we stay in that place just because that’s the most we can manage. Sometimes bad things happen, like security leaks or missed tasks which cause a domino-effect of problems and can end in termination.

Is it the worker’s fault?

No, of course not.

Is it the company’s fault?

It’s not them either.

Is it our human nature?

NO! Not at all.

But I think it is a result of the system we live in.

A system that prioritizes getting ahead, a culture that promotes isolation and efficiency, and a belief that to compare we need to have and do it all.


Yes, knowing how to juggle a million and one tasks on our own is an important skill, but should we have to exercise that skill every hour of every day just to make it through?

Something I’ve learned after cycles of struggle is that we don’t have to do it all!

Picking your Battles

Allow me to explain. (Potentially disturbing content upcoming)

In traditional triage, a physician acknowledges there are patients they won’t get to or for whom their skill set isn’t needed. Some people are already dead or dying, too far gone for human help. Other people with minor wounds can get by with some first aid. A medic or a nurse can handle those cases. So really, a physician in a triage situation is only caring for a select few people who are hurt enough for their specialized knowledge to be effective. They are part of a team who is also helping the wounded.

Why then, do we feel the need to do it all ourselves?

There’s a lot there, as one of my dear friends and I like to say. Future posts of mine will delve into that question.

For now, it gets back to my point at the top. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be proficient in what we do, but we must realize we can’t do it all. We have limits. My father told me once that recognizing our limits is essential for us to grow into the person we are meant to be, and after years of fighting to do it all at once, I’m starting to see his wisdom.

It sounds like a downer at first, but upon reflection, some limits can be changed. If I really put some effort in, I can become a better friend or chess player or podcast host. We can choose, with hard work and determination, to push some of our limits. Other limits cannot be changed. There are only so many minutes in a day after all. But these unchangeable limits are precisely why we need to stop and think about what is most important.

What parts of our lives are essential?

Which are nice to have?

Which don’t help us at all?

Sometimes we just need to pause

I think we all need to reflect on what’s important. To think about how to maximize our time with and enjoyment of relationships and things we value. Maybe that means not taking a promotion. Maybe that means asking for help. Maybe that means learning to do something a new way.

What does it look like for each person? I can’t say. That’s the beauty of it. Each of us are unique, and working together, like in the triage example, we can handle anything life throws at us. That means some of us become physicians, some of us become podcast hosts, and some of us can do both!

What I can say however, is that when we take a look at our lives and prioritize the things that speak to our souls and give us meaning, we start to tie up the loose ends. We find our niche, and all of the skills and talents we have really start to shine.



Post Summary

Fitting the pieces of your life together can be difficult and sometimes it requires taking a break from trying to complete the puzzle to understand how to finish it

This article was written, edited and published by members or collaborators of the Doorward Team. Doorward Inc. maintains a positive outlook on the inherent dignity of each: their singular ability to reason and create, to choose and likewise be responsible for their decisions. We defend their best intentions and affirm each person’s freedom to express their own thoughts and opinions and experiences, and to engage in civil discussion regarding them.

This article is meant to be thought-provoking, and is not intended to be specific direction for the topic of this post. Please do your own research and consult the appropriate people for guidance before making a decision related to the topic of this post.

Hello everyone, my name is Nate LeBlanc. I’m the host of the Doorward Thinking Podcast and will be a regular contributor here on the Doorward Thinking Blog.

Life changes

The last two years of my life have brought about tremendous change and I’d like to share parts of my story with you. I think it will illustrate what so many of us are facing day by day. We live a life of “loose ends”, where we feel the pressure to do it all at our very best, just to have it unravel when we encounter a roadblock beyond our control.

I moved to St. Louis three years ago for medical school after working my way through college and a post-baccalaureate program. One of my classes, often considered the most challenging in pre-med, was organic chemistry. It’s hard enough during a regular term, but we fit a whole year of O-Chem into one summer – about 8-10 hours per day of brain-frying study – not to mention everything else we had on our plates.

As we struggled through our responsibilities, our professor, a brilliant man with a long flowy white beard and plenty of wit, introduced the idea of “academic triage” to my cohort. Academic triage, he said, was the exercise of assessing all the tasks assigned to us and choosing how to allocate our time and effort to each of those projects and assignments.

The shell game of priorities

In a sense, our group of high-achieving, type-A personalities was given permission to give less than our absolute best at every moment, provided we made all the pieces fit in the end.

Maybe that meant balanced effort for two assignments: missing a few points on each, instead of putting maximum effort into one and neglecting another. Maybe I’d stop studying for a test after passing a practice exam to be part of a research team. That could go on my CV after all. That belief sustained me for another 5 years; finishing up the post-bacc, taking my gap year, and for three years into medical school.

Unfortunately, my concept of “academic triage” was insufficient. As soon as I got the hang of one task and took the next step towards my degree, two new ones would take its place. I was now handling three responsibilities, decent at one and needing to grow in two others. With school as my priority, the learning and adjustment meant sacrifice. Priorities shifted. Friendships started to suffer: some completely unraveled. At this point I began to break and had reached a level of “incompetence”.

What was once manageable turned into many loose ends and I felt guilty for allowing things to get out of hand. Looking back, I recognize several of these moments of incompetence, resulting in shedding good relationships and enjoyable activities to strive for goals rooted in a desire to be secure in myself.

This is a real-life example of the “Peter Principle”, a theory on workplace promotion that seems to have social parallels as we grow. Dr. Lawrence Peter and Raymond Hull posit that a person will be promoted to their level of incompetence.

We don't have to do it all

Imagine a dynamic and disciplined college graduate who has always excelled starting an entry level job. She keeps getting promoted in her company, sometimes to the highest levels, until small things fall through the cracks. She’s struggling to make it through. Sometimes we stay in that place just because that’s the most we can manage. Sometimes bad things happen, like security leaks or missed tasks which cause a domino-effect of problems and can end in termination.

Is it the worker’s fault?

No, of course not.

Is it the company’s fault?

It’s not them either.

Is it our human nature?

NO! Not at all.

But I think it is a result of the system we live in.

A system that prioritizes getting ahead, a culture that promotes isolation and efficiency, and a belief that to compare we need to have and do it all.


Yes, knowing how to juggle a million and one tasks on our own is an important skill, but should we have to exercise that skill every hour of every day just to make it through?

Something I’ve learned after cycles of struggle is that we don’t have to do it all!

Picking your Battles

Allow me to explain. (Potentially disturbing content upcoming)

In traditional triage, a physician acknowledges there are patients they won’t get to or for whom their skill set isn’t needed. Some people are already dead or dying, too far gone for human help. Other people with minor wounds can get by with some first aid. A medic or a nurse can handle those cases. So really, a physician in a triage situation is only caring for a select few people who are hurt enough for their specialized knowledge to be effective. They are part of a team who is also helping the wounded.

Why then, do we feel the need to do it all ourselves?

There’s a lot there, as one of my dear friends and I like to say. Future posts of mine will delve into that question.

For now, it gets back to my point at the top. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be proficient in what we do, but we must realize we can’t do it all. We have limits. My father told me once that recognizing our limits is essential for us to grow into the person we are meant to be, and after years of fighting to do it all at once, I’m starting to see his wisdom.

It sounds like a downer at first, but upon reflection, some limits can be changed. If I really put some effort in, I can become a better friend or chess player or podcast host. We can choose, with hard work and determination, to push some of our limits. Other limits cannot be changed. There are only so many minutes in a day after all. But these unchangeable limits are precisely why we need to stop and think about what is most important.

What parts of our lives are essential?

Which are nice to have?

Which don’t help us at all?

Sometimes we just need to pause

I think we all need to reflect on what’s important. To think about how to maximize our time with and enjoyment of relationships and things we value. Maybe that means not taking a promotion. Maybe that means asking for help. Maybe that means learning to do something a new way.

What does it look like for each person? I can’t say. That’s the beauty of it. Each of us are unique, and working together, like in the triage example, we can handle anything life throws at us. That means some of us become physicians, some of us become podcast hosts, and some of us can do both!

What I can say however, is that when we take a look at our lives and prioritize the things that speak to our souls and give us meaning, we start to tie up the loose ends. We find our niche, and all of the skills and talents we have really start to shine.



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