What if it’s not our fault?

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.” – Margaret Mead

In the last week I have found myself in the midst of two interesting Twitter conversations, both with a similar underlying theme regarding the impact of culture and how we seem to underestimate its impact on the individual.

Here’s conversation #1 (remember to start reading at the bottom):

I particularly loved the empathy behind the idea that the term burnout implies that it’s a personal choice. While we’re getting smarter about identifying organizational factors that drive burnout (ahem…my group’s call schedule), there still seems to be this idea that if you’re struggling with burnout, you’re simply not resilient enough. Reality check: I’ve witnessed some people who are remarkably resilient struggle with burnout, and without exception they have been in a work environment in which they had little to no control. Yes, I understand that individual characteristics may predispose people to burnout or may limit the impact of a dysfunctional system upon the individual…but at the end of the day, victim blaming and pretending it’s ALL about resilience?  That’s simply feeding the dragon.  It’s not helpful.

On to Twitter conversation #2:

(The link that you can’t see from here is this recent piece in the Atlantic.)

So, maybe it’s not about biological clocks or because we’re not ambitious enough.  Maybe, just maybe that ambition is situational…and that if we’re in an environment where we see other women hitting their heads repeatedly against the glass ceiling,  or we experience that ourselves, we adjust our expectations accordingly. Or we leave when we realize that we shouldn’t have to adjust those expectations because there isn’t anything wrong with them.

It’s time to stop telling us to try harder, or telling us that we can’t be mothers and academic surgeons, or telling us that we don’t measure up because we don’t know the 100 extra double-secret and unwritten criteria that you’re using to evaluate us. Most importantly, it’s time to create a culture in which we feel valued and supported, not because you tell us that we should, but because we actually are.

What if it’s really not our fault?

2 thoughts on “What if it’s not our fault?

  1. Danielle Peterson says:

    Thank you for this post! I think I read somewhere that 1/16 surgeons is actively contemplating suicide at any given moment. I think the sooner that cultural and environmental factors are scrutinized as major contributors to burnout the better.

    I listened to a radio story today that talked about productivity. (http://freakonomics.com/podcast/how-to-be-more-productive/)

    The show discussed some of some research findings from Google about how to not only increase productivity but also create highly effective teams.

    One particularly thing that stood out to me is what was said was the number one important factor in a highly successful team. It wasn’t leadership, it wasn’t consensus-driven decision making or even workload. It was psychological safety.

    Everyone at the table has to feel they have the opportunity to speak up and that people are actually listening to them. Team members should feel they can fail openly and they won’t be shunned for failure.

    I found this remarkably interesting and wonder how it would play out in the surgical hierarchy especially in our culture where as women we are often scrutinized for being assertive.

    • Amalia Cochran MD says:

      Great thoughts- thank you. You gave me fodder for another blog post…stay tuned (I have the next week or two planned in my head already). And thanks for reading!

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