52 Things I’ve learned…

Because how else would I resurrect the blog on my birthday?!?

  1. Leopards don’t change their spots
  2. Time outdoors, particularly when the sun is shining, is a salve for me
  3. A sincere apology is an act of great humility
  4. Accepting a sincere apology is an act of great grace
  5. When life becomes complicated and challenging, the people who love you the most will hold your hand through it
  6. #5 is a kindness that should be reciprocated when friends are in need
  7. Food & drink indulgences that I love more than I probably should: good tequila, complex cheese, 70% dark chocolate
  8. Teaching preschool (especially preschool Sunday School) provides innumerable transferable skills for the professional world
  9. Impostor Complex is real, and it can be overcome
  10. I’m still doing everything that I did 10 years ago. It just hurts more the next day (and I’m a little slower)
  11. Material indulgences that I love more than I probably should- and my closet shows evidence of all of these: shoes, dresses, fun scarves, handbags
  12. Convincing your brain that thoughts aren’t facts can be incredibly hard to do
  13. Work-life integration doesn’t seem to get easier over time
  14. I miss travel and exploring (note to remind myself I’m writing this during a pandemic and haven’t been on a plane in a few days shy of 3 months)
  15. Happiness comes first, not after
  16. As an introvert, one can still be a “pack animal”
  17. Gratitude. Gratitude. Gratitude.
  18. It really is better to give than receive
  19. Morning ritual sets the tone for the day
  20. Taking my work email off of my phone is one of the smartest things I have ever done
  21. Procrastination sometimes does get rewarded
  22. Managing energy is as important as managing time
  23. You work will never love you back
  24. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it
  25. I miss live music as much or more than I miss travel and exploring right now
  26. Cats are natural yogis
  27. Not enough of us listen deeply- including myself in that at times
  28. Integrity. Integrity. Integrity.
  29. Asking for help can be daunting and is seldom refused by those who are asked for help
  30. When facing challenges, make sure you actually see them
  31. People are more receptive to the concept of amygdala hijack when I call it “using your dinosaur brain”
  32. It’s okay to quit things that truly are not a fit
  33. It’s impossible to be overprepared
  34. How society views women remains complicated and limiting
  35. Play, especially when you don’t think that you have time to do so
  36. Little wins matter as much or more than big wins
  37. Being in a position of leadership does not necessarily mean that someone is an effective leader
  38. Not being in a position of leadership does not necessarily mean that someone is not an effective leader
  39. Considering the worst case scenario can be helpful; maybe it’s not actually that bad…
  40. Mistakes will be made, very few of which cannot be corrected
  41. Compassion for others starts with self-compassion
  42. Know your purpose
  43. It’s possible to be both fierce and flexible
  44. Stop comparing. Just stop
  45. We will always have people whose hearts are in need of blessing, in the traditional Southern sense
  46. Laugh, and find joy in the laughter of others
  47. Run when you can, rest when you need to
  48. The world can be nasty, brutish, and unjust, but we don’t need to respond that way. If anything, we need to respond in the opposite fashion
  49. Story matters
  50. Shame casts a long shadow
  51. Privilege also casts a long shadow
  52. One of my superpowers is finding the good. May I never lose that, and may I find ways to continue to share it.

The Heart of the Matter


It’s only been two weeks since I last posted. Only. And yet…it feels like it’s been months. Or longer.

The analogy I’ve been giving people for where we are, here in Middle America, with the whole preparation thing is that it feels strangely akin to waiting for a hurricane to come ashore. We’ve got all of the supplies we can have, we’ve got a great plan, and now we wait. We know there’s a storm, we know we’ll at least get some wind and rain from it, and beyond that…we just have to wait and see. My “glass half full” approach has been to remind people at least we won’t lose power. Or we shouldn’t.

Some of you know that I’m a big fan of “Heart” and “Brain” from the Awkward Yeti, mostly because I am unquestionably “Heart”. This resonated with me this week on a day when I was a little worn out:

Then there was this reminder today, for which I’m grateful:

View this post on Instagram

Time to be more like Heart

A post shared by The Awkward Yeti (Nick Seluk) (@theawkwardyeti) on

I hope you’re each finding a little something to feed your soul every day right now, whether you’re waiting for the hurricane or already in the eye of the storm. In the meantime, I’m over here making sure this Heart stays shored up so I can take care of my communities…because that is what Heart does, after all.

Stay well. Wash your hands. And stay home. Hugs for everyone when this is over.

Life in the time of #COVID-19

Sure, we all knew some sort of pandemic was possible, perhaps even probable.

But this? How many of us were ready?

For me, the hardest part is simply that we don’t know what we don’t know, which means that erring on the side of caution is well-advised. That’s how I’m offering myself grace as I manage disappointment about cancelled professional meetings (while my Spring schedule always makes me a little bonkers, I really do live for the renewal of those connections), symphony performances that won’t happen (Beethoven cancelled! Sob!), no Saturday morning Farmers Market…normal life stuff, ordinarily. And I feel disappointment on behalf of our 4th year medical students, who will still find out where they are heading for residency next year, but they’ll miss sharing that celebration with friends and family. It’s just such a strange time AND I do believe we’re doing the right things as a society right now.

I also believe we’re each finding our own way to manage this; I did tease my Dad earlier today that he was practicing social distancing before it was cool…and right now I’m grateful for that. At my house, we’ll be practicing it too because I do have my 76 year old (healthy) Mom here, and then there’s me, the asthmatic. I like to pretend I’m pretty superhuman even with my asthma, but the influenza already demonstrated the lack of truth in that concept this winter.

So, what little- or big- things am I doing around here to keep my wits about me?

  • Washing my hands. Okay, I was good about this before. Now the very first thing I do when I walk into the house is drop what I’m carrying and wash my hands.
  • Yoga. Lots of yoga. At home. Some of you already know I’m a big fan of Yoga with Adriene, and she has plenty of videos on YouTube. Also, DownDog has made their app free in response to the current health climate.
  • Okay, a bit of meditation too. Calm has all sorts of resources, and I’ve even gotten my Dad hooked on it.
  • Still running, and doing so with a friend. It’s a non-contact activity.
  • Catching up on my reading backlog since I won’t be on the road for the next month. I promise to share anything fabulous later.
  • Making sure to support small businesses because I have the capacity to do so. Since I’m definitely still at work, as long as we have food trucks showing up at lunch time I’ll be supporting them. I can still get coffee from my favorite local roasters, even without Farmers Market this week. Also, tipping a little more generously, again because I can. The service industry is taking this HARD. Related: If you have the resources, please give money to your local food banks. They have more “purchasing power” than you do, so your dollars go further than the cans of soup will.
  • Taking my errands to a whole new level of trip chaining (today I early voted on my way home), and trying to go places when they’re likely to be less busy (3 pm on Thursday was great!).
  • Setting up Skype/ FaceTime/ Zoom “dates” with friends who I won’t get to see with the meeting cancellations…or with friends just because. LMK if you’re up for a coffee or wine virtual hangout, because I definitely am! Correlate: I won’t be showing up even for small group in-person social activities for the next little bit since we have the above described people in our household.
  • Did I mention washing my hands? And have y’all figured out along with me how hard it is to NOT touch your face?

It’s my deepest hope that by the end of March we’ll all be able to be grateful that some patience and a measure of caution helped this to mostly blow over; the data and the delay in response says that’s not the most likely outcome. In the meantime, I’m taking my contributions to flattening the curve pretty seriously, and I hope you will too.

High-Trust Leadership

My writing well has obviously been dry for a bit; I’ve struggled to have Time to Think (thanks, Julie Freischlag, for that concept!) and one of the major downstream impacts is on creativity. However, a convergence of some reading and listening jiggled my brain, so here we are.

I’ve been completely transparent about my love of Kimball Scott’s book Radical Candor for the last couple of years. I don’t think I’m alone in having worked with bosses or supervisors/ faculty who were purveyors of ruinous empathy or obnoxious aggression when giving feedback. I also hope that I’m not alone in having worked with and for some people who mastered the sweet spot of radical candor- caring personally and challenging directly- long before it was a concept in print. If you’ve heard me chronicle my professional journey at any point, you’ll know that Leigh Neumayer and Jeff Saffle both served in that capacity when I was a resident and in my early years as faculty. I always felt supported and respected when they had to tell me to get my “stuff” together because I knew they were trying to help me get out of my own way. In short, I trusted them completely because I knew that they wanted me to be the best version of me.

A key thing that I have come to realize over time, and as I’ve become the more senior person in many of my professional roles, is that fostering that trust is both a huge effort and a huge responsibility. In Simon Sinek’s book Leaders Eat Last, he highlights the concept of a “Circle of Safety” present in the highest-functioning teams; these teams also have a culture of trust and cooperation, and the leaders of these teams are critical to creating that culture. “Leaders are not responsible for the job…they are responsible for the people who are responsible for the job.” Leaders, according to Sinek, bring empathy and perspective to their teams (note: this talk is worth every minute of your 35 minute investment this weekend).

This afternoon I was listening to the HBR Ideacast while commuting between hospitals. This week’s episode isn’t immediately relevant to my professional existence- it’s on hiring and firing effectively- but there was a phrase that Joel Peterson used that truly resonated with me. He talked about the importance of creating a “high-trust organization” based upon high-trust relationships so that when it is time for a change that everyone can make that happen on good terms. This aligns with comments that Sinek makes regarding playing the “infinite contest,” which isn’t about winning or losing- it’s about the purpose. Using empathy and perspective to achieve a purpose seems to me how one ultimately fosters a high-trust culture.

Thoughts on life and work and family

Confession: I’ve been spending quite a bit of time the last month or two contemplating priorities. I don’t know that there has been a single specific reason for this. It’s more been a constellation of events that have resulted in this pondering.

While I’ve been thinking, this JAMA Surgery research letter examining retired surgeons’ reflections on their careers was published. I think the findings are open to some interpretation based upon lived experiences, but what is clear to me is that you don’t see respondents saying they wish they had done less to support their own health and their families. And, again, how we care for ourselves and our families looks very different for each of us in terms of time, activities, geography…almost in any detail (see below mention of resource allocation).

In addition, this week Clayton Christensen died and the HBR has featured some of his seminal writing. That led me back to his essay, “How Will You Measure Your Life?“, now almost a decade old and no less powerful. He has three foundational questions that he asked his MBA students in 2010:

  • How can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career?
  • How can I be sure that my relationships with my family can be a source of enduring happiness?
  • How can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? (Note: I reframe this one as “How can I be sure I’ll live a life of integrity?”)

His discussions of resource allocation and marginal costs in how we live our lives speak to my economic geek’s heart, if I’m honest. Perhaps most importantly, these three questions really are (to me) the crux of our complicated lives. As Simon Sinek says more simply, find your Why?

Calvin and Hobbes has long been one of my favorite cartoons; in many ways I relate to Calvin’s “free-range” childhood with a very busy imagination (Mama C was an amazing enabler!). Cartoonist Bill Watterson is incredibly wise around issues of integrity and what success actually means. And I credit him perhaps most for this statement: “To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”

What does this all mean? I truly don’t know. Yet. What I do know is that I’m thinking more deeply about work-life integration that I have in a long, long time and how to do that in a way that maintains my passion for my professional calling and my dedication to myself and my family. When and if I figure it out (either fully or in part), I promise to share. In the meantime, perhaps I’ll go hang out with Hobbes in that sunny field he wished for…


January is national mentoring month, and one of my goals this month is to celebrate mentoring and the positive effect it can have. I do think it’s important to immediately state that mentoring is not a “one size fits all”. While we know a great deal more about what effective mentoring looks like and how to develop mentoring programs than we did a decade ago, the reality is that we still have a great deal to learn. Many institutions and organizations have implemented mentoring programs, yet we still don’t have much more than anecdotal evidence of the impact of these programs. Mentoring as a science? It’s definitely a field still ripe for exploring!

My own interest in mentoring blossomed during my surgical residency when I recognized how central mentors had been to my specialty selection, and ultimately to my subspecialty selection as well. I also recognized something that (in the 90s) wasn’t widely acknowledged within surgery- that I had mentors, plural, rather than that one “holy grail” mentor who had guided and were guiding me. What I’ve subsequently learned is that most of us actually have a web of mentors across domains and across time. Maybe the model I built for myself wasn’t so unusual after all.

Most importantly, because of my recognition that mentors had made all of the difference for my career development (thank you Danny Custer, Leigh Neumayer, Jeff Saffle, and David Herndon, amongst others!), a crucial part of my own story was to become the best mentor I can be. Do I get it right every day? Not even close. Do I have good intentions? Always. And do I get to see the rewards? All the time, and that’s the best part. I get to see medical students turn into residents and grow into being young faculty. I get to see junior faculty members get promoted to Associate Professor. I get to see people excited about giving their first professional presentation, having their first peer-reviewed publication, and getting awards for making amazing contributions. I get the text or phone call when something goes phenomenally well…or phenomenally badly and they simply need an ear.

As their mentor, do I get to take credit for these things? Absolutely not! They aren’t my accomplishments, and I didn’t do the hard work. I do, however, get to celebrate the corners on which I left a fingerprint, and the fact that my mentees trust me to want to share their victories (and their struggles) with me. It’s a privilege that they trusted me in the first place to invite me in as a mentor, and seeing them succeed is its own reward.


A "love" list in the New Year's liminal space

A quick wrap-up of what I’m really loving at the end of 2019…

  • The amount of time I got to spend connecting and re-connecting with friends this Fall by spending several weekends in College Station. I definitely missed a few folks during my crazy travels, but home is always home, and it’s ALWAYS good to be among your people. #youcantakethegirloutofTexasbut…
  • Outdoor bike rides in December. 2 of them, to be precise. I’ll never turn down a chance to be in the sun and on two wheels. Never. #cyclingisactuallymyfavorite
  • For Christmas my mom (or our animals?) signed me up for my second year of the Weiland’s Market Cheese Lovers’ Club. Every month I get three cheeses, along with their stories and recipes. If you know me at all, you understand why I think this is pretty much a perfect gift. #cheeseisanexpressionoflove
  • The New Yorker re-published this Ian Frazier column (Coyote v. ACME) in this past week’s edition. If you’ve ever watched Wyle E. Coyote and the Road Runner, it’s irresistible silliness. #laughterisgoodforthesoul
  • Garden and Gun magazine released their “Best Southern Albums of 2019” list, and I was pleasantly surprised at how many of them I already love (The Highwomen, anyone? And this time last year I couldn’t get enough of Maggie Rogers’ “Light On”). I’ve also found some new-to-me music that’s rocking my world, particularly Caroline Spence. Don’t make me pick a favorite song from Mint Condition…just give it a listen. #musicislife
  • Confession: Dolly Parton’s “Heartstrings” is my not-so-guilty pleasure TV of late. The woman is a national treasure, the show borders on sappy sweet in many ways, and some days that’s just what my soul needs. #positivevibesonly
  • Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book Joyful was one of my favorite reads of 2019. I’m reminded of why through following her Instagram account and all of the color (and messaging) she shares with the world. #findjoywhereeveryouare
  • If you haven’t gotten around to reading Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad ( I’ll admit I’m wondering what took me so long), I’ll make a very strong recommendation for it. Yes, parts of it are challenging for the violence and the racism. The story is ultimately transcendent, though, and provides a magical realism spin on an important part of American history #somanybeautifulwords
  • Tucker the Cat and I are rolling up on 14 years together in a couple of months, and he’s about to turn 16. His jumping skills aren’t what they used to be, but he remains a Zen master in a cat suit, and he can snuggle like no one’s business. No, I’m not getting him a car for his birthday. #snowshoeboysarethebestboys
  • While my always-and-forever brand of joy is grace (because how could there NOT be joy in getting to start over again, every single day?), I’ve been working through my 2020 “word of the year” for the last several weeks, and have honestly been stuck between two. After a little Facebook crowdsourcing and some review of word origins (darn Classics education!), I’ve arrived at “transcendent”. It fits well with grace, it’s got a little mystery to it, and it doesn’t deny the role of hard work. Here’s to a transcendent year, friends! #transcendentgrace

Offering grace all around

“Childhood is the essence of who we become. The things we work on in our childhood stay with us through our lives.” – Finding Fred

Children’s television from my childhood has had a “moment” this Fall. In some ways, one of the best parts has been witnessing the recognition that Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street, while both charming, were also phenomenally progressive…perhaps even a bit revolutionary in what they were teaching us..

Let’s start with “Won’t you be my neighbor?“, which was initially released in 2018 but had a resurgence recently. This movie successfully highlighted what can only be described as the radical kindness of Fred Rogers. Then, while I was listening to the It’s Been a Minute weekly wrap just before Thanksgiving, I learned about Carvell Wallace’s amazing podcast series “Finding Fred“. And, not surprisingly, I’m hooked on listening to so many backstories about Fred Rogers and the development of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. There is far more there to unpack than I ever came close to realizing. Oh, and I’m not going to lie that I’m pretty proud to have a friend who created a Mr. Rogers-inspired sermon series that she delivered in November.

And in November, Sesame Street kicked off its 50th Anniversary season. In December, Sesame Street was honored by the Kennedy Center, the first TV show to achieve that distinction. As an adult who was raised on Sesame Street– and Plaza S├ęsamo!- it’s a little mind-boggling to both understand and recognize how much pedagogy and courage went into the programming for both Sesame and Mr. Rogers.

Lest you think I’m simply going to ramble about children’s television programming, I’ll proceed to tie this back to grace, our subject at hand today. Edutopia published a post last month explaining why Sesame Street’s Muppets are revolutionaries, and Rosemarie Truglio’s discussion of Grover just resonated with me since we share him as a favorite.

Let’s think about Grover, just for a moment. He’s a furry purple monster. He’s a bit (okay, a lot) goofy. He tries on all sorts of roles, from waiter to Super Grover. Grover is unfailingly kind and caring. Grover also arguably makes more mistakes than any other Muppet, yet I don’t think of Grover as a sad figure. Dr. Truglio beautifully describes Grover’s capacity to make mistakes from a place of best intentions, as well as his ability to recover and learn from those mistakes.

Think about that for just a moment. We have this sweet, goofy purple monster who forgives himself and continues to try. He is incredibly imperfect. Those around him forgive him and love him anyway when he makes mistakes (confession: for me as both a child and adult fan it made him all the more lovable!). Grover shows up, loves hard, does his best every single day. In my estimation, Grover is a model for extending grace to oneself. And his community? It’s a model for extending grace to those around us since Grover remains a central part of the Sesame Street neighborhood after 50 years- and he’s a master at offering grace to those around him as well, probably because he’s so practiced at offering it to himself.

Many of us work and live in stress-filled settings, and the holidays in particular are a time of year that can be as sorrowful as it is joyful. What if every day we pause to recognize that it’s an opportunity to start one more time, and to use that to practice offering ourselves some grace? Framed that way, it sounds not-so-hard to offer grace all around.

Trying a few new things

If you know me well, you know that I’m almost constantly trying to learn new things, or that I’m trying to find better ways of doing things. I’ll openly admit that some of these things are still works in progress, but I wanted to offer up the things I am “playing with” right now.

  • There was an excellent HBR Podcast recently on “Why Meetings Go Wrong (and How to Fix Them)”. While I am still working my way through Rogelberg’s book, I am trying out his suggestion of using questions for agenda items.
  • I’ve moved team meetings off of Fridays. I’ll admit that is in part a selfish move so that I can use the time available to me on Friday for Finish it Friday, another idea from the HBR podcast above. Who doesn’t want to go into the weekend with their major projects for the week finished up?!?
  • You know all of the stuff that’s turning up about “dopamine hits” when our phones ping? Probably a year ago I made a decision to turn off nearly all notifications on my phone (because I can’t turn off messaging when I use my phone as a pager!). Although the relative silence was weird at first, I have come to realize that I don’t miss getting pinged about all things at all times. I raised the bar even higher for myself when I got a new phone in October and didn’t reinstall the app to be able to access my work email. Yes, you read that right. I can still get to my work email, but I increased the “friction” because I have to do so through a browser. Again, this is something that for me is helpful for reinforcing “healthy” interactions with technology.
  • Another recent HBR podcast talked about wellness (“How we take care of ourselves”). I openly confess that I get a little twitchy these days when people use the word wellness because it’s become almost prescriptive. However, the descriptions and discussions in this podcast are frameworks that are particularly helpful overall because they aren’t prescriptive and they do leave room for individual variation. And while they are both relatively “small” things, I’m doing my best to not send emails between 8 pm and 7 am (because, honestly, I don’t want to be expected to respond during those hours either), and I’m trying to keep weekend and holiday emails to a bare minimum with no expectation of response until the next business day. Microsoft developers, if you’re reading this, PLEASE create something like the gmail feature so I can schedule when an email will be sent. Thanks!
  • Current work in very early progress: Using appreciative inquiry tools to facilitate generative discussions. More on this as it happens because I have plenty of homework to do before implementation occurs.

What are YOU working on /trying on for size right now?

Random things that are on my mind

I’ve spent the last three weeks considering a blog post and trying to pick a topic.

And I’ve been paralyzed with indecision because it’s been so incredibly long since I’ve written here that I am not sure where to start.

So tonight I decided that the best place to start is by writing something, anything, even if it’s just random things I’ve been thinking about, listening to, reading.

In no particular order and apropos of nothing…here you are.

Thinking about:

Listening to:

  • Allison Moorer’s “Blood” (Link to Terry Gross’ Fresh Air interview with her). If you don’t know Allison’s story, it’s worth listening to. She’s undoubtedly a survivor.
  • Miranda Lambert’s new album “Wildcard”
  • Sheryl Crow’s “Threads” – not even close to tired of it yet!
  • Bonnie Bishop “The Walk” (the whole album is magical)
  • Yes, I promise I listen to male artists too. These are just the things that are completely in my ear right now.


  • Finally getting around to Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. I’m anticipating a binge read while traveling this weekend. Next Up: Spring by Ali Smith. Last up: Washington Black by Ese Edugyan. If you haven’t read it, you’ve missed out on a magical journey.
  • Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood. It was one of this quarter’s Next Big Idea Club selections, and since I am generally obsessed with habit formation… Next up: Talking to Strangers
  • My own writing since I’m in the throes of finishing up an abstract (and have been trying to write the associated manuscript in almost-real-time).


  • Running, coming off of rehabbing my right hip. The piriformis is a mean little muscle.
  • Yoga with Adriene. If you’re having trouble making it to the studio, this is a completely workable substitute to get some yoga done.
  • I’ve spent about a weekend per month back in the Homeland this Fall, and it’s been nothing short of glorious to have time there with friends. You can take the girl out of Texas, but it will always and forever be home. Especially during Texas Aggie football season.

With that, I’m back home here as well. My aspirational self hopes to have something to share a couple of times a month. My actual self thinks that’s an achievable goal.