Hunger Games

The following is a piece I wrote during my 3rd year of pediatric training and it was recently published on the University of California, San Francisco’s Department of Pediatrics blog! Let me know what you think and click on the link to read the full post on UCSF’s site!

Sometimes residency seems like a game of who’s the hungriest – who’s the smartest, most prepared, most eager, and most willing to sacrifice personal time, and sometimes sanity, to succeed. Given the nature of the game, it’s to be expected that there are moments when an otherwise incredibly capable and driven individual may question their merits or purpose. Like any young professional, I have felt that precious, formative moments can devolve into a crisis of consciousness – is this my true purpose? Where is my life going? I often find myself questioning my place here. Perhaps that is why residency has been the most challenging time in my life.

But I didn’t just stumble upon this path. I chose it. Throughout years of scholastic preparation including a robust and fulfilling extra-curricular life that started in high school, a joint degree combining humanities and science in college, two daunting standardized tests (that are billed to dictate your future success, or failure, as it may be) and one, very stressful and not at all fun-type-of lottery that punctuated medical school, I thoughtfully considered my future. And now, I find myself here – a 3rd year pediatric resident, a few weeks shy of graduation and terrified of a future that seems to be hurling at me like a meteor. At the culmination of all I have studied and prepped for, just as I feel ripe enough to hatch into the world of professional medicine and advocacy, I find myself feeling a little burnt-out – singed by the experience of it all and just smoldering enough to make it to the end.

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The Power of No

One of my mentors recently asked me to take on a project that’s not my cup of tea. Have you ever had a mentor persuasively ask you to do something you have no interest in doing? I was all…

As I refine my interests, I want to be selective about the opportunities I embrace. Working in settings where doing more is rewarded, makes it hard to figure out what “more” I should and shouldn’t be doing and stressful to pass on the yes train to success. As young professionals, we basically spend our youth forging opportunities and when one is placed in our lap, it’s hard to turn away the gift…even if it it’s not what you and Santa discussed. But, somehow, like my 2 year old patients, I have come to believe in the power of “No.”

“No” has power when you allow it to define your priorities. The power is in the discernment. So how can we invoke this power when we feel pressured (by ourselves or others) to do something that doesn’t align with our goals or interests?

I have a few ideas.

1. Ask for transparency and be transparent. Perhaps you lack insight into your mentor’s vision or they are unaware of your goals. Use the moment as an opportunity to clarify your mutual interests.

2. When stretched too thin, decline something you risk doing poorly. Overextending yourself may reflect negatively on your work ethic or professionalism.

3. Recognize that sometimes, you need to say yes! Good sensei’s should challenge you in ways that help you grow. These ways may not always be apparent, but can lead to new opportunities.

4.  “Great is the enemy of done” (thanks Dr. Michelle Hermiston!). Perfectionism can impede productivity. Find out what commitment is required and when time is tight and you are stretched, let “done” be good enough.

5. When all else fails, go to the bathroom (or wherever you collect your thoughts), look in the mirror and say…

YOU. Know that you are in charge of your destiny and despite your best intentions some opportunities will be squandered. Move on as quickly as possible. It is your willingness to get messy and commitment to try your best (see Playing Like a Champion) that will carry you to where you’re meant to be.

As young pups in the game, a thoughtful “No” may be the greatest tool in our professional toolbox. This week, let “No” be a step towards something you want for yourself!

Playing Like a Champion

The Notre Dame Football team hits this sign before every home game. http://www.playlikeachampion.org

In the journey to define my career, I often lose perspective. It is in these moments my Mom has said, “Rhea, play such that you can win.” After watching my favorite college football team ascend to the number one position in the nation – following a season of hard-fought (and let’s face it, sometimes ugly) wins – I have a new take on my Mom’s sage words.

How you play is what defines you and winning is a result of the process. So what does it mean to play like a champion? And how do you position yourself for success?

So far, I’ve learned this much.

1. Play (read live) with a resolution to do your best. Sometimes your best will be greatness and sometimes it will just be good enough. As an intern, sometimes my best was just showing up and being open to learning something new (which can feel overwhelming when everything seems new). Now as a 3rd year, my best has evolved to include the clinical skills I’ve worked to form throughout residency. The product is different but the process is the same.

2. Your team matters. “Play like a champion” is essentially an individualistic mantra, but who you surround yourself with directly affects your ability to succeed. Fill your circle with people (mentors, colleagues, friends) who value you, see your greatness, and challenge you to be your best.

3. Don’t be afraid to stand alone. While the team helps you get there, the journey is personal. Listen to your instincts and be confident in your convictions. My good friend  Peter always says, “To win big, you gotta risk big” – and sometimes that risk is going at it alone.

4. Champions are born from adversity. If my training experience has taught me anything, it is this: Achieving your goals is inherently hard work and sometimes the meaning is buried in the mess. Success is an iterative process and failure is a necessary step in the journey. In the tough moments, remember that it may get ugly, but you are on the right track.

So let’s play like champions this week and reach for our greatness!