May 19, 2020
It is hard to deal with any problem unless you can name it and understand how it is working. Today I want you to know you to know that isolation affects our careers in tangible, specific and potentially long-lasting ways.
Isolation, as I use it, refers to being
This is an exercise in awareness. There 3 critical ways isolation tangibly impacts your career.
The lack of a shared perspective on your work
When you are isolated, you may miss receiving the confirmation that the quality of your idea deserves from your peers or even leaders. Why? Because they are missing so much of your perspective, you spend 80% of your time bridging that gap to a shared your perspective on your work. That leaves only 20% of time to actually critiquing and refining your ideas. This is detrimental because you end up with a lower quality idea, than you had the *potential* to create – because you spent so much energy working on the shared perspective.
One strategy around this is to learn how to Nurture an Idea. Knowing when and how to present for feedback when you are isolated is incredibly valuable in your early career.
The quantity and creativity of your ideas
The second way that isolation can impact your work is with the sheer creativity and the quantity of your ideas. In academic medicine, you plant the seed of an idea, you build on that idea, and you leverage it to the next level. All of that takes creativity and innovation – and those require risk. You have to take risks to make leaps and to grow. Risk-taking when you are isolated is a tricky affair. Isolation produces the experience of a narrow range of failure. The hyper-visibility of when you are an only can create incredible resistance to risk-taking. And therein lies the challenge. You cannot be successful, on your own terms, without leaps – period.
It is normal to want to belong. It is hard-wired into all of us. When you are isolated belonging is a heady thing that can warp decision making. Ideas or ‘opportunities’ that might not be that great for you can look more appealing than they really are – because they lessen the isolation. They can seem like small concessions that are worth it just to be running with the ‘in crowd.’ Just a little shift this way or that. The problem is – They. Add. Up. You can wake up in 2-3 years and not know what happened to your research plans, your grant ideas, or your dream for your career.
Isolation is not just professional loneliness. You may not feel lonely at all. If you are a woman of color, especially a Black woman in academic medicine, being an only is nothing new. My first ‘only’ experience was in kindergarten. Old news. This is about the quality of your work, the quantity and creativity and longevity of your work, and the soundness of your decision making.
I want us to start naming this. Name it and know it is not you and you are not crazy. You are smart enough, you work hard enough, and you have NOT peaked. Isolation affects our careers in tangible ways. And I want us all to thrive. I want us to make the contributions that we came here to make and do our part to transform this world.
Rest easy this week and know that you are not alone.