September 23, 2020
The way that we talk about productivity revolves a lot around discipline. Going hard, pulling all nighters, pushing through…. Even I talk about ‘work intervals’, focus, and badass boundaries. All of this is coming back to the concepts of self-control and persistence. Still sounds a lot like discipline.
Obviously working hard is required to succeed in academic medicine. However, as you all know now because I’ve said it 100 times, hard work is NOT your problem. You wouldn’t be here if you were lazy.
Your discipline is fine, it’s your focus that’s a mess.
Our paradigm coming out of medical school, residency, fellowship and whatever other extraneous educational and/or training program we put ourselves through sounded something like this:
1 Learn the rules of this place
2 Emulate those rules
3 Work as hard as you can and (often) exceed expectations.
Hats off to this paradigm because it got you to where you are.
It will not get you where you want to go.
As a faculty member, this paradigm is a minefield. First, the rules are much more nebulous and therefore way more powerful. If you can’t pin them down, you essentially can always be wrong. Second, given the first point, the pressure to emulate your peers is monumental. This is where focus goes to die. We also look to middle or senior career folks not understanding that they have actually never been exactly where you are. Third, hard work will never square this circle. (Read that again). By design, this paradigm keeps you vulnerable, externally focused, and in endless comparison.
What’s so crazy about what I just said is that you are still probably REALLY good at this. Too good actually.
Because your struggle right now is not that you are failing. In fact, someone else would probably tell me you are doing ‘fine’ or even ‘great’ – while you are one email away from settling for a career that is much less than what you really wanted. You are not lazy, you are not crazy, and you have not peaked in your potential. You are struggling because you are doing double labor – trying to execute on the ideas that matter most to you, while simultaneously following the nebulous rules that were never made with your wellbeing in mind. (Ever.)
I want to remind you that we are socialized in academic medicine to put ourselves last. It’s such a prevalent norm, that any time you try to make a decision that is specifically in service of your professional wellbeing or deliberately in support of the work that you want to do – you feel selfish.
Which is, of course, insane.
Our whole goal as academic faculty members is to create new ideas, new programs, new science – we signed up to be creative and generative beings. The only way that works is to prioritize and protect your time and energy, in service of your unique contributions. And the only reason we would call doing so selfish – is because of institutional mindset and those bullsh*t rules.
Ultimately the way out isn’t to work any harder.
Your way out is to work smarter by rewriting the rules. Start with this one.
I am actually the expert in the career and life that works for me.
Have a great week. Hold yourselves gently, and remember that we are all co-creating this insane world together. We must be our own heroes.