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Why Me? Why NOT Me?

Why me? It’s a question I have asked myself often over my professional life, and feel like I ask it even more frequently of late. The response that has slowly revealed itself is: “Why not me?” I’ve been a doctor for nearly 22 years and working in emergency medicine for 17 of those years. As time passes, and as I realize that I am in fact now a proper “grown-up”, I reflect upon what it is that truly defines me, not just professionally but also personally.

I think that, when all is said and done, the attribute that I most value about myself – is my ordinariness.

Maybe I am a little amazing – but I promise you that it’s no more amazing than any of you here. I’m definitely not humble- in fact, I take great pride in my ordinariness. I have worked hard to come to this position.

Let me explain. Like many of you, I am built with a Type A personality that tends towards perfectionism. I like to be organised, for things to be just so, and to be in total control of situations. I used to think that it was an act of irony that landed me in EM. But actually it makes perfect sense that I like to take a situation that is in chaos and then try to convert it into some kind of order. In fact, I would say that most of the women I know in EM are pretty much this kind of person! Being in control was how I spent about the first 30 years of my life: studying really hard at school to do well enough to get into Medicine, studying hard at Uni to get my degree, jumping into residency and training and continuing to work hard to achieve Fellowship.

Somewhere along the way, fitting in marriage and children, and the creation of my own nuclear family and household. Working hard at work to keep up with the requirements of the job, and with my colleagues – who inevitably always looked like they were so much more competent and capable than I ever felt. Working hard at home to keep the humans fed, clothed, educated and happy. And then maintaining a persona on those fronts plus socially that was the picture of the functional, together working parent who was totally sorted. Paddling away furiously below the surface to keep my head above water and pointing in the right direction. And it was exhausting! So I have spent the last five years purposefully and intentionally discarding this persona – not only has it been liberating, but it’s been empowering, and it’s actually (surprisingly) opened a way into finding my niche within the medical profession.

It has slowly and gradually dawned upon me that my power lies in my acceptance that I am imperfect and I am vulnerable. Totally unexpectedly, I have discovered that when I out my imperfection and vulnerability, those around me start to share their own inner story with me.

It’s like sharing my story empowers them but then, sharing their story empowers me!

How did I learn this?

One day, after a trauma sim and during the debrief, the trauma fellow was quite harsh in his feedback on one particular component of my management as Team Leader. Afterwards a colleague kindly caught up with me to acknowledge this and to ask if I was okay. I discovered that I was actually okay. I was okay for a number of reasons:

1. There was in fact little criticism that someone else could give me that I hadn’t already given myself

2. I could accept the feedback about my action or inaction, and not let it spill into my value as a whole – not let it mean that I was globally inadequate or lacking

3. I could do this without resentment or a sense of injustice – that the feedback was fair (even if the delivery could have been gentler) and that I would take it on board and work to do better next time.

I discovered that day that I was UNMESSWITHABLE.

Unmesswithable, or its far more effective synonym unf*withable, is an adjective that describes that state when you are truly at peace with yourself, and nothing anyone says or does bothers you, and no negativity can touch you. That state where you recognize that nothing has meaning apart from the meaning you choose to give it.

So these days, I am much kinder to myself than I used to be. And I hope that at the end of my career, that that will be a part of my legacy. The message that we are all in this together, women and men. That we are all wobbly on the inside while looking totally capable on the outside. That we will truly see each other in all our vulnerability and imperfection, and therefore be kind to each other also.

So, whether you’re a tsunami or whether you’re a ripple, know your value, know that you are enough, and know that you are totally worthy of being celebrated as a woman in medicine.

And the next time, you are posed a challenge or an invitation, and you hesitate – for whatever reason – and lament to yourself through gritted teeth “Why me?”, perhaps you might ask yourself instead “Why not me?”

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