But I don’t WANT to!

Now that I’ve channeled my own inner toddler, I’m willing to bet I just channeled a few of your inner toddlers as well.

What is it I don’t want to do?

Networking.

Admit it, you might have cringed a little when you read that word. It’s something that’s foisted upon us as a necessary evil in career development. And it’s something that makes many of us feel…well, icky, for lack of a more professional word.

Certainly there are a group of people for whom networking comes naturally; the are able to dive in and meet people and find ways to connect to them. For the rest of us, networking is a more deliberate process, and one in which to keep our integrity we also need a way to remain authentic. If you want a quick fix, here’s an HBR article on learning to love networking that has four key steps.  I want to focus primarily on the idea of finding a common interest (which I also associate with help-seeking), one of them that’s quite easily controllable and that creates a specific type of culture.

Think for a moment about someone you know who is an amazing connector (I’m going to use that word to remove any negative connotations). That person who seems to know everyone, and whom everyone seems to know, and that familiarity is consistently in a positive sense. Chances are that person will in some way align with Adam Grant’s definition of a “giver,” which may be a secret to getting ahead, and certainly fosters a specific type of positive culture.

Where am I taking this?  I’m trying to move us from the idea of networking being transactional, because that seems to be when we get that dirty feeling about it. What if we thought about networking in a purely relational sense? What if we sought things that we have in common, and we asked questions and actually listened to the answers?  To quote from Eric Barker‘s recent book, what if we shared our Twinkies by finding small ways to help one another?

When we use a relational framework, networking seems strangely akin to friend making- it’s all about liking and being interested. Or, as Glennon Doyle Melton wisely phrased this a couple of years ago, “I really, really think the secret to being loved is to love. And the secret to being interesting is to be interested. And the secret to having a friend is being a friend.”

One more tangentially related thought: if you have friends you haven’t connected with recently, take this as a reminder that it’s time. I’ve not once regretted the coffee date, the run, the weekend when I’ve made time for it.

 

Staving off the demons

This review of burnout in surgeons was published online in JAMASurgery last week, as was this Viewpoint on resilience and its relationship to burnout.

Of course, the root causes of burnout in medicine and surgery are protean. Specialty, gender, workhours, EMRs (yes, the EMR is being blamed now), basically anything that can contribute to job dissatisfaction regardless of profession are possible catalysts for burnout.

I openly admit that I don’t spend much time discussing burnout. It’s not that I don’t care when my colleagues are suffering; I do care deeply about them and their distress. For me, it’s that discussions of burnout and “what’s wrong with surgery/ medicine today” tend to be problem focused.  While people have generated all sorts of inquiry around risk factors for burnout and descriptions of its impact, resilience and recovery are woefully neglected. And yes, our systems should try to help mitigate controllable things that are clearly risks…but there’s so much more to the picture than the systems, and those other things get complicated.

I’m also not saying I never have a sense of being burned out. There are weeks when I fear that I’m generally in over my head, when I’m exhausted, and when I feel like I have very little control over anything. Had you asked me to fill out a Maslach Burnout Inventory at 11 pm last Friday night, I’m reasonably certain that I would glared at you and ended up with a score very consistent with burnout. In contrast, had you asked me to complete one at 11 am on Saturday (after 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep on Friday night and an 8 mile run with my running “tribe”), it probably wouldn’t have looked nearly so dismal even though I was back in the trenches of patient care and was having a busy day.

Here’s the thing: I could have skipped my Saturday run and slept more, and I’m certain some would say I should have done just that. However, physical activity that is a challenge is both grounding and restorative; thus my love of running and the basis for my nine half marathons in the last year. And while some days it really is about the running to process and running to manage on energy, Saturday was a day when it was running for connection. I knew that the best thing (again, for me) to get my head back where I wanted it, to feel like I had just a bit of control over my crazy life, and to enjoy simply being in the moment was to get up early and meet my running group.

8 miles later...

8 miles later…

I’m going to tell you that your mileage may vary- your “thing” doesn’t have to be running. But what your “thing” does need to include is connection. Saturday morning I needed time with these friends- friends who cheerlead, who love unconditionally, who are incredibly funny, and none of whom are in medicine. I didn’t need for them to understand what my week had been like.  I just needed to be with them for a while doing something that we all love.  Brené Brown is right– we are all hard wired for connection.

Find your tribe. Love them hard. Most importantly, spend all the time with them that you can.  What if it really is that simple?

Personal learning networks

Yesterday on Twitter I posted a link to an inspirational NPR piece in which 5 great teachers discuss what makes a great teacher.  Because I wear my “teacher” title about as proudly as I wear my “surgeon” title, I was fascinated by what the participants had to say.  I loved that everything wasn’t consensual (Give them the tools and set them loose vs. graduated responsibility, as in the bike riding example), and most importantly I found a new-to-me idea in the discussion of personal learning networks by Troy Cockrum.  When he described how he improves on the job, it resonated for me in terms of discussions I have had with several of my academic surgery colleagues over the last year or two.  And, of course, my curious self had to look up the idea of a personal learning network (PLN).

I found some great information about building a PLN that really emphasizes a key point:  It’s not about the content, it’s about the people in your PLN.  If they aren’t willing to share, and to help you brainstorm why something succeeded or failed, they aren’t really serving as a PLN.  And while I don’t agree with every piece of advice here (I’m still struggling with how one uses Google +), I’ve found that both I and many of my closest colleagues have tripped into doing these things.  We use Twitter, we connect, we comment.  Somehow in the throes of that, we’ve become research collaborators and friends whom I value deeply.  I’ve also come to realize that some of the reason that this blog has been so fulfilling for me and meaningful for others has been the branding of it; it’s been about authenticity as a mid-career surgeon who is trying to juggle a career and a life and a million other things- just like many of you who are reading.

So, yes, a personal learning network is something that all of us who are educators should have, and I would posit that if you’re a clinican/ educator that you might need two PLNs- one for your clinical work, that may be more of an actual local presence, and another for your education work.  So, who is in your PLN?  And whose PLN are you part of?  And how are you going to develop this?

And perhaps the $1 million question that a few of us have pondered:  Does the presence of a robust PLN help counter burnout?  I might be wrong, but my best guess, is yes.