June 16, 2021
This KD Coaching Newsletter is really over 1.5 years in the making.
I did not realize that on Dec 13th, 2019 when I wrote in my one-sentence-a-day journal: “I am questioning the role of surgery in my future.”
Whew. It was the only place I could admit this to myself. I had spent 6 months before I wrote that sentence completely ignoring this growing questioning of time and space I was putting into surgery in my life. I just distracted myself with more clinical care and more surgery…naturally. It was writing that sentence down that was my first brave step.
And Lord knows I had no idea what kind of year was coming. I came into 2020 with my annual plan, my priorities for my CEO, Scientist, and Worker Bee, and some low-grade anxiety about making the transition from CDA awards to large independent investigator awards.
Basically, a typical New Year 😉
And then COVID hit, and I wrote to you all about self-preservation and productivity amid chaos. I was following my own advice. I cut everything off of my list but submitting 1 grant – that had been 3 years in the making. It would have been the easiest thing to delay logistically, but it was the last thing I wanted to give up. So, I didn’t. I de-prioritized ongoing projects, papers, and collaborations. I knew I could only do 1-2 things during a time of such insane upheaval. I laser focused myself and my team on this grant…and I kept operating.
I started talking with my therapist and my coach about what I called the ‘surgery thing.’ In my mind, it was an ‘issue’ that I needed to fix. Why do I want to stop operating? I’m good at it – great, actually.
Being a surgeon is SUCH a prestige chip. All of you non-surgeon physicians know what I mean. We surgeons are insufferable, because hello…we are SURGEONS. Why in God’s name would I give that up? And…and this was a big one…the only reason I had seen people stop operating outside of retirement was because of a major injury or trauma. I already felt the intense pressure to fight against the stereotype that a surgeon-scientist, especially one at 25-50% clinical – couldn’t be a great surgeon.
You see why I was calling it my “surgery thing.”
The only thing I was sure of was that I was not going to stop operating.
So, I started bargaining.“Ok, I’ll go for 10 years then stop. I’m five years in, so that’s only five to go.” Only five years. YEARS, doing something I’m questioning *now*.
“But I don’t know anyone who’s stopped just because it’s not as fulfilling as it used to be… Kemi, you are crazy.”
I kept operating.
Then May 2020 happened. Then *JUNE 2020.* Then I told you all about career transformation. I told you to flip tables, and start over, and disappoint people. I wrote to you that the day you realize you need to change and you don’t is the day you start wasting time.
Yes, friends, I was coaching the hell out of myself.
I realized I was hiding behind bargaining to avoid being courageous. Courageous enough to follow a path that may not make sense to anyone else. But it made it so much sense to me. I didn’t hate surgery at all. I still really enjoyed it. I had just had enough of it. And the realization I had spent months trying to avoid, was that even though for some becoming a surgeon was the pinnacle of their career…. And even though I am only one of a few Black women gynecologic oncologists in the country….for me, apparently, this is a stop along a much longer path.
I thought I spent 15 years working to arrive here, when it turned out I actually spent 15 years preparing to take a LEAP.
You see, what I was fighting was the work of elevating my own self-concept. What was scary was not that I would be smaller. What was scary, was that I could be bigger. That what for some was the pinnacle of their career, is a way point for mine. The fear I had was being audacious enough for more.
I am thankful because the right book came to me at the right time – The Big Leap. Surgery is my Zone of Excellence. What’s coming for me, what I am building with my research, advocacy, coaching, and leadership work – is my Zone of Genius.
What is true is that spending all of those years becoming and then being a gynecologic oncologist – doing the most complex surgeries in my field – may have been the last task I made myself do just to prove I could do it. To be clear, proving I could do it was extraordinarily satisfying and enjoyable. That motivation is powerful and got me so far.
Elevating your self-concept, however, is choosing different fuel.
My fuel now is spending my time having as big an impact as possible – coaching and empowering more surgeons and surgeon-scientists, transforming careers of WOC so they can transform their fields, developing more tools and digging deeper into the coaching work that can touch a whole generation of surgeons, and not just my clients. Moving on with the work of not just narrowing, but *eliminating*, the racial inequity in endometrial cancer.
So – I’ll happily let myself stumble over the words – “I’m a gynecologic oncologist. I don’t operate anymore.” – but I’m no longer hiding from the possibilities.
This is just the beginning.