I learned a lot in medical school, but I didn’t learn this. Today I’d like to share five lessons from my previous career that regularly help me stay sane in my new career. These perspectives have helped me stave off physician burnout.
1. You’ve got to play the game.
Are you a hard worker? Do you get stuff done efficiently and with minimal complaining? Have you been told that you’re irreplaceable? Congratulations! It’s true, and it may be why you didn’t get that promotion, or new position, or pay raise. You’re just too valuable in your current role.
While being a hard worker and getting results is an excellent trait to have, it doesn’t always help you move up the ladder. As you move up the ranks, it becomes more and more about the system and how you can improve it (or give off the perception that you can).
So what do I mean by playing the game? For starters, set goals for yourself and plan out multiple paths on how you might be able to get there. Life is not linear, so you’ve got to be adaptable. Show your passion for your industry or profession by working hard and expressing interest in moving up. Keep track of your accomplishments so you can write a great resume.
You might even find that your skill(s) may be better off with you as a small business owner because others don’t recognize your talent(s). Maybe going back to school will help you get where you want to go. You are your best investment, so don’t give up on yourself.
2. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.
Have you ever heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect? It’s the psychological phenomenon of illusory superiority in which “those who are incompetent…have little insight into their incompetence.” Basically, it’s being unskilled and unaware of it.
This is why it’s important to be humble, open-minded, and constantly learning. It’s also why our parents told us to think before we speak. There’s no faster way of losing credibility, and even respect, than to launch into a tirade without adequate knowledge on the subject.
So how do you avoid this trap of cognitive bias? Dunning and Kruger analyzed the results of their study plus three others and noted the following: “…poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve.” In other words, listen to feedback and don’t get offended by it.
3. It’s not just what you say, but also how you say it.
Communication is important in all aspects of life. However, the choice of words, tone, and body language are interpreted differently by each individual. The key to communication is situational awareness and understanding your audience.
Situational awareness is pretty self-explanatory. If the mood is somber, then it’s probably not a good idea to try to be a stand-up comedian. If the mood is light and fun, don’t be an Eeyore or else you run the risk of people seeking additional meaning from the interaction when there is none. I think you get the point.
Understanding your audience is a bit more nuanced. Some people like (and want) a direct and non-sugar coated conversation. Other people prefer a more gentle approach, eg. the “shit sandwich” method. It usually takes more than one interaction with someone to figure out where they fall on this spectrum. The trickiest part is that some people may say they prefer one approach when they really mean the other. Why can’t we all just say what we mean?
Unfortunately, people are going to interpret things how they want to interpret them. The best thing you can do is to be consistent.
4. Understand that a manager/director isn’t necessarily a leader.
Your boss might be contributing to your burnout. But your boss could also decrease your feelings of burnout. Which one of the following sounds like yours?
A manager tries to take credit for your work. He/she constantly leaves you wondering, “Did you actually do anything?” He/she tries to tell you how to do your job and threatens your career trajectory. His/her words are not supported by actions.
A leader takes little-to-no credit, and makes you feel like you can accomplish anything because their words are backed by actions, eg. letting you hire another pharmacy technician because you’ve doubled your daily prescription fills. All of your successes are recognized, appreciated, and rewarded, and you have a definable path for advancement.
If you’re a boss, then it may be wise to take a step back once in a while and evaluate the big picture. Has there been an increase in turnover lately? Are your employees complaining of (or look like they’re suffering from) burnout? Are the expectations reasonable given what your employees have to work with? Are their voices being listened to or just heard? Increasing productivity doesn’t always require a monetary investment.
If you’re an employee, then it’s clear you’d want to work for someone who’s a leader; or perhaps you have the qualities of a leader but don’t have the job…yet. Seek the job with (or become) the leader that you want to be.
5. The only person who will look out for you is you.
It’s wonderful to be a team player. In fact I wish everyone was a team player because my job would be so much easier: others would make sacrifices so that I don’t have to. Luckily, I believe in carrying my own weight.
There were pharmacists that I worked with (and even fellow anesthesiologists today) who seemed like they could, would, and did do everything. Eventually it affected their personal lives (just like it did for me).
At some point you have to remember that even though there’s no “I” in team, there is a “me,” as in stop taking advantage of me.
Most of us work for a large corporate entity that will move forward and continue to exist with or without us. We want to show our value, but sacrificing things that are priceless (time with your family and friends) is not the way.
My friend, The Physician Philosopher, wrote a great post on the power of saying no. If you’re already doing the lion’s share of undesirable things at work, then it’s okay to say no. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it’s true because that helps define value (yours that is, and hopefully in a good way).
Until next time
I’ll stop for now to avoid making this post too long. Now it’s your turn to tell me about some of your great lessons from the real world.