Yeah, I know, I said I was going to double down on my writing efforts with the move to Montana.
And then graduate school. And then some clinical work. So many distractions. For those who are fans of Pixar’s Up, this is when I invoke the phrase “Squirrel!”
It feels like it’s time to begin again, and I can’t think of any better way to do that than to share my biggest lessons of 2020 (which felt more like a decade than a year…is that just me?). Because, all of the social, political, and economic wildness aside, 2020 was undoubtedly a year of learning for me.
- Grace, grace, and more grace may be the most important quality we can offer. My comment above about “begin again”? That’s grace, and in this case I’m offering it to myself. I find that many of us are terrific about offering those around us grace, reminding our friends that they can always begin again; yet we aren’t so generous with ourselves (see Kristen Neff’s work on self-compassion). What if we spent more time offering that bit of compassion to everyone, and especially to ourselves? What might that look like?
- Old friends, they shine like diamonds. Surprising no one who is a long-time reader, I found some wisdom in music this year. Chris Stapleton’s “Starting Over” was the album of the last part of 2020 for me, and it includes the song “Old Friends”. My clinical work has been in the ICU at the hospital where two of my residency classmates are general surgeons, and since it’s about 2 hours away I move in with my “residency bestie” Katie and her family when I go over (for COVID purposes, we just treat me like I’m a full-time live-in family member). I’ve been reminded why residency was hard AND do-able with these humans, and I also realize that I’ve been closely surrounded by really amazing, generous, and kind people for a long time. As Jeff explained to his 10-year-old son, “We’ve been through THINGS together, and we’re still close because of it.” Amen.
- Sometimes you just have to leap into the unknown. When I came to Montana this summer, the thing I knew with certainty was that I had a one-year lease on a place in Bozeman. The other thing I knew was that I planned to take my first summer off since 1989 (yes, you read that correctly…the year I graduated from college was my last “summer vacation” thanks to a torn MCL). I trusted that with some time to rest and be outdoors in wild spaces that I would figure things out, and this has generally proven to be true. Graduate work in Native American studies has proven grounding, and I’m loving spending time in the virtual classroom as a learner. Doing ICU shifts has kept me tied to clinical life and has provided another avenue for learning (thanks, COVID…I’ve been learning SO much about you!). I’ve spent time in the sun riding and running and hiking- and now skiing. I’ve written (and scrapped) the lion’s share of a book proposal. Most importantly, I’ve developed a lot of clarity around what I want my last 10-ish years in medicine to look like.
- Boundaries and (adequate) resources matter. Over time, I plan to build these themes out more as key elements of effective leadership and tools for mitigating burnout. Part of 2020, for me, was learning about setting boundaries and how to handle it when they’re not being respected. I also realized, thanks to a comment by a respected mentor at the close of the year, the impact of resources of all types on success and well-being. And, of course, I see a straight line between setting boundaries and having adequate resources to do what is being asked of you; as I’ve written before, burnout is not a failure of resilience and victim-blaming is ridiculous in settings where people are consistently being asked to do more with less. These concepts around boundaries and resources are an unfolding idea for me right now, and I’m all but certain it will show up in a more complete form in the not-distant future.
- Celebrate ALL the wins. This is a lesson that I’ve apparently been slow to internalize, but that doesn’t make it any less important. How often do any of us pause to intentionally consider something we’ve done that is important/ meaningful/ just plain awesome? What if we started treating celebration as a practice, even when it feels silly to do so? One of my friends is doing a daily practice of #eveningwins, which I love as a part of daily ritual, and another has been encouraging those around her to pause on Saturday, look at the previous week, and celebrate at least one thing from the week. I closed 2020 celebrating that I know what I need, know what I want, and have the courage to pursue just those things. Last night’s installment in #eveningwins was getting a slightly-overdue book chapter submitted (THAT is a tangible victory!). Here’s to more intentional celebration for us all, both in 2021 and going forward.