Is this three-letter word shutting your brain down?

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Man with brain exploding with question marks

One of the biggest problems I see my clients having – and it happens to me too– is shutting down an idea prematurely because of a three-letter word.

This three-letter word getting in the way is rather innocuous.

It’s a word we use every day.

The word rhymes with cow, now, and POW!

Yes, you guessed it, the word is:

How.

Innocent enough. No sharp edges. It’s rather a nice-sounding word. But when we append it with a question mark, it morphs into a brick wall. A parade-rainer. A wet blanket.

How?

How am I going to find a nonclinical job?

How on earth could I start a business?

How do I make a living from my passion?

How do I network on LinkedIn?

I see this shutting down phenomenon happen when clients start to tell me excitedly about some idea they have. It might be a business idea or something they wish they could try out. I can hear the energy and enthusiasm in their voice. I start to get goosebumps just listening to them. And then their energy sinks and they get quiet.

Invariably what comes next is….

But I have no idea HOW I would ever do that!

I blame med school for this. Or rather all of our training. Not directly.. it’s more of a side effect of how we learn. To learn how to do things, we have been in highly structured learning environments for most of our lives. We’ve become “institutionalized” learners.

We’ve learned how to do all sorts of things including how to palpate a liver, put in a central line, diagnose zebras, read x-rays, treat cancer, sniff out a malingerer, etc.

But we learned these things in a structured learning environment. There were teachers, mentors, a defined curriculum, and degrees to be earned. We wore special coats, took examinations and received certificates. It was OK to not know and be learning as we went along. We knew if we stuck with the program, it would take us to a defined point of accomplishment. Success was all but guaranteed.

If we didn’t know how to do something, someone could show us or teach us. We got comfortable learning in a system. It may not have been easy but it was a clearly defined way to learn.

Fast forward, when we become “attendings” and doctors in the real world, we are adults and experts in our own right. It seems incongruous to be a beginner again and not know how to do things.

It’s understandable when we’re faced with having to figure out the how without a framework and obvious stepping stones, our brain wants to shut down.

Instead of feeling like we can forge ahead and do some bushwhacking, we may get seduced by a sanctioned program.

For example, we might be more willing to pay $100K to do an MBA if we’re wanting to learn business skills rather than parse together our own learning program using paid mentors, taking some online courses, and reading some books. With the MBA, there’s a structured program, a defined plan, and we get a certificate and credential at the end.

So what do we do? As of yet, there isn’t a fellowship for “physicians figuring it out” or in nonclinical careers.

That could very well happen. But in the meantime, we can…

Get Scrappy!

Getting scrappy means you believe that you can figure out the how and not let it stymie you.

Getting scrappy means you allow yourself to be more like a kid and stay excited by your ideas, realistic or not, until you can at least explore them.

Getting scrappy means you allow yourself to be a learner and not worry overly about the outcome. There is no winning or losing, but winning and learning. (I heard that somewhere).  

This is a great time to get scrappy as a physician because more than ever, there are amazing resources for learning how to do things outside of our traditional institutions of education.

Our fellow physicians (and others) are creating resources and programs to help you in many fascinating and exciting ways.

It’s a veritable grassroots movement of physicians who refuse to accept the endpoint where our structured learning has brought us and are paving the way for many alternative pathways.

There are physician Facebook groups, podcasts, coaches, online courses, mentors, learning forums, books, retreats, and even physician weight loss programs.

I’d like to give a shout-out here to one resource in particular, Dr. John Jurica, who created and hosts the Nonclinical Career Podcast.  You can hear his interviews with over 100 physicians using their degrees and skills in many different ways.

We may have been inadvertently brainwashed to think our learning has to be in a formal setting, but the truth is that we’re all smart, we know how to work hard, we have skills to beat the band, and we care about making a difference.

If there is something we want to do, heck YES, we can figure it out!

I’d love to hear what you’re wanting to do that you’re saying heck YES to!

Be back soon,

Heather

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8 Comments

  1. Jane Zendarski on March 12, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    Heather,
    I thought the word was ‘but’ rather than ‘how’. I want to schedule a session with you.

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 4:18 pm

      Ah!! Good one!!! I remember a former client describing to me how when her patients would start to object about a certain treatment plan (she was Urogyn) she would say to them, “Don’t give me that But-Face!” It’s so true, the word But can be a real show-stopper. Happy to help you out, Jane. I’ll send you an email.

  2. Lynn Amsbury on March 12, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Yeah, I thought it was “but” too! I think they’re both equally relevant.

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 4:19 pm

      How interesting! I wonder how many people were also thinking “but?” Yes, I agree, they are similar – both brake pedals, but they don’t have to be!

  3. Sue Zimmermann on March 12, 2020 at 5:11 pm

    Your post reminded me that only a short time ago I had no idea HOW to make slides for a presentation, use LinkedIn, or write a resume. I don’t know why these things were so intimidating for me, but they were. Thanks, Heather!

    • Heather Fork on March 12, 2020 at 5:32 pm

      I’m glad you acknowledged that these were unfamiliar and intimidating – it’s true for so many of use. But you figured out the how and these things brought you new career opportunities! I can totally relate. I remember having to figure out how to send out my first email campaign through MailChimp to all of you and it really taxed me. I just wanted someone to sit next to me and tell me what to do. In retrospect, these things that seem so challenging most just involve a series of steps, none of them in and of themselves super hard. The hard can come in when we have to put ourselves out there and be seen! But we can get used to that too. Thanks for your great comment Sue!

  4. Justin on March 13, 2020 at 1:51 am

    Another one for “but” … that’s what I thought was coming too!

    • Heather Fork on March 13, 2020 at 1:58 am

      Well that makes me laugh! I hope at least there was some surprise element!

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