I love my life… now. I wake up most days feeling lucky to live where I do, be healthy, have a great job as an orthopaedic surgeon, also be able to work as a coach, and to have a beautiful family as well as great friends. But I didn’t always feel like this. Years ago I felt trapped. It was as if I were stranded on an island and I had no way to get off. Sure, I knew how to swim but there were sharks in the water and I am probably not a good enough swimmer to save myself. So I hired a coach. But first, let me tell you how I got stranded.
I always had a plan. I could see my a path and had a vision of where I was going in life. I was excited to go to medical school and felt as if I had won the lottery when I matched to the residency of my choice. I worked hard in residency and at the end knew I was well trained and had acquired great skills. I did some fellowships and ended up getting a good job even as I saw some of my colleagues struggle to find work
I was excited to start working and eager to jump in and prove myself but it wasn’t the job I had envisioned. I had been well trained around patient care and could do that; however, I was not prepared for the administrative issues, working at a multiple sites, and being told that my help was not needed to change and improve things. I felt as if I had to manage everything alone and that no-one care about me as a person. And then my husband got sick.
When my husband was in hospital, I kept doing everything alone, well except maybe taking care of our three children. Luckily, unlike me, my husband and children had good friends who offered to help get my kids to and from school and kept food in their bellies even when I was too overwhelmed to eat or buy groceries. But at work I was still alone. I had no-one to whom I could turn for help. My patients needed to be seen, I had to show up for my operating days, and call was just as busy as before. There was no-one who could lighten my burden and I hated my job. I hated the pressure to always be doing more, seeing more people, and drowning in charts and paperwork. I hated the unhappy people who I could not help and who yelled at me or complained even when I went out of my way to care for them and do my best work. At that time, any grateful words from a patient or staff rolled off my back completely unheard.
I wanted to quit. Even after all my years of training and knowing that I was appreciated by my patients, I wanted to simply walk away from it all. I kept thinking that if it were not for the children, I could just stop working and be free of the weight of a job that requires tremendous strength to meet the rigid standards. I thought that I could be happy living a simple life. But how could my family survive if I wasn’t working as a surgeon – it was the only thing that I knew how to do to make a living that supported our lifestyle. And yet, how could I work as a surgeon when I was so unhappy. I was trapped.
With the support of my coach, I began to see how I had trapped myself and to see that I had the power within me to build a bridge off my island of isolation. I could change how I managed my work to get more help and support. I could make friends and connections at work and home so if my husband ever got sick again I had a safety net. And most importantly, I could change my attitude to my work and pay attention to the grateful patients and good work that I do.
Now, I still struggle with some of the burden associated with my chosen career. We have a government who does not support physicians and I walk through the hospital seeing my burnt out colleagues. I know how they are feeling because when I was trapped, I was burnt out. But now I am off my island and in an amazing world where my children are happy, I am able to work both as a surgeon and as a coach, and I feel as if I have control and the ability to create my own path to happiness.