Good as new

Labor Day seems to mark the last hurrah of summer, and I’m looking at it that way as well this year.  Granted, the academic year I am part of started two months ago, so for me it’s less about those patterns and more about the change of seasons, the setting of new intentions.

My theme for the summer has definitely been going new places and trying new things.  I’ve pushed myself outside of my comfort zone in many ways- running 3 half marathons between May 16 and August 8, changing up how I train under the tutelage of my amazing running coach, wandering off to three new-to-me places to explore and enjoy with friends, and going to Cowgirl Yoga “camp”.  I’ve learned more in the last 3 1/2 months about me, about goal-setting and intention, about life than I have in a long time, largely because pushing out of your comfort zone essentially mandates that you learn.   Examples?

-I’ve learned that the half marathon distance is great for me.  It’s long enough that it is truly a challenge and I feel like I’ve accomplished something by running those 13.1 miles.  I also don’t leave it so miserable or so burnt out from my training that I don’t want to go back to the well for more (as evidenced by the half marathon that recently magically appeared on my schedule later this month, even though I swore I was done until December).  It’s that running “sweet spot” for me, balancing something that is hard with being something that is doable.

-I’ve learned that I apparently show a strong resemblance to a 13-year-old girl when given the opportunity to ride horses.  Given the majesty of the horse, how can you not feel some sense of almost boundless joy in being able to work with them?  We could all use more joy like that, and I’m grateful I’ve been able to experience it some this summer.

-I’ve learned that I innately fall into the “helper” role in almost any group, and I’ve learned I’m okay with that.  I attribute some of it to my introversion and it being an easy way to connect with people (or animals).  I attribute some of it to my fundamental nature as someone who nurtures.  I attribute some of it to the fact that I sit still very poorly and it gives me a way to do.  It’s also a great way to watch what’s going on around me, leading to my next point…

-I’ve learned that while I am incredibly curious about almost everything, I tend not to ask questions.  I get quiet.  I take things in.  I observe.  And only once I have clarity on the parts I can’t figure out by watching, I ask.  I’m going to experiment with asking more, even though observation is absolutely fascinating.

-I’ve learned that my intuition is to be trusted.  Culturally we are so attuned to science and fact and trying to ignore that “spidey sense.”  We shouldn’t ignore it, or at least I shouldn’t.

-I’ve learned that I love travel and exploring and having time with people I love.  I’ve also re-learned that I love being at home and nesting and having time with my menagerie here.  Both are important.

It’s been a pretty amazing summer in terms of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, not to mention how much I feel like I’ve grown.  Now to figure out what those lessons mean and how to incorporate them into the everyday…

Sundance.  Me.  Henry.  Joy.



Mean girls: Our own worst enemy?

“There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.”  Madeleine Albright

I have participated in a number of leadership training seminars targeted for women in academic medicine.  These seminars spend lots of time helping us career plan, helping us communicate more effectively, helping us run meetings effectively.  What they don’t teach us is the sociology of organizations and leadership and one of the lingering barriers to women’s success: the role that relational aggression can play in women’s career development.

What is relational aggression? Quite simply, it’s manipulation of someone in a way intended to damage their relationships with others.  While it’s behavior that may be displayed by men or women, in American culture it’s a predominantly female behavior.  It consists of isolating someone socially through whisper campaigns.  It preys on the desire for connection and belonging.  It compounds workplace stress, something little needed in some of the environments where it is best described (nursing, I’m looking at your sisterhood on that one– stop eating your young!).  It’s often insidious, smoldering…and incredibly hurtful.  The most damaging piece of relational aggression is that those who see it for what it is often stand on the sidelines, afraid of becoming the next target.

Ladies, admit it:  You’ve either experienced it or witnessed it.  Gentlemen, I suspect you’ve had the opportunity to see these things occur as well.  This isn’t unfamiliar territory, but it is dangerous territory.

The reasons for relational aggression are likely complex, myriad, and something I will dig into when/ if I am reincarnated as a sociologist whose work focuses on power dynamics (because really, it is ALL about power).  What is perhaps more important is to be cognizant that it exists, and to figure out how we nip this phenomenon.

Organizational interventions can certainly help if it’s a pervasive part of culture.  In academic surgery we don’t have enough powerful women (yet!) for relational aggression to be a real danger in most settings.  Where we can have an impact in places where women are still a minority is to be individually accountable for our behavior and to hold our friends and colleagues accountable as well.

What is my commitment to help halt relational aggression?

  • As a leader, to insure that those who need access to me have that access
  • As a peer, to insure awareness of opportunities for participation and leadership
  • As a human, to not get sucked into smear campaigns and dirty gossip.
  • As a friend, to continue the work that a couple of colleagues and I have begun of nominating one another- or other Worthy Women whom we identify- for awards and opportunities.

It’s all about valuing people and their contributions, really.  I’ve never aspired to be a Mean Girl, and there is no time when that’s been more important than now for me.