We all have our own take on what success looks like. Throughout our careers, we’ve conditioned ourselves to work extra hard to get to where we want to be, but many professionals who have reached high levels of success seem to be unhappy. Is this really what success looks like?
There is no one definition for success. We’re all different — from our talents and skills down to the priorities we have and the trajectory of our careers. You have the freedom to define success on your own.
In this episode, Dr Claire Kaye joins us to talk about the importance of honesty and clarity in defining our own success. We may think that achieving certain goals will make us happy, but evidence shows us it’s the other way around. It’s only when we’re happy that we can be successful. We also discuss how to overcome common barriers to our happiness and success such as fear, guilt, and uncertainty.
If you want to know how to live a happier and more successful life, stay tuned to this episode.
Dr Claire Kaye is an executive coach who specialises in the field of career coaching and career development. She has been a portfolio GP for 16 years and is also a multi-awarded educator at UCL. She spent 20 years expanding her career portfolio, highlighting her vital role as a Lead GP Advisor for BMJ (British Medical Journal) conferences. Her career also includes being an Advisory board member of a health tech company and a CQC inspector.
Claire also shares her expertise as a speaker and chair in large national and international conferences on coaching and clinical topics. She currently enjoys providing fruitful seminars and workshops, as well as services centred on public speaking, workshops and content creation.
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Dr Claire Kaye: Maybe, success was different for me — maybe that label that I thought was success wasn’t actually my success. Gradually, what I’ve done is worked out what my definition of success is, and I have found it personally incredibly liberating to know what success is for me.
Dr Rachel Morris: Are you outwardly very successful, but inwardly concerned that your successful life isn’t living up to expectations or making you happy? Or do you feel guilty that you could have accomplished so much more and being more successful, but you’re actually quite happy with the way things are right now — until you actually know what success looks like for you?
This week, we’re joined by Dr Claire Kaye on the podcast. She’s a former GP and executive coach, specialising in career development. We’re discussing success, the pros and cons, the advantages and pitfalls. So often we have that niggling feeling that life isn’t quite how we expected it to be even if we are quite successful.
Let’s face it — many doctors and professionals working in high stakes industries do look quite successful. That is success — whatever that means — really worth the sacrifice, the loss of free time, and the stress which comes from achieving it.
Perhaps, it’s time we took a long, hard look at what a successful life really looks like. It will mean different things to different people. The worst thing you can do is pursue someone else’s definition of success. Claire and I discuss how to work this out for yourself and plan a successful career in which you can thrive in work and life.
So join us if you want to find out why it’s so important to get your own definition of success, how some small changes will make a huge difference to your success and how you can make them. Join us if you want to find out how to ditch the guilt about what you think you should do, and start doing what you really want to do.
Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly noticed the extra-long days becoming the norm and have got used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. It is possible to craft your working life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job. In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts — all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and love what we do again.
.We talk a lot in the podcast about the zone of power, and other coaching productivity and resilience tools and principles, which I found made a huge difference to me personally and also the teams which I worked with. I put all these principles and tools together to form the Shapes Toolkit. This is a complete package of resilience, productivity, tools, and training for doctors, healthcare teams, and other busy leaders.
We’ve been delivering shapes toolkit courses all over the country in the form of keynote talks, webinars, workshops, online memberships and courses, and full or half-day live programmes. We’ve been working with GP training hubs, new to GP fellowship programmes, returned to practise programmes, trainers, groups, health and well-being projects, and many more organizations.
We’re now taking bookings for summer and autumn 2022, and have a few slots left for spring 2022. If your team are feeling overwhelmed with work, one crisis away from not coping, and want to take control of their workload, feel calmer and work happier — do get in touch to find out how we can help.
It’s really good to have with me back on the podcast again, Dr Claire K. Now, Claire is an executive coach and a specialist in creative development. She’s a former portfolio GP and she does loads and loads of other stuff as well. It’s brilliant to have you on Cliff. We are going to be talking about success today and something I know you think a lot about Claire. You post a lot about that on your various social media channels as well.
I think success for doctors and other professionals is an odd thing, and I think it really changes doesn’t it throughout our career what we think success is. Let’s just start With really basic definitions. How would you define success?
Claire: Well, I think this is actually a really, really challenging area. What I did before we came on, and today is actually looked at the dictionary definition of success. There’s two — I’m just going to read them to you. One is the accomplishment of an aim or purpose, and the second one is the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status. When I read these a while ago, I just felt really uncomfortable.
It made me realise that actually, success is very individual number one, and number two, most people that I’m seeing in a coaching arena don’t really know what success is to them. It made me think a lot about my journey with success and my struggles with understanding what success is. For example, when I just quantified GP, and all my friends — very high achieving people, really bright, great a bunch. We used to meet up regularly.
I remember vividly at one of our meetups. They were getting together, and everyone was saying what they were doing, and everyone is, ‘Just going for partnership’, and ‘I’ve just got partnership’, and ‘Wow, I’m just about to get partnership.’ This word ‘partnership’ was looming large. This was quite off-piste at the time — not to go for partnership.
I remember during that meetup feeling like a complete failure and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t get there, ‘Why wasn’t I going for partnership? Was I making a big mistake? Just feeling rubbish and thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness. I have totally failed in my career. What was I thinking?’ That feeling kind of sat with me for a really, really long time.
Even though I was actively decided to go down the portfolio career route and actively decided to do my own thing, there was always a bit of me that felt like I wasn’t quite successful because I wasn’t a partner. It took me a really long time to come to terms with that actually I had chosen a different route. Maybe, success was different for me — maybe that label of partnership that I thought was success wasn’t actually my success. Gradually — and this takes a really long time for me to work out gradually.
What I’ve done is worked out what my definition of success is and I work a lot with clients on this. I have found it personally incredibly liberating to know what success is for me. It’s changed at different points in my career to kind of tidbits on it as it were, but actually, the basic definition is always been the same. It’s actually liberating to understand what your definition of success is.
Rachel: What’s your definition of your success?
Claire: I was waiting for that one. My definition of success is being held in high regard. That for me is been utterly liberating. Because what I realised was when I was with a patient, and if a patient for I’d done a good job, or I’d help them or something positive that happened because I’d been there for them — I was being held in high regard by them and it felt amazing. I felt on top of the world, I felt really successful.
I also felt really successful if I was chairing an event for a big organization, or a big conference — that felt like success. But I also felt successful if I completed something and somebody said, ‘Well done.’ I’m very feedback-driven. But when people were holding me in high regard, I felt like a success — and it wasn’t anything to do with the title of partnership. This has been really liberating as well because even in my as I’ve moved into my coaching career, at some point, I said, ‘Guess what, I’ll be a success when I’ve written my book.’
Then, I was thinking, ‘No, no, no, no.’ When I get my feedback forms from my clients, and they are glowing and whatever — that moment feels amazing. Yes, because success to me has been held in high regard. That’s the bit that success and the icing on the cake if I write a book, brilliant. If I don’t, well, I still feel like a success.
For me, it’s been utterly liberating that pressure of ‘I’ve got to be a partner, I’ve got to write a book, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that’ is gone, I can just be in the moment and shape my success around what I’m doing, and do more things that make me feel successful because it’s important to me.
Rachel: That’s really nice to have that sort of north star — that thing about, ‘What am I aiming for here in anything that I do that being held in high regard?’ That’s really important to you. How does that work there, Claire? Just to play devil’s advocate.
You can be held in high regard if you are great at staying at home and being great with your family. It doesn’t necessarily have to have work in it. Where does ‘what you achieve and what you’re doing’ come into that success for you? Because you can be held in many, many ways and it doesn’t have to involve necessarily going out to work. We just work in the home and be held in incredibly high regard by your family and friends.
Clair: That’s really interesting because at home, I also have used that just like you’re saying because when the kids hold me in high regard or I feel like I’m doing well — whatever I’m doing at home, that also feels like success. But to answer your question, it comes down to passion and drive.
I’ve looked at purpose, and I’ve looked at my values — and for me, I enjoy making an impact, a positive impact on people’s lives that help people to reach their potential. That kind of ties in with the success. I suppose I’m not complete, personally, if I was not working — other people are, that’s great. But for me, I need to work. But it’s about just there’s a bit missing, and that bit missing is around feeling my passion.
Rachel: It’s about how you want people to see, but also doing something that you’re passionate about and you enjoy.
Rachel: I was on a business retreat a few years ago, and I was just sort of starting to do what I do now — just thinking about starting the podcast, just thinking about doing a little bit more coaching and training, and stuff like that. They get you to think about where you want to be in five years time and how you want things to look.
This guy sat me down, he said, ‘Right, okay. Let’s have a coaching session about where you want to be, Rachel.’ I said, ‘Right, I’ve got this goal and that goal…’ He said, ‘Nope, write out what do you want your week to look.’ I said, ‘What?’ I didn’t understand. I then said, ‘Well, I don’t want to be working every hour, godsend. I don’t want to be doing this. I want to have enough time to do this and to have some thinking time, and I want to have some space.’ I told him exactly how I wanted to work.
We mapped it out and we looked at what that would look like and the sort of choices that we’d have to look like. He said, ‘There we are. That’s what success looks like to you.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ It completely transformed my mindset that for me, success is doing something that you enjoy, that you’re thriving in that allows you to live the life that you want to live.
I, like you, have been in those situations where everyone’s making partner, and everyone is in high-powered jobs, and doing amazing things, and on the board of this and that, and started to feel really, ‘Gosh, who am I and what have I done? I’m really unsuccessful.’
Then, some of them, you then find out, ‘Well, I haven’t been home before midnight for the last three weeks. and I just need to have a day off. Actually, most of my time was spent in a room on my own just poring over documents — or this, that and the other. I think, ‘Wow, very successful person, but actually, they probably don’t feel very successful because they’re not doing anything that they actually liked doing.’ Do you come across that a lot in your clients?
Claire: I do. But I would argue that sometimes the person that is working all the hours that there are and doing all these high-powered things — actually, maybe that is their definition of success. For me, that wouldn’t be my definition of success. Like you’re saying, when you mapped out your week, there was obviously a lot of balance in that. That was obviously, for you, there’s an element of balance being part of your success, which is really common I see a lot of.
But I think some people do find success in poring over the documents, being working all the hours there are because they get a sense of fulfilment in that. Some people — it’s okay to want status, it’s okay to want financial success. If that’s okay, as long as you know what it is for you. I suppose when I’m working with people in the coaching room, a lot of it is about just having complete honesty with yourself.
It’s not just because my definition is a slightly more woolly one — doesn’t have any bearing on what their definition will be because some people, it is, ‘I want to be a consultant. I want to be the best professor that there is and I want to do it in the quickest time that there is.’ That’s their definition, and that’s fine.
There’ll be other people — perhaps more like you and I who will say, ‘Actually, balance and getting success in different arenas in our life is what success is.’ But it doesn’t really matter what the definition of success is, in my opinion — It’s just knowing what it is. I think different people are different, and that’s fine. That, for me, is the biggest thing is understanding what your definition of success is, and then thinking about how to get there.
I think for me, it’s about really breaking it down into really systematic approach — and that’s really, really important. Then, my big bugbear is this thing that — I don’t know about you — but when you’re at school, I think a lot of us are told that ‘If you work harder, you’ll be successful, and then you’ll be happy.
For me, that is completely topsy turvy and there’s a lot of work that Shawn Achor has done around The Happy Advantage which is really useful. If anybody’s listening, this Shawn Achor TED Talk is my secret obsession. It’s a 10-minute incredible, hilarious talk all around The Happiness Advantage. But actually, for me, I’ve watched it like 100 times — I love it. But he talks about changing that equation completely the other way around.
First of all, if you understand what success is for you, you can actually start to get joy and happiness in what you’re doing in that moment. Actually, get your happiness first, you then become more efficient, and actually more productive. Then, the other things come as the icing on the cake. You’re not constantly reaching for goals the whole time — you’re not constantly reaching for the next thing, the next thing, the next thing. I think that’s really fascinating.
Rachel: I love all that happiness research — that happiness produces success, not producing happiness. There’s a lot that he talks about doing things that feel good now, not just for the future. I think in medicine, what we do a lot of the time is be completely miserable now because we think, ‘Well, that’s going to contribute to my future success.’ And you’re not enjoying the journey. Actually, because you’re not happy, that success is going to be even more out of reach.
Rachel: But I do think there are quite a few people that they have defined what their definition of success is. Then, they get there, and they say, ‘But I’m not happy.’ It’s one thing saying, ‘Well, I want to do this.’ But do you really know when you’re on the other side of it? What will make you happy? What is success gonna feel like?
Claire: Well, I think that’s partly why it is so important to get your happiness first. Your happiness doesn’t come from making partner or being a consultant, it comes from other bits that have been created first. Those titles, those accolades, that book you’ve written is actually more just the icing on the cake. Again, Shawn Achor talks about the Harvard effect. He talks about when you got into Harvard, which is obviously an incredibly difficult school to get into.
Surely, that would mean that you’re so successful to have got there. Therefore, the people at Harvard who are studying there should be joyous all the time because they got into Harvard. But actually, the complete opposite is true. A lot of people are feeling overwhelmed — it’s really competitive environment, maybe their essay isn’t going to be good enough. Actually, they’re not very happy because even though they’ve reached this amazing accolade and on paper are successful, they don’t feel successful.
This is why it’s so important to change the equation. It’s important to know what your success is, what you’re aiming for — but not to attach your happiness to that. Your happiness comes first like being more in the moment, enjoying the bits at that time. Example, ‘Today, I’m enjoying this with you. This is a moment that’s contributing to the bits that I’m aiming for on paper. But actually, the bits on paper aren’t going to make me happy there. This, right now — I’m getting the joy out of this.’
Rachel: I’m just wondering about this whole definition of success and in our current western culture, thinking it always has to be about being at the top, being on the board, being in charge, having this amazing status, having a massive business — growing it, scaling it all — all these are the sorts of things that we’re told are successful.
I had a fantastic story. This story has been passed around a lot. I think I read it in the Oliver Burkeman book — Four Thousand Weeks, which I don’t know if you’ve read that, but it’s just fantastic. But there was a fisherman down in a very sunny country somewhere who was very good at fishing, and he would go fishing during the day. Come back in the evening, he’d sit on the docks with his friends, drinking wine and playing music.
Then, somebody came to him, some businessman observed what he was doing and said, ‘Actually, you’re a really good fisherman.’ What you could do is get some money and invest it for more fishing boats. You could run some fishing boats from the bank. Then, eventually, you could just keep going and get more and more fishing boats.
Eventually, you’d be able to sell your business and the fisherman said, ‘Well, okay. Let’s do that for a few years. Then, what would I do when I’ve sold my business?’ The guy, the businessman said, ‘What do you like to do?’ He said, ‘Well, I like fishing. I like to sit on the boat with my mates drinking wine and playing music.’
Claire: I love that. Love that.
Rachel: That really struck me because sometimes, I think we’re all sitting on the boat, drinking wine and playing music. But we’re like, ‘No, this isn’t good enough. We’ve just got to keep going into a bigger and bigger — so that we can go back to sitting, drinking wine and playing music.’ I don’t know — is that a bit of element of that in our society, in our culture?
Clair: 100%. I think we’re also like that. I think that is part and parcel. That’s what the conveyor belt from school to uni to a job — you’re told just keep on going until you get to the top. Then, what do you do when you get to the to? As you say, is it easier and nicer, and more fulfilling to sit and with your fish and your wine?
I think that’s why the definition comes in and that’s where you have to have the guts to say, ‘Actually, for me, balance is important that I want to be working X amount. I’m happy being at the level I’m at and I don’t need that title. And yes, I need this amount of money because this fulfils my happiness. But actually, I don’t need that times 50 to be happy.’ It’s not attaching your happiness to those things. I suppose a lot of it is having the confidence and the guts to say, ‘Actually, I’m already successful.’
I bet you — if we could go and ask that fisherman, and forgot what the businessman said, ‘Do you feel successful?’ He would probably say, ‘Of course, I do. I’m really happy. I’m with my mates, I’m drinking wine I’ve got enough fish to sell. My family — I’m happy, I’m successful.’ I suppose that’s why the definition to me is so important because it actually brings it away from the status and the money, and the ‘go faster, go harder — push, push, push’, and then never being satisfied.
It makes me think of that song in Hamilton — I don’t know if you’ve seen it when he goes, ‘He’s never satisfied, he’s never satisfied, he’s never satisfied.’ When I was watching Hamilton, I said, ‘Gosh, that is so true in career terms because actually, we’re never satisfied — but always want more, more, more, more, more.’ Then obviously, for him it ended in disaster.
That’s, for me quite a poignant thing because actually, it’s about just understanding who you are, and what you want, and what you need. Also, learning to evaluate your success I think is really important because I think we forget to do that. We forget to look back and go, ‘Oh, wow! I started off in school, and then I went to med school — or whatever career you’re in. Then I did this, and then I’ve done that. Gosh, over the last 10 years, I’ve really come a long way and going towards what I’m aiming for.’ That’s really good.
It’s that old legend. If you — I don’t know if you’ve seen the picture of the guy who looks like he’s at the top of the stairs, but there’s still a long way to go, and he’s kind of looking up. Then, actually, when he turns around, it’s about 10 times longer from where he’s at. He’s come up so far. I always think that’s a really powerful image. I suppose the other point that is I think people’s think that the projectory of success has to be the straight-line, ‘Yeah.’
Like that whole thing I talk a lot about, I’m obsessed with tortoises and hares. I’m hare, I’m fast, I’m — and I feel like I’ve got to get there fast. My trajectory in my head would be the straight diagonal line going upwards. That’s what would success be to me. But actually, that’s wrong. I’ve learned that actually, success is a sort of more stepwise progression up, and that there’s rest periods in this space, and there’s plateaus — and that’s not failure, even though the failure is another really important part of success. That’s rest, that’s time to recalibrate, that’s time to be more tortoise.
Take it more steadily to think, to prepare, to be planning — and that’s really important. I think those are all elements of success is — it’s not just the definition, it’s about evaluation, it’s about understanding whether you’re a tortoise and hare, it’s understanding about the progress of what success looks like. It is really important.
Rachel: Do you think people really spend enough time planning what their success should look like? I’m sort of thinking about GPS going for jobs. Traditionally, it’s like, ‘I need a job. I need to work on this many sessions. Where’s the practise that’s going to pay me enough that I can work those sessions?’ Often, it is literally down to, ‘Is the money is the salary okay? Do I think it’s an okay practise?’ Without thinking about actually, ‘How much money do I actually need? What’s the work-life balance like here? What are the relationships like within the practise?’
I worked in a practise once, and all the partners had decided that full-time was many less sessions than are normally full-time would be so that they had enough time to get all their paperwork done so that they all did get at least half a day during the week, if not a full day. Now, I don’t know how they’re working now.
It was a long time ago. But I remember thinking, ‘What an amazing practise because they have decided that that’s what matters to them more than the income. They all had enough to live on. They all had enough to have a lovely life — nice holidays.’ They weren’t wanting for anything. I just thought, ‘Wow, they sort of thought about what that looks like to them.’ But I don’t think we really do, as doctors, look at that. It just tends to be about the money and about what the job is.
Claire: Definitely, and I find that actually one of the biggest other factors is what happens to land on their lap. If you happen to speak to somebody and they say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a job coming up.’ Or, there happens to be an email that says, ‘There’s a job coming up.’ They think, ‘Well, that, what would we do is six sessions.’ As you say, ‘this’ amount. Then, they just do it.
Actually, a lot of the time, what I do with people is to look at their priorities with what actually the work should be like, but also the other bits like, ‘I want to be home at X time, I want to work this many days, I want to have an open-door policy in the practise, I want it to be 20 minutes from home, I want it…’ Whatever the ‘I want’, and then we whittle it down to the top three non-negotiable ‘will not shift’ priorities.
Then, you can start to say, ‘Okay, well, I won’t shift on those three, but I can compromise on the distance to work, I can compromise on the size of the practise, I can compromise on how much I’m getting paid.’ But as long as you know the top three things that actually fit with — who you are as a person, what life looks like, a bit like how your business caters to you right back many years ago, what your weeks would look like, but also fitting in with actually, ‘Does this help me to achieve what I want to achieve? Will this help me to be successful?’
Because if status is part of your success, does that allow that to happen? If balance is part of your success, am I actually creating a balanced week? If being held in high regard is part of your success, do you value the people that you’re working with? Do you value their opinion? Is it something where you can grow personally and developmentally in that practise? Or is it actually sort of ‘go, go, go — get the work done’.
It’s really important to think about it. But I totally agree with you that I think, especially as medics, but lots of other professionals as well, we’re programmed just to go on the travelator or the conveyor belt. We just, ‘Oh, it’s here. I’ll do it.’ There’s so often that we don’t think, ‘Does this fit in?’ I always think that once you know your success — I call it success pyramid because I’m just a simple soul. If you’ve got success at the top, then you can start to formulate your goals which feed into that success. Then, you can just formulate the simple next step that feeds into the goals.
Everything’s going in the same direction. It doesn’t have to be fast. It can be over 20 years if you wanted to — whatever’s right for you. But then when you’re choosing your next practise or your next job, if you would just feed into where I’m going, to my goals, to what I’m trying to achieve, does this feed into balance? ‘I’m going to be working 10 sessions, that’s not balanced. How am I going to feel good in six months time? I’m not.’
I think it is really helpful just to have that structure and to spend a few minutes, a day thinking about it. I love reflecting but I can’t do — I think it’s really amazing you went to a retreat. I’d love to be able to do that. I think I’m too much ‘hare’ to do that. I find it really difficult to slow down.
Whereas, what I do is I recommend to people who are hare is just to say, ‘Take five minutes in the shower.’ Or, ‘Take two minutes in the car journey on the way to work and just think one tiny little section of the programme, and then you can try to fit it together.’ Or, if you are more reflective person or tortoise, perhaps then taking some dedicated time out is really going to work for you.
Rachel: That’s great advice. Fine now, on the retreat — my idea of retreat is like hiking up mountains and doing stuff. It was fantastic. I could just say we mentioned the possibility of doing a You Are Not A Frog retreat a few weeks ago on the podcast. I said I would organise one if more than 10 people wrote in, ‘We’ve had a complete deluge of emails of going to the retreat.’
Just to let people know, we’re on it and there’ll be some stuff coming out. We’re just exploring. Maybe, what we need to do next is send a little survey about exactly what people want to do on the retreat. There will be a You Are Not A Frog thinking retreat — in which we will be doing stuff as well. We won’t just be sitting navel-gazing.
Claire: That sounds amazing.
Rachel: We’ll get outside, we’ll get into nature. Anyway, back to success. There’s so many interesting points I want to talk about there. I think your point about stuff just landing in your lap and you’re feeling obliged to do it, I have experienced that. It’s sort of like because someone’s asked you to do something out of the blue, you feel pretty flattered. Then, you really genuinely start considering it.
It happened to me a couple years ago. Someone offered me a sort of a role running some sort of training. I wouldn’t even have considered it if he said to me, ‘There’s this doctor, and would you apply for it?’ I would have said, ‘No, it’s not what I want to do.’ Because someone has come to me and said, ‘Would you consider doing it? I think you’d be really good.’ Immediately, I started thinking, ‘Maybe, I should.’ You feel a bit flattered that someone’s asked you. Then, you feel almost a bit obliged because someone’s asked you.
It’s this really weird thing and I remember talking to her GP who was working in a practise as a locum, and she hated it. They’d phoned her up and said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. We’re absolutely desperate. We need someone to do a day a week for us. Can you do that?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ Because she just sort of felt obliged because it asked them, ‘What’s going on there with us?’
Claire: I think you’re so right. It happens all the time. Particularly, people are kind of — lots of fingers and lots of pies tend to gather more, and more, and more roles. Actually, the big thing that I say to people is make sure things are value-added. Actually, going into that idea about your success, your goals, and your next steps — it all fits into your clear direction of where you’re going.
If say, for example, with that person you’re talking about with the local job, if that was actually nothing of no added value to her — she didn’t need the money, she didn’t like the work. Actually, apart from wanting to help out, if that was going to impact on the rest of her week in helping other people — apart from that want, if there was no other value-added, then the answer that she can very politely and very nicely say is ‘no’.
I think that is really important because once you know what you’re aiming for, once you have a clear idea of direction, and you’ll have utter clarity of where you’re going — even if it’s overtime, even if there’s rest, even if it’s a slow progression — it’s much easier to say ‘no’ because you’re sure that it’s not value-added. Now, there may be some things that don’t add value on paper, but add up value in personal development or growth, or helping people. But that’s still value-added. It just doesn’t look like it on paper.
It’s really important when the things land in your lap and think, ‘What does this add to me? How does this help? What do I learn? How do I grow? How does this shape me? I think that’s quite uncomfortable for people to do.
Rachel: It is. It’s uncomfortable. We also feel guilty. We think, ‘I’m letting them down. They really need some help.’ But I’ll refer people back to the podcast with Rob Bell on how to ditch the saviour complex. We think we’re the only person that can actually help out or do that. So that not being able to say ‘no’ is really quite arrogant because if you say ‘no’, then they will find someone else who will probably do a better job because they want to do it right.
Claire: There’s so many blocks that stop people. One of the big ones, as you said, is guilt. But also people have a massive block around fear. They’re just scared of doing whatever it is, or even having the thought process of ‘I’m allowed to choose what my success’ is completely and really scary. Then, there’s also the other uncertainties like, ‘Even if I choose what my success is, I’m not going to be good enough to do that anyway.’ Or, ‘I wouldn’t be able to achieve it.’ Or, ‘How would I know what to do to put that in place?’
All these sort of uncertainties about ourselves. Then, all the other things around, ‘Well, even if I wanted to do that, how would I have the money to do it? Why would I get the training? I would never be able to do the training? How could I find the time? All these things — you’re absolutely right, one of the biggest ones is guilt. But why do we feel this guilt? But I think it’s ingrained in all of us in all professions, actually. Not just medics, but medics are particularly good at guilt.
I know that when I have said no to opportunities, the guilt was massive and almost overwhelming to the point of, as you said, with this doctor you were talking about, ‘I’ll just do it. I’ll just do it because it’s easier to do it than to have to deal with these emotions of guilt and say the word ‘no’ because that’s really scary. I’ll just do it.’
But actually, in this fast, fast world that we live in, and we only live once. There does come a time when it’s okay to be a little bit — not selfish, but just more self-aware, and that’s okay. As you say, there are always other people who perhaps will do that thing better than you because you’re applying yourself to something else that you’re doing better than somebody else can do what you’re doing.
Rachel: I love that. But it’s about being more self-aware than selfish. I think guilt is such a massive driver. When Caroline Walker and I run up Permission to Thrive, CPD membership, doctors, our webinars, we talk about guilt a lot. I started off by saying, ‘You just got to ditch the guilt.’ Caroline was like, ‘No, embrace the guilt.’ Because guilt means you’re a good person. Guilt means you’re a good person. The guilt means you’re just sorry that you can’t do all the stuff that’s out there.
There’s this fantastic book that’s out at the moment called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. I apologise in advance because I’m probably going to talk about this book on every single podcast for the next six months. I’d really recommend reading it but he says, ‘You literally can’t do everything. The only way to get over this time management productivity thing is just to make your peace with the fact that you have limits and everyone has a short amount of time. We only have 4000 weeks on this planet, give or take. What are you going to use your precious, precious time and your precious life on?’
When you come to peace with the fact that you’re going to miss out on 99.99999% of all career opportunities, demon experiences, things like that — just make peace with it, then you can start going, ‘Okay, what are the one or two that I actually do want to do that are going to bring me joy.’ Like you said, that isn’t selfish, it’s self-aware because actually if you’re doing stuff that brings you joy, you will be much more productive. You will be much more successful. You’ll actually be better for those people around you as well.
Claire: Absolutely. I think there’s a real benefit to naming the emotion that you’re feeling. I think, often, you just feel unsettled, and scared, and stressed inside — it’s like a bubbling cauldron if you like. But we don’t actually name what it is. It might be that some people are being scared, might be that some people are feeling something else. But often, as you say, it’s that word ‘guilt’.
Once you can say, ‘I feel guilty’, or ‘I feel jealous’, or ‘I feel angry’, or ‘I feel scared’, and sit in it for a little bit, and say, ‘Well, I’m justified to feel like this. It’s okay.’ Then you can actually say, ‘Okay, what’s the next step? How do I move forward? How do I address this differently? I’m okay to feel guilty. But actually, I can’t sit in this guilt forever. I either move backwards, if that’s what I choose to do, or I’m going to move forward, and understand that it’s okay to feel that. I think labelling the emotion is really, really important.
Rachel: Then, you can see — I talked about this owner power a lot. Once you in control of, or out of control of — say if you’re feeling guilty, then I can choose to just accept that, accept that I’m not in control of what’s happening in the world and whether they can get locums or not. If I don’t want to accept that guilt, I can make a choice.
I can make a choice to go and work there because I want to work. It’s about then saying, ‘Well, I’m choosing to do this because I’m choosing this so that I…’ That is much, much more powerful rather than just feeling, ‘I have to because I’m feeling guilty. I feel so awful. I don’t want to, but I feel guilty.’
Claire: Absolutely, and you’re exactly right what you’re saying around control because it changes your mindset. Therefore, I bet you if that person that you were talking about had thought about it differently rather than that, ‘God, I feel guilty. I’ve got to go and work in that role that I hate.’
But if she said, ‘Actually, this is something I feel I need to do. Actually, I’m not ready to move on yet. I can gain lots of experience with patients, it is financially good and there’s lots I can gain from actually doing this role one day a week. Then, when I’m ready, I’ll move on.’ That’s a completely different thought process to, ‘Oh, my God! This is awful. I can’t believe I’m doing — I hate this.’
It’s just more manageable. As you say, if you want to name the emotion, you’re then able to decide what to do with it and use your control to kind of shape it the way you want it today.
Rachel: The idea of next action. There’s an emotion that you mentioned earlier, Claire, which is fear. I think fear holds us back a lot. It’s fear of failure, isn’t it? I know you mentioned failure as well. We just sent a recording about failure, actually — Leadership and Management Conference. I don’t think you can be successful without failing because I don’t learn anything unless I get it wrong — even with starting the podcast. I do stuff wrong, you get it a bit wrong, you try differently.
I come across the term AFOG recently, which I absolutely love — which stands for Another Flipping Opportunity for Growth, use whatever ‘F’ word you like. It’s really helpful because — something happened the other week, and I was just gutted and I knew I had not done it very well.
I was really annoyed with myself and I could see what happened. I was like, ‘Oh, I’m so dreadful.’ Beating yourself up, it’s like, ‘No. You know what? That this is so much of an AFOG and it’s taught me so much, and I’m going to be so much better in the future for having made that mistake.’
If I had just gone to that thing, and it would’ve all gone swimmingly and smoothly — wouldn’t have improved at all, nothing would help. It’s really uncomfortable. Medics — we’re very perfectionists, we don’t like to fail. In our, I guess, day-to-day job, failure could mean serious patient harm. In our heads, it’s like a really, really, really, really, really bad thing.
But in the startup world, you try and fail fast. That’s the whole point of lean,. You create your minimal viable product, you test it and you hope it fails — you hope it fails immediately because then, you know what not to do. How can we embrace that more?
Claire: Well, I think the first thing is a quote by Thomas Edison — which I absolutely obsessed with — is ‘I failed my way to success’, because that’s what he did. It’s amazing because when you think about it, he had to get it wrong multiple times in order to create the light bulb. For me, that is really powerful. As you’re saying, it’s not nice to fail, and I love your AFOG —that’s great. But also, I think, ultimately, failure is one of the biggest parts of success. You cannot be successful, in my view, without failing.
It’s interesting because again, going back to school, I think in our generation — I’m generalising — but I think most of our generation, we’re taught, ‘Go be successful and failure is on the opposite side of the room.’ You’ve got the successful people and the failure people. Even in a family, this one’s a success, this one’s not doing so well. That’s how, culturally, it was here. I think that’s really changing.
In schools, you are taught now to fail — that failing is really good. But it’s about how you stand up after you fail, and that’s the bit. I always would say to people — so again, label I have in inverted comma is ‘failed’, then think, ‘Now, how do I stand up?’ Not, ‘I need to stand up’, but the word ‘how’. It might be:
‘Okay, first of all, I need to do this and that will get me to my knees. Then, I need to have a big week, and that will mean that I can kind of get up on high knees. Then, I need to talk to X, Y and Z to put some things in place. That will mean that I can start to stamp my head down. Then, I need a big hug and I need to put my next steps in place, and then my head is held high.’
It’s just about how you stand up rather than sitting in the failure and thinking, ‘That’s who I am.’ And understanding that if you want to be successful, if you want to reach your success definition, you have to fail. If you haven’t failed, then you can’t be successful in my view.
Rachel: I love that Thomas Edison quote. I think this is really important when it comes to career success because in this podcast about failure, Claire, who’s a leadership fellow at the FMLM, has just finished her registrar surgical training. She got to the end, did incredibly well, and then thought to herself, ‘But I’m not really enjoying this.’ And is now, going to move on into GP training. She’s going to be a GP. She would be an amazing GP.
But she was talking about how, even though in her head she knows that’s great, she’s made that choice deep down, it might feel a little bit like she’s failed at surgery. I just think it’s deeply ingrained in us that if we do a career change, or we even leave a practise to go to a different practise, or we stopped doing a role because we don’t like it that somehow we have failed in that role or that job, or that particular — even changing speciality.
This thing that changing means that we’re failing, and it’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I absolutely love what I do now. It suits me — it plays to my strengths. What I was doing before, some of it played to my strengths, but it didn’t so much. I’m enjoying this now than I did, but it’s still getting terrible, ‘Have I failed?’ I don’t know, do you somewhat experience this?
Claire: All the time, and I’ve experienced it myself. But that’s all about springboarding. I think this is why it’s utterly key for the person you’re talking about who was a surgical trainee and then switched to GP. The natural instinct is to think, ‘Oh, I failed. Therefore, I’ve changed in something else.’ But actually, it’s completely the opposite. What she’s done is super, super clever.
What she’s taken is she said, ‘Right. Actually, this isn’t quite where I want to end up. This isn’t going to enhance my happiness for whatever reason. I’m going to springboard my skill set and actually, springboard my career forward. I’m going to take the skills I’ve got and use them in a different way to enhance my happiness.’ That’s really key.
I felt exactly the same when I gave up clinical medicine. I had the guilt, I felt, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I doing? Am I making a big mistake?’ Actually, it’s the complete opposite, ‘I’ve never been happier because I’m doing what I enjoy and what I’m better at. What I’ve done is taken the skills that I used before and use it a different way. That’s exactly what you’ve done. That’s exactly what this person that you’re talking about I’m sure will do as well.
It’s understanding that actually, it’s not you have to get to one point in your life and you’re done. You can have multiple parts of your life. As long as we take what we’ve learned from the previous parts of our life and feed it into the next one, grow and develop it, then nothing is lost. It’s all just part of the story and that’s really important.
Actually, failing — it’s actually springboarding. I don’t think that’s the same sort of failure as what we’re talking about which parts of success because that actually isn’t failure. That’s just change, and that’s different to failure. Failing when something goes wrong, and then you’ve got to understand what went wrong, and how to change it, and how to move forward. The common sense of change isn’t failure; change is growth.
Rachel: But we’re not in that mindset in medicine because probably because we actually reach our sort of destination at a very early point in our career. I was a GP at the age of — I don’t know — 28, 27, 28? I could have gone into partnership at that age and just stay there — partner. You can become a consultant really quite early on, and so you can be clinical director, and then things like that. It’s because we have these sort of static things.
In the industry and other places, people move around all the time, and try different roles and things. They don’t feel like they’re failing, they feel like it’s a promotion. But if someone decides to do something different, we were in that mindset. I don’t think it’s something we’re going to solve, but just to say to people, ‘It’s okay to change. It’s probably one of the best decisions you’re going to make.’
I want to move this on just because we haven’t got very long left, Claire. I just wanted to ask, what if you felt that you have been successful? Say, you are a partner in the practise. You have really enjoyed what you’re doing, you feel you’re running a great practise, you’re doing a great job, you’re held in high regard by lots and lots of people. But events recently have really conspired to make the job not enjoyable anymore.
You’re not happy not because you don’t like what you’re doing, but you’re just completely overwhelmed, and there’s so many challenges. How would you help somebody with success? If they were feeling like that?
Claire: Well, I think it comes back to the fisherman — like we were talking about earlier. If, in essence, you still feel like the fisherman — that you love what you do, you’re happy with the end product, you’ve got the fish, you’ve got the wine, and you’ve got your friends at the end of the day, then it’s about changing your mindset and coping with where you’re at. That can be done individually with self-coaching techniques, but it can be necessary to be doing that with peers.
For lots of people, people are getting coaches and support systems around them to have more sort of formal support with that. But I think if you’ve got to the point where actually you’ve done that — you’ve done the partnership, you’ve got what you needed to do, get out of these parts of your life — it might be time for a change. It might be time to do something else.
I’m not talking about leaving medicine or doing anything particularly different. It might just be that you need to reshape your week. It might be that you need to do less of one thing, and actually more of something else. I suppose that can be done in a self-coaching structured approach. I use my three R’s, which is all about sort of taking it step-by-step by reflecting, reinventing and then rebuilding.
Or, it can be done in a more formal approach with a coach and actually really looking at where you want to be, how you want to get there, what you need to put in place to achieve that. And understanding maybe your definition of success has changed. Maybe, it was never that being a partner or success. Maybe, it was around making an impact on people, and that actually isn’t possible anymore given the situation of how things are changing, how difficult things are.
Maybe, that’s the definition rather than the label of partnership, and how can you be impactful in a different way? How can you keep perhaps some of your roles and change something else. Even that part of your week fulfils that definition of success, whilst you tread water with the other parts of the week — change your mindset and wait for things to change again in the environment.
There’s lots of ways of looking at it depending on the situation and depending whether you’re a fisherman — he’s happy with his fishing and his wine.
Rachel: I love that because I think often, we think right this is not sustainable, we can’t do it anymore — baby out the bathwater, change absolutely everything. Often, it’s just a couple of things that needs tweaking. One of my favourite things to do with people — we do this all the time on webinars and courses — is get people to map out what their current working week looks like with all the obligations you’ve got, all the different roles, how long admin time you got when you’re in surgery — all those different things, what you do outside of work, etc.
Just have a look and see what your week looks like. Most people is, you’re looking and you go, ‘Oh my goodness. No wonder I’m stressed.’ Then, ask yourself a few questions, and then do that whole exercise again, just like that person did with me on the business retreat. Write down how many days you want to be working — literally, map it out, ‘Go work here, here, here. Day off here. Afternoon here. Play tennis here — what you’re absolutely ideal would look like, a week in which you would feel really, genuinely happy.
Then, just compare the two go, ‘What needs to go? What roles need to go? What do you need to put in there? Etc, etc. We’ll make that tool available to people. If people want to download the Thrive Week Planner, they just can click ‘Sign Up’ and download it. But I think just getting super clear about how you want to live is really, really helpful.
Claire: Also, a lot of it. Quick example, sometimes you don’t need to change anything, you just need to change your mindset. I had a client who, when I started working with her — she was a salary GP, wanted to be a partner and had these all these plans in place, wanted to be a trainer but she was really unhappy. At the end of her six-month coaching on paper, she was exactly the same. She was a salary GP, she wants to be a partner, she wants to be a trainer.
In the beginning, she was very miserable — rundown, near burnout, couldn’t cope. In the end, she had joined every single day of her work. The reason being is that she completely changed her approach, completely changed her mindset. She changed her definition of success. All the pressure had gone snd she was then, able to get happiness on a day-to-day basis. For me, that was one of my biggest successes in coaching, which sounds really odd is that we make no changes at all, except for that everything changed.
Rachel: She didn’t put anything different in her day? she didn’t do anything?
Claire: Nothing changed, nothing changed. Because all that we did was look at all the pressures — all these internal pressures and external pressures of what she should be doing, how she should be doing it, what people thought of her, how quickly she had to achieve it, when it had to be done by — she was trying to be a hare, but she was a tortoise.
As soon as she accepted that, as soon as she looked at her day differently, as soon as she saw people — the assumption she was making about people and what they were thinking about her, and all the pressures of that.
When all of that went and she just got comfortable with who she was and what she wanted, and what she enjoyed, and what she was good at — she suddenly realised she was a great doctor. That was her definition of success. All she wanted to do is be a great doctor. She broke that down into what that meant for her. She looked at it and she went, ‘That’s what I’m doing? Oh my goodness, I’m a great doctor.’ She suddenly was able just to really enjoy where she was at.
Rachel: Absolutely fantastic story. The story in her head — that’s it. Changing the story she was telling yourself,
Claire: You can do it. I think everybody is different. I think for certain people, what you’re talking about in laying out your week is amazing. It’s life-changing. But other people, nothing needs to change except for you. For other people, lots of things got to change and that’s all fine. Whatever it is, it’s fine. But you do need to do the work to get there. But it can be done in bite-size.
Rachel: Claire, we could talk about this for a lot longer, but we’re out of time. I’m going to ask you for your three top tips. What three recommendations would you make for anyone who’s maybe struggling a bit with this at the moment: how to be successful?
Claire: I would say firstly, know your definition of success. Secondly, ensure that you understand your trajectory to success, so whether you’re tortoise or hare — whether you want to do it slow, whether you want to do it fast? Thirdly, be kind to yourself. Just be kind to yourself.
Rachel: Thank you that was really, really interesting, Claire. I know you put a lot out around sort of self-coaching and success on social media. If people wanted to find you follow you, how can they do that?
Claire: Yes, I’m obsessed with putting lots on Instagram. I’m all over Instagram. If you want to follow me and get lots of free self-coaching tips and tricks, and access to my seminars and podcasts, then follow me @drclairekaye_executivecoaching. I’m also on LinkedIn — Dr Claire Kaye and Facebook — the same. You’re welcome to follow me and to access those whenever you want.
Rachel: Thank you so much, Claire. We’ll have to get you back another time. Brilliant. Well, thank you for being here and we’ll speak soon.
Claire: Thanks for having me.
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