Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Ten years ago, when I graduated medical school, I could not have pictured the work life I would have now. Past me would have been both puzzled and overjoyed. I had no idea at the time that a) the roles I do now even existed, and b) I would be able to (or even want to) start a business and quit my job. I also felt immersed in the world of medical training, and all the expectations, security and identity that came with being part of that.
Without having planned it, I peeled off from the well-trodden medical career paths that - though I didn't fully appreciate this - appealed to me in terms of their reassuring structure and status. But they also felt constraining in the way that they tied you into a trajectory of short rotational jobs, in settings that weren’t always aligned to the type of work you wanted to do, where pressures ran high and where training and support was sometimes sacrificed because of the necessity of service provision. Training in a system under immense strain did not feel conducive to leading a happy and fulfilled life. And yet, at that point in time, it was what I knew.
Training in a system under immense strain did not feel conducive to leading a happy and fulfilled life.
While I surprised myself and others by pulling out of the GP training application process during my
F3 year, I also started a domino effect, of learning to tune into and listen to my feelings. I suppose as medics, we have a limited number of career decision points in the first 15 years after applying to medical school, and we rarely need to decide to quit a job, as those jobs end after their fixed term. Taking time out of training allowed me to reflect on my experiences (particularly how mentally and emotionally draining I found Foundation Training), and pursue a passion by studying an introductory psychotherapy course.
I also started a domino effect, of learning to tune into and listen to my feelings.
I saw a career coach through the London Deanery, which was immensely helpful in supporting me to understand my core values, and tap into what I really wanted at work by using various creative thinking techniques. Gaining some perspective, while tuning into how I truly felt (by engaging in therapy myself, talking with loved ones and writing things down freestyle in a notebook - a.k.a. journalling), gave me confidence and excitement about doing something less conventional. But I was definitely still doing a fierce amount of paddling beneath the surface, against the waves of uncertainty, guilt, shame and anxiety I felt around it.
That fierce paddling is an interesting one, because if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over these years that has made a big difference to my happiness, it’s to do less fierce paddling, and more fierce self-compassion (and I’m still working on it). This was made a lot more possible by studying mindfulness-based stress reduction and following some teachers of mindful self-compassion.
If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt that has made a big difference to my happiness, it’s to do less fierce paddling, and more fierce self-compassion.
The ‘aha’ moments were something like this:
1) Consciously or not, we are relating to ourselves all the time (whether that be kindly - ‘woohoo! Go me!’ or not - ‘ugh I can’t believe I did that, idiot!’)
2) Tuning into our feelings and thoughts, through meditation, journaling, arts, coaching, therapy and other conversations, can allow us to be more aware of our experience in the moment - what am I feeling? What thoughts are running through my mind?
3) Tap into the compassionate, aware, part of ourselves that can relate to us with unconditional love and acceptance. Doing this on a regular basis helps you build new neural pathways that make this more likely to be your default than the self-critical alternative.
4) Resolve that we are allowed to feel however we feel. There are no ‘wrong’ feelings. There is no need to judge feelings. Feelings are an expression of our needs (and what we choose to do with them is separate to actually feeling them).
5) Combining all these insights to enable us to become more aware of how we are feeling, to allow these feelings without judgement, and to respond with compassion by acting to meet that need (and sometimes the need is simply to feel heard and acknowledged).
So I think that over time, processing my feelings allowed me to feel less resistance, frustration, insecurity, and more acceptance, joy and liberation in making decisions that were right for me. It has allowed me to start letting go of feeling the need to conform or ‘succeed’ in order to achieve status or acceptance (something which I would never have consciously felt was important to me, but unconsciously was definitely a key player).
These ten years have taken me from junior doctor, to medical educator, to transformational life coach and healthcare quality improvement coach. I am now growing my coaching business centred around supporting healthcare professionals with prevention of burnout. I feel excited and buoyed by what I do. And it has taken a lot of work to get to this point. Recent conversations with friends who are navigating some of the same challenges I’ve mentioned, have made me reflect on how valuable it could be to share my experiences with others. This post is a summary of what I will be posting more detail on soon, so watch this space! (And follow for more, as they say…:D)
If my story resonates with you, please get in touch. I am currently doing market research for a coaching programme focussed on preventing burnout. If you fancy taking part (completing a short questionnaire), in exchange for a free coaching session, click here.