Episode 67: Bringing Your Best Self to Work with Dr Sarah Goulding
Sometimes, it may feel like who we are at work isn’t the same as who we are at home. If this sounds like you, then understanding your core strengths and personal values might be the answer to creating a workplace that fits you.
Dr Sarah Goulding joins me in this episode to discuss how to bring your whole self to work without leaving bits of you behind. Sarah shares her own story of experiencing burnout at her old job and rediscovering her true passion. We also discuss how applying our core strengths to our jobs can mean the difference between burnout and having a sense of fulfilment.
Don’t miss out on this episode if you want to learn more about how to be yourself and how to bring joy back into your work!
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Find out why burnout is so hard to recognise.
- Discover how you can craft work that fits your true self – wherever you work.
- Learn how to find out your core strengths and apply them to your profession.
[05:54] Sarah’s story
- Sarah is a careers coach, a GP, an appraiser, and a trainer.
- Sarah had always wanted to have a portfolio, but she slowly started to burn out as she gathered roles over time.
- She wasn’t happy with her work / life, so she resigned from her GP partner role and went to see a counsellor.
- When Sarah resigned from her partnership, she rediscovered her passion for medical education and supporting other doctors.
- She has now developed a portfolio that supports her passion and personal values.
[13:02] Why it’s so hard to recognise burnout
- Burnout as a condition isn’t genuinely recognised.
- In medicine, there is a groupthink of glorifying tiredness.
- This kind of thinking can be hard to notice when it has been ingrained in your worldview.
- Burnout can be caused by other factors aside from workload and pressure.
- It’s important to strike a balance between professional values and personal values.
[20:18] How Sarah’s values misaligned
- Sarah’s job as a GP partner didn’t allow her to connect with her patients as much as she wanted to.
- She struggled with being limited to only 10 minutes for her patients’ appointments.
[23:21] The shape sorter analogy and how to create a workplace that fits you
- The shape sorter analogy: if you’re shaped like a star, and you push yourself through a triangle-shaped hole, you leave bits of yourself behind.
- Allow yourself to step aside and assess your career. See if it fits your personal values.
- Talk to someone external to you (e.g., coach or counsellor) who can help you realise what’s important to you.
- It’s okay for your values, priorities, or even your work to change.
[30:21] How to find out your core strengths
- You can use various tools and books to determine your strengths and reasons for doing what you do.
- People have different strengths profiles.
- It would help if you had a full understanding of what your options are.
- Measuring yourself by your accomplishments is too narrow a metric for you to understand yourself.
- Listen to the full episode to learn more about discovering your core strengths.
[44:08] Three tips for professionals at work
- If you’re on the edge of burnout, then phone a friend — someone not like yourself.
- Ask yourself: when were you last fulfilled or happy?
- Permit yourself to stand away from your life. Look at your life as an external observer, and compare your professional and personal values.
7 Powerful Quotes from This Episode
[12:50, Rachel] ‘We forget that there are other reasons and other causes of burnout, not just about workload and pressure. It’s about satisfaction and purpose and meaning and relationships and all those sorts of things.’
[14:23, Sarah] ‘Just because somebody else might be choosing to live life unhappily and exhausted and not really fulfilled, doesn’t mean that we have to make those same choices.’
[25:43, Sarah] ‘I’m really keen that people feel that they do give themselves permission to step to one side and perhaps look in on their life and go: how is this fitting with what I think fits with me.’
[27:36, Rachel] ‘It is possible to stay in medicine and these other professions without burning out, without leaving, and enjoy what you do.’
[38:21, Rachel] ‘If you’re measuring yourself by the wrong things, then your meaning and purpose [are] going to be at rock bottom.’
[39:23, Sarah] ‘You cannot be what you do not see.’
[42:49, Sarah] ‘Trying to tune in more to the non-metric achievements, I think, is a skill.’
Dr Sarah Goulding is a portfolio GP working as the Training Programme Director at the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. She is also an appraiser and the head of coaching at The Joyful Doctor.
Sarah is passionate about her work as a career coach and mentor for doctors. She helps struggling medics explore career opportunities and ensure that they’re in their job for the right reasons. In addition to her one-on-one service, she also provides local and international webinars and small group facilitations focussed on wellbeing.
Interested in Sarah’s work? You can find out more about her on her website and YouTube channel. You can also connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Linkedin.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Do you sometimes feel like you’re a completely different person at work and at home? Do you worry that if you were entirely yourself, then you just wouldn’t fit in? And do you sometimes wish you could do more of what you love during the day?
In this episode, I’m talking to Dr. Sarah Goulding. She’s a portfolio GP. She’s a training program director and author of Shapes Toolkit trainer. She’s the career coach and head of coaching at The Joyful Doctor. We chat about how you can bring your whole self to work without having to chop off the parts of you that make you, you in order to do your job. Now, Sarah has been on her own journey, and now helps others to find out how they can work and do work that they love.
We discussed how we can so often fall into the trap of being miserable because we don’t know anything different. And sometimes we see how unhappy other people are at work and think it must be normal. We discuss how finding out what your core strengths are and developing and crafting a role to play to those strengths can bring the joy back into your work in your life. So listen, to find out how to find out what your strengths are. Find out why this really, really matters. And listen to find some key questions you can ask yourself to transform your life and work.
Introduction: Welcome to You are Not a Frog, life hacks for doctors and busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Doctor Rachel Morris. I’m a GP turned coach, speaker and specialists in teaching resilience. And I’m interested in how we can wake up and be excited about going to work no matter what. I’ve had 20 years experience working in the NHS, both on the frontline and teaching leadership and resilience. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, worried about making mistake, and one crisis away from not coping.
2021 promises to be a particularly challenging year. Even before the Coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been competitive frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, working harder and longer. And the heat has been turned up so slowly that we hardly notice the extra-long days becoming the norm and have got used to the low-grade feelings of stress and exhaustion. Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and believe that you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny and to craft your work in life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Through training as an executive and team coach, I discovered some hugely helpful resilience and productivity tools that transformed the way I approached my work. I’ve been teaching these principles over the last few years at the Shapes Toolkit Programme because 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 to thrive, not just survive in our work and our lives and love what we do again.
Before we get started on the podcast episode, I just wanted to let you know about a fantastic time limited deal that we’re running this week. Now as you know, I launched our Resilient Team Academy earlier this year. It’s a membership for busy leaders and managers in healthcare and other high stress organizations, which gives them all the training tools and resources they need to get a happy, resilient and thriving team, even through these new ways of working. Now I’ve had such great feedback from leaders who’ve used the resources, and the-done-for-you Team Resilience building activities and meetings with their teams with great results.
And here’s the thing, we’re not launching the Resilient Team Academy again until spring next year. But after I can see how much it’s helping teams and how much it’s needed right now, I’m making it available at a very special price, just over Black Friday. So this still will close at midnight on Saturday, you’ll have to be quick, and it will never be available at this price again. And you’ll have to wait till next year to join if you miss it.
I’m offering 100% Money-Back Guarantee as usual. So if you try this out, and you don’t find it helpful at all, I will give you your money back, no quibbles. So why don’t you check it out at the link given in the show notes below? You’ve got nothing to lose. So that you can join a supportive, thriving community of leaders fully committed to help their teams stay well, stay productive and thrive at work as well as home. On with the episode.
Rachel: It’s really great to have with me on the podcast today, Dr. Sarah Goulding. Now, Sarah is a careers coach, she’s a GP. She’s an appraiser, a trainer. Sarah, what else do you do?
Dr Sarah Goulding: I’m a GP mentor, I do well-being talks, I’m head of coaching at The Joyful Doctor. I usually forget one or two other roles along the way.
Rachel: Wow, massive portfolio. So I wanted to get Sarah on because we’ve been having some really interesting conversations the last few days, all about resilience, well-being, workplace well-being, all that sort of stuff that I’m really passionate about. But Sarah has got a really interesting, useful take—I think—on how we can bring our whole selves to work and how we can make sure that we’re doing something that fits us and our personalities, rather than trying to mould ourselves into something that we’re not. And that’s something that’s really close to my own heart, having sort of felt for several years in some previous jobs that I was maybe a square peg in a round hole and things like that.
But Sarah, I think, you’ve got a very interesting background, not only in coaching, but you’ve got your own story, too. So tell me a little bit about where your interest in all this started.
Sarah: Yes, absolutely. I’ve always wanted to be a medic, and I did the classic go straight through, go to med school, do your house officer jobs, and then sort of have a breather. Took a bit of time out, did some work abroad, did an expedition, went through GP training, but knew that I wanted to do more than just that. I’ve always wanted to have a portfolio. I’ve always had lots of interests. And so that really appealed to me. So I was lucky to do a training as a senior GP registrar in medical education at the end of my GP training. So I did that. Did the thing where you classically follow your husband around if you’re married to a medic. And eventually, after a bit of locumming here and there, landed where we’ve now settled, and did more locumming, and then became a GP partner. Along the way, I gathered more interests in family planning, started appraising and became a training program director of a GP training scheme, and had two kids and slowly started to burn out. And I did not see it coming.
One winter, I saw an advert from NHS England saying, ‘Are you interested in some coaching’? And I thought, ‘Well, what’s that’? Okay, sure. I’ll put my name down, but I probably won’t get it. And then afterwards thought—oh, actually, the questions they’re asking, they’re looking for people burned out, aren’t they? Okay, well, I won’t get it. And I did get it. 250 out of 3200 who applied, which I think is striking in itself. This is the winter 2017 and I was allocated it. And that was my first little warning sign, but I thought I probably just blacked it and got through.
And through that winter, I didn’t see the signs. And I didn’t think I was working hard enough to justify the title of burnout. And there were lots of reasons within the practise why I would have become burnt out. We’d lost a colleague to cancer very quickly the previous summer, another colleague was off having treatment, our entire nursing team got poached by another practice or jumped because they weren’t happy. So we’re very low on numbers. And it was your classic NHS winter, pushing on trying to meet the targets. And I was working in my little room, not seeing my colleagues who on a night out I got on brilliantly with but at work, we started getting really snappy with each other.
And I got a rather terse email from a colleague asking why I hadn’t done a visit, and sharing that with all of my other colleagues. And I was awake till three in the morning and thought, ‘Why am I putting myself through this’? If I suddenly got a cancer diagnosis, would I be happy with having lived like this where actually I’d been counting down to retirement and looking for ways out but not really seeing those warning signs.
So I resigned as a partner. And it wasn’t really until I left in a kind of complete brain fog by them that I could look up and go, ‘I’m really not that well, am I’? And this is only two and a half years ago now. I went through practitioner health, I have googled burnout and met all the criteria and went to see this fantastic counsellor through practitioner health who said, ‘Well, you know Sarah, it’s really common for medical professionals to burnout’. And even then I looked at her, gobsmacked the moment. A) ‘What is burnout’? B) ‘Why would I have it’? and C) ‘Really’? I’m not working full time. I’m not, ‘on the front line’, I’m just a part time job share partner. It’s not that much, I’m not doing that many sessions. It must be something wrong with me that I’ve become burnt out.
And on the day that I drove away from my partnership, very amicably, I received an email asking if I wanted to become a GP mentor. And I had one of these real kind of ‘aaaa’ moments where I went, ‘Oh, yes, I forgot. When I was first training in medical education, the thing I was really passionate about was supporting doctors’. And at the time, I didn’t have enough experience, I didn’t have enough understanding. And that just reignited that that kind of forgotten passion that I’d always had. In University, I’d help run the university nightline supporting students. I did behavioural sciences as part of my pre-med sci. It had always been there, but I’d forgotten about it.
And so, the last couple of years, I’ve been trying different things out to see what fits and developing this portfolio that now supports my massive passion for supporting doctors to sort of live a life that keeps them healthy, but also fulfilled, and that kind of full version of themselves because I’ve been there myself. And so now, I’m coaching people, I’m mentoring, I’m appraising them. I’m also, TPD, again, at a GP training scheme, and I’m able to sort of live that life that I’m passionate about. And so I consider myself incredibly lucky.
Rachel: I’m so glad you’ve been able to find something that you feel you can bring your whole self to. I think it’s fascinating that you are burnt out without experiencing it. I think that’s the experience of a lot—without realizing it, I think that’s the experience of a lot of doctors. I remember my first coaching session, I think I sobbed my way through it. I think that’s probably true for most of us when you suddenly sort of get to it.
And my first coaching session was after an epiphany, I think it was New Year, and I said to my sister and my husband, ‘Oh, what are your New Year’s resolution resolutions this year’? And they said, ‘We don’t have any, Rachel, but yours is to get a different job’. I was like, ‘Really? Can I do that? Is that possible’? And just feeling that this feeling of unhappiness. And what I was seeing was normal because everyone was like that, because everyone was working really hard. Everyone was struggling and that was just normal. And why should I expect anything from myself if everyone else was having to suck it up?
And I think your other point about the fact that I wasn’t full time, ‘I’m not full time, I’m not rushed off my feet, therefore, I can’t be burnt out, can I’? And we forget that there are other reasons and other causes of burnout, not just about workload and pressure. It’s about satisfaction and purpose and meaning and relationships and all those all those sorts of things. So, why is it that we are so bad at recognizing this? I mean, we—presumably we’re quite good at recognizing in our patients.
Sarah: I don’t know. I don’t think burnout has an entity that the World Health Organization is now given a classification to, is genuinely recognized. I think it’s seen as a layman’s term for ‘I’m a bit tired, I’ve been working too hard’, or ‘I’m running around after my kids, I haven’t had time for myself’. And although it can have very similar effects to things like depression and anxiety, and actually there is an overlap. And people who have burnout are more likely to be taking SSRI antidepressants, for example. I don’t think it’s given the same weight as a condition that affects your mental health and all of your well-being. And I think that’s part of why I’ve been doing loads of talks, particularly during the pandemic, about well-being, trying to just spot it and recognize it in yourself because as you say, we are often surrounded by people that appear to be under the same conditions, but you never really know what’s going on in there in the world.
And just because somebody else might be choosing to live life unhappily and exhausted and not really fulfilled, doesn’t mean that we have to make those same choices because we’ve all got our own interests and values and things that bring us purpose. And I think in medicine that you—so early on, you have this kind of groupthink. We glorify overwork. We glorify tiredness. I remember the whole sleep when you’re dead training as a junior doctor and thinking, ‘Oh, well, but we had it better than the people that went before us so we must be okay’, because that’s what we were always told. And I think that’s true now that there’s this real handed down historical mantle of ‘you must’… and then you feel that to be a member of the club, that’s what you should do. And I think that includes the cynicism, the sort of gallows humor, which can be really funny and bonding, and it can be very negative and cynical and can lead to kind of an I think, an erosion of your values and your reason for wanting to do stuff. And I think it can be hard to notice when that has seeped into becoming something you’ve taken honours how you view life, and I think in burnout, that can be really insidious. I certainly found the not caring as much about things, a real element for me. I expected the tiredness.
Rachel: You just think it’s normal, don’t you think? Stress is normal. And when I do talks about how to be happy at work, I’ve got these sort of these happiness traps that we fall into and one of them thinking is that stress and tiredness is normal. And I’ve just reminded of a physio who said to me that she seen this runner who’d hurt his knee and it came in and he said, ‘Oh, well, you need to help me fix this. But I’m a runner, being injured is normal, isn’t it’? And she said, ‘No, it’s not. It’s not normal to be injured’. I think, we think that to be a doctor, and I’m sure this is the same for lawyers and other professionals, that to be stressed and knackered is normal. Now, it is frequent, but it’s not normal.
And there was this dreadful statistic that came out just before the COVID pandemic, I think it was about November 2019, I think they measured something like 93.9% of GPS could be assessed as having a mild to moderate or moderate to severe mental health problem, and I think most of that will be burnout. But we’ve got this thing that being happy isn’t normal, we’re all going to be stressed, being tired is normal. And I love what you just said that just because someone else is choosing to live life unhappily, doesn’t mean that we need to. That is really powerful.
Sarah: And it’s taken me a really long time to honestly believe that. Because I felt a lot of shame and guilt and being less than for again, ’not being able to cope’ or ‘not thriving’.
Rachel: I think there are things that we can do about crafting our job. And I know you and I have talked a lot about this and you had that lovely analogy of a shape sorter. Can you just tell us about that? Because I think that was really helpful when you’re thinking about creative elemental—thinking about a workplace that fits you. It was really helpful for me anyway.
Sarah: Yes, I’ve been gradually, as I said, processing everything that’s happened to me and the people that I help and meet day to day. And I think particularly in medicine, but I’m sure this is true for other professions. You have this perception that you have to choose a particular career path and you might be shaped like a star. And the career path you see ahead of you are probably one of maybe 10 particular ones, and I certainly went through hospital medicine going ‘Don’t want that. Don’t want that. Don’t want that’. And it’s a ruling out often rather than a ruling in. So you may choose the path that you think ‘Well, okay, I can see a triangle that looks roughly about right for me’.
And so you jump in, you push through, and before you know it, you’ve left bits of yourself behind. And it’s not till you’ve gone to the other side, because we’re so good at jumping through the hoops, the assessments, the getting the jobs, were quite competitive, were selected for these perfectionist, A type—very sacrificial qualities that you don’t really realize till you get to the other side of it often. That you’ve chosen a shape that doesn’t actually fit you that well and you don’t really like the job that you’ve got the other side. And actually, you’ve left really important bits of yourself behind.
And for me, that was kind of a more playful part, a more creative part and a bit where I could do lots of different things. And that luckily, in general practice, you can—and I tried lots of different things on the way. But I think we make choices so early on and there are very few sort of stopping points at which you can stand there and reassess that because it feels quite binary, you either continue, or you’re out, or you start from the beginning and everything that you’ve done, is lost. And I think obviously, some of those assumptions are false. But I’m really keen that people feel that they do give themselves permission to step to one side and perhaps look in on their life and go, ‘How is this fitting with what I think fits with me’?
And also those personal values as I mentioned before, they may change. When I started training, I was single, I lived alone, I had a nasty little sports car. And by the end of training, and going into the real world, I had a Skoda, I followed my husband around for his job, and we’re settling down and wanting kids. My priorities changed, and that’s fine. But sometimes our career needs to change along with it.
Now, I know you had a long chat with Jane Dacre about that—about how the working life is designed around a 50s man, who has a woman at home, ready to give him a Martini and sort out the house. And I think that’s absolutely true, particularly for working women.
Rachel: Yes. I mean, gosh, the amount of times I’ve just thought to myself, ‘I wish I had a wife’. I think my husband thinks that as well, he wishes he had a wife, too. We’ve both come off, most come a crapper on that front.
Yes, I heard it but I can’t remember who said it, but we’re expected to give everything to work like we don’t have a family. And we’re supposed to give out everything to our family and home, like we don’t have a job. That is just you can’t, you can’t actually do that. So we’ve got to make it work for ourselves. We’ve got to find ways of crafting the job that we are in, that’s going to suit us more. And I have no agenda. If doctors want to go do something completely different, brilliant, if they want to stay in their jobs and craft them to help themselves, brilliant as well. It’s all about finding what works. So I am a passionate believer in the fact that it is possible to stay in medicine and these other professions without burning out, without leaving, and enjoy what you do.
So how would you suggest someone would go about checking in on what their values are and things like that? Because actually, I think that one of the problems is we’re so conditioned, we’re so forced into that star shape that we actually forget what we’re really about. Sometimes just forget what makes us tick, don’t we?
Sarah: I think absolutely. And I think you can sometimes live in an echo chamber, can’t you? You can talk to the people who are just like you and therefore will have similar opinions and experiences. And for me, that was the really powerful thing of either having a coach or seeing this counsellor and just somebody external to you, who can kind of help you tease out what’s important to you, and then help you hold that critical but empathic mirror up and go, ‘Okay, well, how does this look? How does your present look compared to where you want to be’?
And then in a compassionate way, rather than a judgmental way because we all do things with the best of intentions. Yes, okay. Well, what is there to change? What about your reality can be altered now? And what would you like to change? I think there are lots of resources for doing it. But there are also lots of very skilled professionals who can do that as well.
Rachel: So, one-to-one coaching is just brilliant, I think, for things like that. But there’s also sort of exercises you can do and values exercises and strength finders as well. So just wanted to talk a little bit about strengths as well. Because when I first started looking at what else I wanted to do, I didn’t really know what I was good at. And I know that when you’re looking at what’s going to fit you, it’s really important to do what you love. And often doing what you love is doing what you’re good at. They tend to go hand in hand. You’re very rarely really good at something that you really hate.
But strength is difficult, and it’s something we just completely didn’t go into at medical school or even—I think in training, I did a Myers Briggs questionnaire at one point, but that was when I was very young, wasn’t really into self-reflection or whatever. But I think in hindsight, I wish I’d paid more attention to the Myers Briggs thing actually, I’m an extreme extrovert. And so locking myself away in a room all day, doesn’t really do it for me, with no other sort of colleague contacts.
How do we find out what our strengths are? And then how do we make sure we place them in work?
Sarah: Absolutely, I think, as you say, there are lots of exercises and there’s a good free tool, the Values in Action Strengthsfinder. You can fill in and that gives you—sort of lists 20 potential strengths—this is from the world of positive psychology, for which there’s a lot of good evidence. And I found mine was fascinating and made perfect sense for why I’ve ended up with the portfolio where I’m at, things like kindness, pursuit of excellence, and beauty. And that can be anything, it can be all sorts of things. So there are lots of different things on that website, it’s V-I-A. So that’s, we can certainly put that in the notes.
And there’s also exercises that you can do in terms of finding your why. And like Simon Sinek did a famous TED talk, over 10 years ago now, who was an advertising executive and said, “It’s all very well doing your job. But unless you know why you’re doing it, you’re not aiming in the right direction’. And he completely changed a high paid job and went to do something completely different. And he’s got some good exercises in his book. And there’s a workbook you’ve got in terms of starting with why. And then you can start to look at your how and your what.
And I think often we start from the other way in—‘what am I going to do? How am I going to do it’? And the why comes after. So I find that a useful exercise as well.
Rachel: Yes, that’s interesting because most medics are thinking they want to do something else, ‘Yes, what else can I do? Right? What’s being advertised’? And that’s completely the wrong way around it.
I really encourage anyone who’s listening to this is interested to go and do that VIA strength survey, we’ll put the link in the show notes. It is really eye opening. Yes, I thought I was going to get really high up on teaching, and some sort of pastoral type stuff. But I ended up being quite high on communication of ideas and connecting with people. And I think it was another strength survey I did with WOO, which is called Winning Others Over and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I probably should have been in sales or advertising, or something’.
And it’s something really important to do. And I guess even in a partnership do it as well because you will find that there are lots of other people around with different strengths.
Like you said, Sarah, your values, you found it really difficult having to do that 10 minute and not the face to face being with patience. I must say, I didn’t mind at all that the telephone consultations and stuff. And there are lots of other GPs are completely pretty happy with that. And maybe they’re really into the sort of management in the efficiency and their quality assurance and all that sort of thing. So it’s okay to be different.
And that’s one thing I thought was a lot of guilt that I wasn’t performing or wasn’t enjoying stuff as much as that person there, but probably they just had a completely different strengths profile to me.
Sarah: Absolutely. And I think if I had looked at different doctors I’ve worked at over the years, or appraised or mentored, I made peace with constantly running about 20 minutes late because that was how I felt comfortable practising medicine. But it took me about 15 years to finally go, ‘This is me and how I am’. If I rate my goodness and my skills as a GP as to whether I run on time, that’s really a false test. And I think one of the difficulties is that you don’t get that much feedback. And often the feedback, the appraisal system as was, was almost an exercise in self-flagellation. ‘Prove that you are okay. Otherwise, we’ll assume that you’re not. And where are the times where you could have been better’?
And that can also be true in medical education. What are you putting on your portfolio? Or the bit that you needed to learn more about? And I’m really happy that appraisal has changed for this year and I really hope it will continue. It’s much more about the, ‘What have you done well? What’s been challenging? How are you’? And much more of seeing the doctor as a human being, and of course, we’re all going to be different and have different strengths. And we all know that as patients, we seek out doctors that we like communicating with, and that’s okay, that’s the rich variety of life.
But yes, I was very hard on myself and learning to also start to pick up that self-critical chapter. And I’m seeing that a lot in the well-being talks. If you say to people, ‘Look, if I had a bin to put all your unhelpful thinking, what would you put in it’? And there was such recurrent themes: ‘I’m not good enough’. ‘I’m not fast enough’. ‘My colleagues are probably better’. ‘They’re thinking this serves me’. ‘What if I get things wrong’? ‘What if I get a complaint’? And I just think there’s this very pervasive thing of not celebrating our victories.
And we don’t know—particularly I think, in quite outpatient-based specialties, when we’ve done a good job, a good job is when we don’t then see people again, or we’ve held people’s hand through a really difficult situation. And it’s rare that you get that feedback. And I think it’s how, as you say, you look for positives, where you can notice that you’ve done a good job yourself. And I used to try and say to people, ‘Okay, your task for your next appraisal is to write where you’ve managed a really difficult situation really well because you’re doing that every week: a really complex social situation, a patient whose diagnosis you can’t get to the bottom of’. And it was very rare that people then actually did it the following year, because we’re not very good at praising ourselves.
Rachel: Yes, that is really key that we have been used to measuring ourselves on efficiency and time.
Sarah: Yes,and ticking the boxes that are imposed externally.
Rachel: Yes, yes. They’re just great. ‘I’ve finished on time. I’ve been a brilliant GP today’. You might not have been. I know some really terrible GPS that can go really fast.
Yes, and ‘I’ve been really great. I’ve got through so much stuff’. Okay. Did you really think about that? How creative have you been? How many people’s lives have you really made a difference to today? And that’s really, really hard to quantify or to count, but we’ve been really conditioned to just focus on the wrong metrics for a lot of stuff.
And if we’re focusing on the wrong metrics, or we’re judged by the wrong metrics, then if those aren’t the things that give us meaning, or purpose, if it’s complete mismatch—and we know that one of the ways to, one of the most protective ways about stop yourself bending outs to find meaning and purpose in your job. So if you’re measuring yourself by the wrong things, and your meaning, and purpose is going to be at rock bottom.
Sarah: Absolutely. And I also think there’s the—we measure ourselves by our accomplishments. And I think in medicine, those are often certificates, diplomas, exams, ticking off the boxes on our portfolios. And I think it’s really difficult when you then get to the end of it, and there aren’t things to jump through. Actually, you have a higher level of responsibility, and then you’re dealing with stuff that maybe you don’t have interest in, like the management. You have more responsibility for Human Resources perhaps or quality improvement, and that’s not your interest. Your actual interest is maybe teaching or I don’t know, a particular niche area of clinical stuff.
And I think another thing I wanted to say, going back to the shape sorter, is that you cannot be what you do not see. Yes, I know. It’s a good one, isn’t it? There’s a fantastic doctor called Doctor Ronx, who’s one of the Operation Ouch doctors, who’s a black, queer, non-binary doctor in A&E. And they are very public about all of those issues in terms of people only seeing certain things and therefore those are the things in their shape sorter.
‘If I only see surgeons, medics, GP psychiatrists, OB-Gyn, those are going to be the things that I decide whether to do or not’. And I think we really need to have a full understanding of what are the options. And also think, ‘Does that always have to just include medicine’? We did an art day recently, and there were doctors doing spoken word poetry and art, and all sorts of creative, interesting things, which would augment them as a doctor because they are being fully human and satisfied and fulfilled, in a way that we would love in our patients.
And so just giving ourselves that permission to go, ‘Well, what else is there about me’? And perhaps looking around and going, what are other doctors doing? Because there are so many of us doing really different things. I’m pretty sure there will be other people doing stuff that we’re in. But maybe not the exact version of it and how do you see that stuff and lift up your eyes from your sort of day to day. And think a bit more creatively about it and have that curiosity.
Rachel: Yes, it’s all about how we measure ourselves at the end of the day. I remember Surina—Dr. Surina Chibber came in the podcast recently, co-founder of My Locum Manager. And she was saying when she had some coaching. Her coach said—she had this massive to-do list, she said, ‘Surina, what’s on your to-be list, not your to-do list’? And there’s a lovely quote, I think it may be Maya Angelou but it says, ‘You’ll be remembered by what brought you the most joy’. And then there is a definite Maya Angelou quote is: ‘People remember how you made them feel, not what you did.’
And at the moment, we measure ourselves on what we do, how much we’re achieving, what we’re getting through. And I think lots of doctors just measure themselves in ‘How I survived this year? Have I managed to get through this year without burning out? Have I survived the job’? For me, that’s not quite enough to think, ‘Have I just survived’? It’s like, ‘Am I thriving? And are the people around me thriving too’? Because they find thriving at the expense of somebody else, then I know that I’m probably doing something wrong as well. But am I thriving, are my colleagues thriving? Are my family thriving, and my friends thriving? And what have I given to them? As opposed to ‘A I just at work all the time, just working my socks off’?
And you get back to absolute cliché about no one ever said on the deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office’. But we always forget that, don’t we? We just prioritize work, and achievement above everything else in our lives.
Sarah: I think it’s very common. And I think trying to tune in more to the non-metric achievements, I think is a skill. And it’s a bit like with mindfulness and tuning into your unhelpful thoughts. It’s something that you can tune into and I think that’s where things like gratitude can come in really handy—for making you try to give things the importance that they are due and go, ‘Okay, perhaps if I want to really focus on the human interactions, okay, what were the positives about my interactions with other people today’? And you can start noticing those things.
Because I know when I had a really long to do list, and I just emptied it all out onto a page, I didn’t feel satisfied and get that dopamine hit when I ticked it off. I just went straight on with equal intensity to the next one, even if that job wasn’t that important or stressful. And it just felt like another thing pinged up in into my horizon. So it’s how do we allow ourselves real pleasure in those moments where something good happened or something that’s special to you happened, no matter how small that might be.
Rachel: Good advice, Sarah. We are running out of time. So I just like to ask you, if you had sort of three top tips for professionals who are at work, thinking that well, ‘Maybe I am on the edge of burnout and my colleagues are’, what would you say in terms of how they can bring their whole selves to work and not chop off those edges of the shapes that they are?
Sarah: I think the first one is about, phone a friend. If you think you are on the edge of burnout, and when I say a friend, I mean someone that isn’t you in terms of trying to diagnose yourself. We’re horrendous patients, and we’re even worse as doctors for ourselves. So really seeking help about that.
Once you’ve got that ball in motion in terms of looking at when were you last fulfilled or happy? And what about that brought you happiness and fulfilment? And I mean that on a very internal, rather than external accolades. Really letting yourself think, ‘When did I feel really satisfied in a way that wasn’t just about making myself look good to others, or fulfilling some criteria that other people may have, for me as a doctor’? Or in other parts of your life.
And I think the other bit is about giving yourself permission to stand away—sort of looking on your life and compare how your personal and professional values are comparing and just spend some time on that to really see what you notice, and whether there are any obvious changes that you feel that you need to make as a result of that.
Rachel: Thank you. And we’ve released an episode of the podcast about self-coaching, just a couple of episodes ago, actually. And so I think, if people do want to do that for themselves, self-coaching is a good way to do it. So go and have a listen to that episode.
I think my top tips would be whatever you want to do, stay in your zone of power. So think about ‘What choices do I have? What options do I have to make small changes at work’? Maybe it’s taking on that role and dropping that role. I think, do a strength survey, if you can. The VIA one is really good. You can also pay, I think there’s a Gallup one, there’s a Clifton Strengthsfinder, you can do that. It can be really illuminating. It doesn’t tell you—it tells you what your top strengths are. It doesn’t tell you how proficient you are at each strength though. Just because you’ve got top five, doesn’t mean you can’t do any of the others as well. You might be very good at other things. It’s just those are what your preferred strengths are.
And then finally, I think ask yourself, ‘What am I going to measure success by? What are my criteria for success? Is it going to be the number of diplomas achieved? Or is it going to be the level of happiness I’m feeling on a day-to-day basis or the meaning and purpose of satisfaction in my life’? Just ask yourself those hard, hard questions.
So Sarah, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. If people wanted to get in touch with you, find out more about you, where can they do that?
Sarah: Yes, lovely. I’ve got a website, which is drsarahgoulding.com, but with a “U” like Ellie Goulding, the popstar. And I’m on Instagram and LinkedIn @drsarahgolding, and on Twitter, but I don’t use that quite as much.
Rachel: Brilliant. Thank you so much, Sarah, and we’re happy to have you back on the podcast. There’s a lot more we can talk about in terms of career development. So will you come back again?
Sarah: Absolutely. I’d love to Rachel.
Rachel: Thanks a lot then. Bye!
Sarah: My pleasure. Bye Bye.
Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not A Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it, then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So keep well everyone. You’re doing a great job. You got this.