22nd March, 2022

How to Find Peace and Happiness, Even in a Life You Haven’t Chosen

With Rachel Morris

Dr Rachel Morris

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On this episode

Do you ever find yourself questioning whether you’re on the right path? Or maybe you’re struggling to find meaning in what you do? So many of us feel like we are stuck in a neverending climb in our careers. Whenever you get to a point like this, it may be time to re-assess and reprioritise your life.

When faced with unwanted events, go back to your ‘why’ to discover how you can change your circumstance or perspective.

Dr Maddy Du Mont joins us in this episode to discuss how her COVID-19 experience changed her life away from clinical practice. Although difficult at first, her reprioritisation made her feel free and at peace. She shares questions that will help you find clarity on your priorities.

Change doesn’t require a life-changing event, nor does it have to turn your life upside down. It be can just simply changing your mindset and feeling at peace with your decisions.

If you want to know how to find peace and happiness in your life, stay tuned to this episode.

Show links

Episode highlights


How Maddy Coaches People


How COVID-19 Affected Maddy


How Weakness and Illnesses are Connected


We Need to Be Honest With Ourselves


What Drives You? 


How to Prioritise


How Priorities Guide Decisions 


Finding the Truth in Your Story


Change Doesn’t Always Require Difficult Events 


Change Doesn’t Need to be Drastic


Maddy’s Tips

Episode transcript

Dr Maddy du Mont: It’s amazing how we can get stuck on the rat race, get stuck on the conveyor belt. And we just keep doing it because that’s what we’ve been doing and we keep climbing the ladder, keep climbing the ladder. We have so many different avenues of enjoyment and talent and often, you become more and more specialised as you get older through your career and you lose those other bits that make you and you lose that sight of who you are as a person and what it is that you do that makes it different.

Dr Rachel Morris: Do you ever have moments where you look at your life and your career and think, ‘Is this really what I signed up for?’ Perhaps you’ve got to the pinnacle of your career and climb to the top of one ladder, only to realise that it just leads to another ladder, or that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Or perhaps life hasn’t turned out exactly how you wanted. You may have encountered serious health issues, family issues, or ended up working somewhere really tricky. And of course, life has changed for us all through the COVID pandemic.

So in this podcast we’re asking how do you live in a way that brings peace and joy even when life hasn’t turned out lLike you thought it would? We’re chatting to Dr Maddy du Mont, GP and executive coach about how to thrive even when life throws us a curveball. Maddy suffers from long COVID and has had to make major changes to her life and career. The interesting thing is that she’s managed to reassess her priorities in life and change how she works. In fact, Maddy would say that having reprioritised she feels happier and more peaceful than she did before this all happened when she was leading a so-called normal life.

I’m fascinated to find out how we can all pivot in this way without having to go through a really difficult life event. So this episode is for you, whether you’re struggling with living a life in a way that you really wouldn’t have chosen for yourself or if you’ve reached a high point in your career and wondering, is this really it? Or if you’re still climbing up that ladder, and don’t want to look back at the end of your life and regret spending so much time focusing on the wrong things.

Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and busy professionals in healthcare and other high-stress jobs, who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris, a former GP, now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in resilience at work. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us have found that exhaustion and stress are slowly becoming the norm. But, you are not a frog. You don’t have to choose between burning out or getting out. In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts — all who have an interesting take on this and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work.

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 programs. We’ve been working with GP training hubs, new to GP fellowship programs, returned to practice programs, trainers groups, health and wellbeing projects, and many more organisations.

We’re now taking bookings for summer and autumn 2022 and have a few slots left for spring 2022. So if your team are feeling overwhelmed with work, one crisis away from not coping, and want to take control of their workload, do come and work happier. Do get in touch to find out how we can help.

It’s really wonderful to have with me today on the podcast. Dr Maddy du Mont and Maddy is a former GP and she’s now working as an executive coach and mentor and a GP appraiser. And in her coaching, she has a special interest in coaching high achieving professionals have got to the pinnacle of where they want to get to and just think, ‘Oh, is this it?’ And she uses narrative coaching to do that. So welcome, Maddy.

Maddy: Hello, hello.

Rachel: Great to have you here. It strikes me that there’s probably quite a lot of people that have got to where they’ve got to thinking, is this it? So presumably, this was born out of people you’re already coaching thinking, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m just seeing a recurring pattern here.’

Maddy: Yeah it was a surprising amount of people that have come for coaching, feeling really unfulfilled, having worked really hard to get where they want to be. And I find it really exciting working with them to kind of reinvigorate their careers, not necessarily start again, just change the way they’re working or change how they’re working to help them feel really excited about their careers moving forward.

Rachel: I just think that’s such a common issue. I remember reading a book about ladders, and it was talking about that, you’re climbing to get to the next rung and you’re working harder and harder to get to the next one, and then the next one, and then the next one. And you get to the top of the ladder and then either what you find is there’s just another ladder going even further up, or your ladders against completely the wrong wall.

Maddy: Yes, yes, I like that ladders against a completely a wrong wall. Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing how we can kind of get stuck on the rat race, get stuck on the conveyor belt. And we just keep doing it, because that’s what we’ve been doing. And we keep climbing the ladder, keep climbing the ladder. Particularly as medics, we have people who have so many different avenues of enjoyment and talent. And often, you become more and more specialised as you get older through your career, and you lose those other bits that make you and you lose that sight of who you are as a person and what it is that you do that makes it different.

And so it’s really exciting, I think, to work with people to kind of really help them find themselves again, remember that that person that they were when they started medicine, or before they started medicine and bring that in, again with them to kind of make sense of how they got there, and then give them a bit more choice about where they want to go moving forward.

Rachel: So I really wanted to get Maddy on the podcast today. We had a really interesting conversation about things that have been happening to you over the last couple of years, because it hasn’t really been plain sailing for you has it?

Maddy: No, that’s one way of putting it. Yeah, so two years ago, in March 2020, I got COVID and I was quite poorly with it. Although I didn’t go into hospital at the time. I think now, I would have done and I got a pericarditis that went on for a long time afterwards. In fact, medicine for that for a year, and other kind of heart complications, and then have subsequently been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis since then, and have not been back to clinical practice and not sure if I am going to go back to clinical practice now. So yeah, it’s been a little tricky.

Rachel: So sorry to hear that. And let’s get the technical stuff done first, there’ll be lots of GP thinking, ‘Oh, how did that happen?’ And had you been completely well, up until then?

Maddy: Yeah, completely well. So I was running marathons, half-marathons, triathlons, generally kind of hiking up and down mountains with my boys. Yeah, very well and it was a complete surprise, it came completely out of nowhere.

Rachel: And so you’ve never had any sort of rheumatological stuff before. So this whole Ankylosing Spondylitis, that was a new thing as well, right?

Maddy: Yeah, I think in hindsight, now, there were periods of my life where I’ve had really bad back pain and I’ve managed it with being very, very fit most of the time. So I think in hindsight, that diagnosis, the Ankylosing Spondylitis was probably grumbling along, and I was managing it by keeping very, very fit. Then the period of being very unwell and not being able to do any exercise really kick that off, as well as the joys that COVID seems to have done to my immune system.

Rachel: What do we yet fully understand what long COVID Does to people’s immune system?

Maddy: So I think not really no, there. I mean, I think we generally understand now that there is a vascular and a microvascular component to this, and we know that that, it’s much more clotting. And the idea is that perhaps what’s happening is that we’re getting kind of nervous damage to the smaller tissues from the kind of endothelial dysfunction. Anecdotally my rheumatologist has said that they’ve seen a lot more diagnoses of rheumatological arthritis. So I think, we’re beginning to piece a little bit by little bit together, but I think we’re still in the unknown in lots of ways.

Rachel: And before you got COVID in March 2020 how was life for you?

Maddy: Well, so I was working at the time as a clinical lead for a digital healthcare company based in London. So I was managing a team of 30 GP’s, I was consulting, kind of four— I was doing six sessions of consulting, I was also doing appraising, also looking after my two boys—living a very packed life. I’m also a singer, so I was doing some singing with my band—life was pretty busy and pretty full-on.

Rachel: Gosh. COVID hits you, march 2020, you’re really quite unwell. How long was it before you started to think, ‘Hang on a sec? Is this ever going to get better? This is taking a while.’

Maddy: I think at the kind of three to four-week mark, I was really beginning to panic at that stage kind of thinking, ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to me? Why is this happening?’ And bear in mind that at the time, we had no experience of this whatsoever. I was really the first wave of people in the UK that had got it and were having any kind of prolonged syndrome. So that was very scary at that time. And I think I doubted myself over and over again, kind of, ‘Am I making this up? Am I doing something that is making this happen? Why is this happening? What can I do to get better?’

I just couldn’t believe all of this. My husband’s a psychiatrist, and he kept saying to me over and over again, ‘Maddy, you’re not making yourself ill you can’t make fevers up and you can’t—.’ And I was like, ‘I know. But how do I make myself better?’

Rachel: It’s crazy, isn’t it? Side note, what is it about doctors that we never believe our bodies? And we blame ourselves for getting ill. You would never have a patient in front of you and go, ‘Well, I know you’ve got absolutely no energy and you’ve got depression, do you think that might be completely your fault? And you think you might be completely making that up? Or, you’ve got absolutely dreadful shoulder pain or you’ve broken your leg? Really? I mean, is it really that you can’t walk on it? But what if you were just a little bit stronger.’ I get so frustrated about the way that healthcare professionals just deny what is happening in their body because they feel it’s a personal slight on them, or it could be conceived as a character flaw. That’s a bit ill.

Maddy: That is exactly how I felt at the time and that I was kind of weak by letting people down. And I was letting people down and I couldn’t —yeah, all sorts of really unhelpful thoughts were happening at that stage, I have to say.

Rachel: So I’d like to go on here a little bit more. But first of all, what has happened to us that’s got us into that state of a feeling that we’re weak if we’re ill?

Maddy: I don’t know. I think—I mean, this could lead to a really big discussion about medicine, and the kind of thought processes that go through it, and the cultural change that has happened. But I think there is something in there about the responsibility that we take on as medics. We go to university, and they tell us, you can’t behave like other students, because you’re going to be doctors. And you have to be better than them, you have to be stronger than them, you don’t have—you do not go out getting drunk, you don’t need it.

Of course, we will ignore a lot of that. But it’s put into our head immediately that you are different, and you have to behave differently. The rules of normalcy don’t apply to us. And I think that goes through certainly, through my training, which was at the—roughly the same time as this is going to hurt which has been on recently and was scarily appropriate in terms of the experiences we had going through that. Certainly when we were training, there wasn’t time to be ill and there wasn’t.

You were encouraged to go in and carry on whatever unless you were literally couldn’t stop being sick. And I remember my registrar on my first ward job saying to me, ‘You have two weeks that you can mess it up in the first few weeks now we’ll cover for you after that you’re on your own.’ And I think it’s that kind of culture that grows us into these people that stops us being humans.

Rachel: I totally agree and I think we’re gonna have to in another entire podcast episode This Is Going To Hurt because I watched the first episode the other day with my partner. I was just like, yep, that’s what happened. Yeah. And my friends kept saying, ‘Oh, come on. I mean, must be exaggerated.’ Nope. I mean, obviously they cram all the bad bits into one episode, but totally and you can just remember those days and I think we’re all sort of suffering from—I don’t know, a recollection and slightly reliving that stress and the trauma of being on that point, but yeah, am I making this up?

And that’s not just physical stuff as well. I mean, I remember in my house dogs my grandmother died and rather than thinking, ‘Okay, I do need to take a couple of days off.’ I just went on call and sobbed my way around the wards for a night on my own. It was awful, awful, but not recognising that actually, I would react in the way of other people. You’re a doctor, you’re slightly different. You’re you can handle it.

Maddy: Yeah. But then that was also the time. I was not given compassionate leave to go to my granddad’s funeral.

Rachel: I had to swap shifts and swap on calls to actually go and do anything you didn’t you didn’t get leave anyway. So you’re thinking, ‘What is wrong with me? Because I can’t do anything. I’m really ill.’ Yeah. And then what happens?

Maddy: Yeah, well, I ended up having a fever of 38 every single day for nearly—for well, for over a year. At the 10-month mark, having gone through the infectious diseases, people kind of exhausted the local routes that are available to me. I went to—I pay privately to go to a rheumatologist who took one look at me and put me through an MRI scanner and said, ‘No, you’ve got ankylosing spondylitis.’ At which point I transferred back into the NHS and they said, ‘Oh, yes, yes, you have go try some adalimumab’.

So I’m now happily ensconced on that which has made the joint issues an awful lot better. I am still very much struggling with the cardiac implications. And I’m going back through cardiology a second time now, to try and really figure out what is going on. Because I’m still getting angina pains and still getting symptomatic tachycardia is where I’m dizzy and faint. And I can’t reduce my Ivabradine, which controls my heart rate, otherwise, my heart rate is 140 at rest. So we’re still kind of figuring out what’s going on on the cardiac side. So this is two years later.

Now, in the space of that time, I resigned from my online, digital healthcare, corporate stuff. I have to say they’ve been brilliant, in terms of saying to me keeping my job open for me and coming back when you’re ready, but I felt that, for me, I needed to, and this is where the big psychological changes started happening. I think I needed to accept where I was now because it was very clear that I was not going to get better quickly. And having that kind of always comparing myself to that highly functioning, very busy multitasking, very high-stress job was really unhelpful for me because it just felt I just felt like I was failing all the time. So I needed to cut free from that, I think to accept where I was at that moment and organise my life so that that was okay.

Rachel: And Maddy. I mean, it’s really interesting talking to you now, because the provisional title, I don’t know that will say it for this podcast is how to create a way of living around a life I haven’t chosen. Now, sometimes I interview guests, and they’re like, this is my story and I’ve been through it and it’s finished and this is looking back, this is what I would have done differently. Like you’re right bang in the middle of the story, still, with all the stuff that’s going on. Thank you so much for being really vulnerable and coming on and sharing it and I think it’s just really powerful because there are be a lot of listeners that there might not be that many that have long COVID. But there will certainly be a lot of listeners that have chronic health problems that have had something dreadful happen or maybe recovering from cancer, who may be have had a relationship, this is finished and they find themselves not living the life that they might have chosen or something’s gone wrong with their career or you name it.

Life doesn’t work out the way we want to and what I think your case is particularly extreme. But I think for a lot of us, there are things that we would rather change. I guess the natural thing is to rail against it and I certainly know some people that some really bad stuff has happened to them, they’ve responded in very different ways. And someone I can think of is still really railing against it and I think really suffering I guess taking that second arrow is a bit of what we’re talking about. The thing that’s happened and then a second lot of suffering is really railing against the thing that’s happened to them. And you said, accepting where I was and making those lifestyle changes. Now that was just a sentence but I bet that was incredibly hard to do

Maddy: It was very hard to do. Because what that means is getting really honest with yourself about what you need. To make your life feel fulfilled, and what brings you self-worth, and what fills you up. I think before this illness, I was very much driven by results. So I worked hard, I was kind of generally in a position of leadership where I had a lot of responsibility for other doctors as well as for patients, I kind of thrived off that. I thrived off the adrenaline and the kind of very fast-paced environment that I worked in. And coming down from that is really, really, really hard, because you kind of then go, ‘Okay, right, my life is now very slow, because I physically can’t keep up with anything else.’

So where do I find those immediate kind of feedback responses saying, ‘Yes, you’re doing well’, or yes, you’re—aren’t there anymore. And what I realised is that, I found it very hard for my children, and for my husband to be enough for me. Now, that was a really tricky discussion to have with my husband and sounds kind of awful saying it now. But I felt, the immediate feedback that you get from long term relationships and from parenting is not immediate. It’s a very long time down the road. And so, for me, that meant that I just felt like a failure as a mom and a failure as a wife a lot of the time, because there wasn’t that immediacy in the feedback.

Now, neither of them, neither of my children or my husband would say that I was a failure in any way whatsoever. But for me at the time, I was all about results and information immediately. So that had to change. I think I’ve said in our previous conversation, that it was that I had to really weigh up, my needs to achieve things for myself worth versus my children’s need to have a mother that was present because I didn’t have the energy to do both. I barely had the energy to parent my children, to be honest. So it was very difficult.

Rachel: And as you’re saying that I’m just wondering, and looking back on my own life thinking, actually. I think sometimes we do kid ourselves, when we are doing something that’s taking a lot of emotional energy working really, really hard. We are killing ourselves that we are doing both really well anyway.

Maddy: Yes, absolutely. It’s totally diversionary tactics for me, I realised that I was just throwing myself in this to work to kind of avoid the hard stuff of that real uncertainty and that vulnerability, that has to come with being a present parent or a present wife. It’s much easier to throw yourself into work and just kind of manage it and just kind of wing the rest of it.

Rachel: I mean, it’s about feedback as well, isn’t it? We are very driven by it. I love Paul Gilbert’s work about the different things that were driven by there’s your fear zone, your threat zone, your amygdala, adrenaline, drive zone, which take your dopamine achievement and then see your rest and digest your parasympathetic zone. And as doctors, we spend most of our time between driving, driving, driving, and—

Maddy: Exactly in very little in this soothing place. And in fact, I use that compassion focus therapy idea in a lot of my coaching, because we are terrible as doctors, we haven’t developed that compassion centre, that soothing centre for ourselves very well. So it is much more natural for us to live in the drive and the threat zones.

Rachel: As a mother, I’m just speaking for myself. Now, I can’t say that the feedback I get from my family is always positive or encouraging.

Maddy: Exactly. This is the thing about parenting, isn’t it? Is that actually, parenting is—you don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m wifing this evening.’ Actually, it’s a relationship, isn’t it? It’s not a job. You don’t get—you are not responsible for them not having meltdowns. What you are responsible for is the, working through that emotional development with them. But it’s very easy to kind of flick into that, ‘I’m parenting. This is my job, they’re having a meltdown, therefore, I’m not doing my job properly’.

Rachel: Particularly with teenagers. They sort of blame you for everything and you’d be I don’t know, you’ve been speaking to hundreds of people at a conference and you come in the door and someone has to go at you because their gym shirt isn’t clean. Can I just go back to that really difficult job?

Maddy: Yeah, absolutely.

Rachel: We are our own worst enemies in that regard. So how did you learn to cope with it? What did you do?

Maddy: Well, I think, as doctors, we’re also really privileged to have seen other people in this situation many, many times. And I remember I kind of consciously thought I wanted to be like a patient who I’d met when I was working at the Oxford Centre for Enablement who, and this patient had had meningitis and lost both legs. And we gave him his prosthesis and said,

‘Just walk a few steps, don’t go far. And we’ll see you tomorrow.’ And he came back, having walked a mile around the pond, because it said, ‘Oh, I got halfway there. And I thought I might as well keep going and come back.’ But he had this amazing energy and this kind of absolute, dogged determination to look at the bright side of things.

So I decided quite early on that I was going to try and mimic that because I didn’t feel particularly positive, or dug it in my kind of, in my attitude at the point at that point. And I can’t say I’ve always succeeded, there have been times when I’ve been really quite miserable and down and not doing the right things for myself. But generally, I think I’ve tried to look at it as a learning opportunity and what can I learn from this and how can I change to meet these demands. I think that’s—so very early on, I got all arranged in counselling because I realised very quickly that my self-worth was so bound up in my job that not being able to do my job is going to be very difficult.

And then I was doing this retraining as a coach or was going to do that alongside my job anyway. The kind of coaching way of a practical kind of forward focus really appealed to me. Each step once I found that the resigning from my job very, very difficult and that took me months and months of thinking about to do that. But once I had done it that was amazingly freeing and because I’d done it in this proactive way I had maintained a really good relationship with them and they have basically said ‘If you ever want to come back, please contact us.’ So that was a very nice way of ending it for me.

Then from there, I had this enormous sense of freedom but also absolutely terrifying because I wasn’t well enough to start anything else so was in this liminal space. In coaching, we talk a lot about these liminal spaces and how difficult it can be to sit in them. So I did a lot of work through there on the coaching course and I got to coaching myself as well which has helped me no end and spent a year really deciding to work out. Okay, this I felt like the university has given me this chance, I’m going to stop working, I’m going to spend this time figuring out what it is that is really important in life to me. What it is that drives me, where I get my energy from, who I want to be working with in the future, in what way I would like to be working with them.

And that also took in kind of a lot of figuring out the demons from my past and dealing with those things that I’d well and truly boxed up and put away and you know, hadn’t really expected to get out again. So in an odd way it’s been a really cleansing time as well and clarifying time. Not easy though.

Rachel: I know you obviously got limited energy because of your health condition. How do you know know what you should prioritise and what you shouldn’t prioritise and what you should be focusing on and what you shouldn’t?

Maddy: A lot of it for me was kind of feeling my way through it and beginning to learn to trust my body and we touched on this earlier. My body is telling me in one way or another what feels right, what doesn’t, and trying to kind of think out of your head and feel stuff has been quite useful for me. Completely new thing to me. I just before was like a bull in a china shop. You know you will do this and you will do that. The other thing I think was feeling that kind of our age-old question. You know when you’re old, what do you want to look back on? What is it that is going to make you feel that you have been a success or have lived a successful life?

And I kept coming back to this question over and over again and instinctively, that was never—I’ve been a good doctor, I’ve risen to the heights of kind of doctor management, like that just did not factor in what I was doing, or what I wanted to look back on. Absolutely number one over and over and over what kept coming out, which was a real surprise to me was, I want to have a good relationship with my children. And I want them to feel comfortable in my presence, and at ease with me and as though I’m always a safe place for them. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say that it was a surprise. Because clearly that’s as a mother what you want for your children.

But I’d always thought that that would come alongside me being successful at work. And actually, when I was really honest about it, it was about that relationship and that set me off thinking about relationships. What I thought was really important and really successful and where I got a lot of energy from was having meaningful interactions and meaningful relationships. And I realised that this actually, is a definition of success for me, because I can do that with my family, with my working clients, with everything I do; that kind of having a meaningful relationship, honest and relationships with integrity, that’s something that is in my control.

So I’m not handing that control over to anyone else and I think we’ve talked a lot about the locus of focus of control rather, that is something that I can do by living honestly, and, you know, with kindness, and being true to my values will make those relationships meaningful. And then I realised that actually, what was also important to me was being of service to people, so not only having meaningful relationships but then giving something through those meaningful relationships. That’s what I kind of came down to as my real priorities. When I looked at it that way, designing my working life became a lot easier.

Rachel: Yeah, because you know exactly what you got to focus on. And then how did you use those priorities to make the difficult decisions?

Maddy: I’m not gonna say it was easy to make decisions, they were really hard, really annoying adulting decisions that I didn’t want to make. Because I wanted to be able to just juggle everything. I think I had this real fear of missing out as well, I didn’t want to have to kind of narrow things down, because I didn’t know where to go or where I wanted to be. But I’ve been forced to narrow those things down. It made me realise that those other friendships, those other kind of working relationships that didn’t fit into that ability to have a meaningful relationship or be of service actually gave me very little.

So I was much more able to choose not to do those things to say, ‘Okay, I’m not going to work with that to do that set of kind of jobs and I’m not going to choose to go back into locuming or whatever, because that doesn’t fit alongside those things.’ And what is nice is that it gives me a real sense of calm because I can evaluate any opportunities that now come up. I’m better than I was, but I’m not completely better, I still can’t juggle everything. I now evaluate those and think how is that going to impact on my ability to be there for my children, and my ability to have that meaningful relationship with them? How is that going to impact my relationship with the other important people in my life? How is this going to impact on kind of being able to give in acts of service?

And some opportunities, allow me to give a lot in an act of service. But don’t allow me to have those meaningful relationships. And so I’ve sort of made a rule that there has to be both or nothing. I have to be able to, because what becomes apparent is that when you’ve made those choices, somehow the universe opens up and gives you opportunities. And I don’t know how it does that. And I do, but it does.

Rachel: Yeah, and it’s interesting, is it because I guess you’ve been forced to have to make these decisions. Oh, no, actually, no, you haven’t been forced to make these decisions like you could have chosen just to wallow and go ‘That’s it, I can’t do anything.’ But you’ve obviously made a really intentional choice to work out what’s really important. Do some deep work to make those decisions. What would have happened? If you’d have made those decisions when you were well? How would that have affected your life?

Maddy: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I don’t know if I’ve ever got to those decisions. And I do think about this, because I am much happier now actually. Despite all the ill health, despite all the things that I can’t do, that I’d like to be able to do, I am much happier, I feel much more settled, I’m able to be much more creative in writing, the relationships that have brilliant, and I really enjoy. And I’m not sure that I would have made all those decisions if I didn’t have to. I don’t think I would have walked away from clinical practice and I think I needed to, for me. Because I think I was so scared of doing that. I was so scared of not having a role and not having an identity. Because actually, medicine gives us an identity, doesn’t it? It’s very easy.

If you’re under a social thing to say I’m a doctor, then everybody knows what you do. And they plug you in that kind of, oh, you’re this respectable this and this and this. There’s a shortcut to kind of getting this social identity.

And I was really scared of losing all of it. Because you don’t lose them all. They’re just slightly different. So I’m not sure I would ever quite have managed it and I think I might have gone on working in something that was fundamentally making me a little miserable, but I thought was the only thing I could do? Yeah, I don’t know if I would have got there.

Rachel: It’s interesting. I think you obviously had long COVID. But you hear these exact stories from people that experienced a severe burnout year or had another life-changing health diagnosis. It’s very difficult to get to the point where you’re grateful that something has happened. But a lot of people report that they’re actually happier afterwards, because it’s forced them to confront the lies and the stories they were telling themselves that just weren’t true.

Maddy: Yes indeed. And that’s what’s so fascinating and why I kind of wind narrative into the coaching. Because when I look back, there were so many stories, I was telling myself that weren’t true. And those stories were stopping me from doing what I knew I wanted to do. Not that I had an idea of what I wanted to actually end up doing, but I knew that it wasn’t this. I think there is that real need to evaluate those stories. And I am actually, I am really grateful. Because I’m not sure. I’d quite like to have done it in a less difficult way. But I’m not sure I would have done it. I’m not sure I would have made myself confront those and go through those things.

Rachel: One thing that puzzles me is how can we get this realisation without having to have a really difficult life event happen to us? And I presume, I mean, when people can see you for coaching, obviously, they’ve got to the top thinking, ‘Wow, what do I do now?’ So I bet that that’s a bit like it happening, but without the life event, and how can you help people?

Maddy: Well, this is why I love my job, because it’s so exciting. There’s a lot of things that we can do without falling off the edge of a cliff to do it. But it does require a willingness to be really honest, and a willingness to go to hard places because the decisions that you will have to make as a consequence are going to be tricky. Personally I think everybody should have coaching because it’s brilliant. But there are things that you can do yourself that you don’t need to kind of go through coaching for such as there are things like the 16 personalities, the kind of profiling, personality profiling, and values assessments, the Values in Action assessment that you can get online that are free.

They are really useful. My professor of coaching used to say that they are can openers not tape measures, which I really love. So the idea of these just to start you thinking about what it is that are your priorities, what are the values that are really important to you. I think values are the most important thing. I know that for me, appreciation of beauty and excellence is up there and alongside curiosity. Those are the kinds of things that I focus on when I’m thinking about alongside success. How do my measures of success go into this decision? So those are the two things that I use to help me make decisions. I’m a massive Brené Brown fan and she says that you can only have two values that are important, anything more, then you are diluting what your cornerstones are. So I find it quite hard to get down to just two, three is my kind of where I feel comfortable. So I think you can do those values assessments yourself, you can have those kinds of coaching conversations with yourself in that way.

There are also coaching tools on the web that you can search for. You can search for something called A Thought Download by Brooke Castillo, she’s actually a weight loss coach in the US. But she’s created this brilliant self-coaching model, which talks about circumstance, thoughts associated with that, feelings associated with the thoughts, the action that requires, and then the consequences of those actions. And it’s probably a bit much to kind of explain the way through those, but essentially, it’s the idea that circumstances are entirely neutral. They are facts, they just happen, anybody in the world would agree that they happened.

What’s interesting is that our thoughts and our feelings and our reactions to those are changeable. Although we can’t control what happens to us, we can control our reactions about it. There’s that coaching model; it’s also available, it’s free. And I think that’s a really good place to start. But really, yes, I think it’s that acknowledging at some point that it’s not fitting, right, that something isn’t fitting, right. And rather than just kind of battering on through this thing, ‘Okay, well, let’s give myself the space to investigate this. I don’t have to change anything. But let’s give us some space to investigate what this means.’

Rachel: I think starting with that question that you mentioned at the beginning, you know, what do I want to be remembered for? What will I look back and think my life was about? And if the answer to that is very different to what you’re spending your life doing now, then probably something needs to change and you get that bit of cognitive dissonance, don’t you?

Maddy: Absolutely. And I think as well, because of the people that tend to go into medicine, or very high kinds of careers, high professional careers, we tend to have that thought that we can’t change or can’t do anything without doing a whole load more learning, or a whole load more this or more that. And actually, sometimes we just need to start living that life. We don’t need to change anything else, particularly just the way we think about it. We just need to live that life in that way and that’s quite an interesting thing to think about.

Rachel: Yes, I know one of the things that we talked about in our Permission To Thrive is that one of Caroline Walker’s-

Maddy: Caroline—be at B!

Rachel: Absolutely, exactly. If you want to, if you want to be at B, then just go there and act as if you already are. And see what follows. Because sometimes, I think for doctors, we like to get into action, don’t we? Sometimes it’s easier to stop behaving like that. And then everything follows than actually think ourselves into it.

Maddy: Yeah. So that’s the other thing I think is don’t be afraid to try something out. There are lots of ways of trying things out without having to completely turn your life upside down to do it.

Rachel: So Maddy, we’re nearly out of time. I’d love to just ask you, I guess there’s two different things really, first of all, if people find themselves living a life that they haven’t chosen, but they’re stuck with it, what would your top tips be for those people? And then secondly, what about people that haven’t had anything dreadful happen, but they still feel they’re not actually that happy, and probably the tips will be the same actually.

Maddy: I think if you have had an awful something, then the first thing that needs to come is compassion for yourself, because awful things are hard. And you need to acknowledge that first, I think and then I think the second thing is really to try and stop thinking. Listen to your body a bit more. Now what is it trying to tell you? What is it trying to tell you it needs, it loves, it enjoys? And take a lead from that rather than trying to overthink and make yourself into something that you can’t be any more so I think it’s that dual thing of completely radical compassion, acts of compassion for yourself.

That kind of just acceptance that this is where we are and lean into that and feel where your body is telling you to go. Very similar actually for people who haven’t had an awful something, we’re not compassionate to ourselves. And I think we all need a bit more of that, and a bit more acceptance of ourselves and our limits. It may come in a different way if you haven’t had a radical change or a massive change but that acceptance of us as human beings and you know, we are worthy just by being us we don’t have to achieve or do or be anything. So I think that those are the kind of key points on which to start that development.

Rachel: Brilliant. Thank you so much Maddy. That’s been really helpful I think particularly the thing about working out what your own values are and I love that thing. If two values what are your two cornerstones around which you can pivot every single other decision? So Maddy, if people wanted to get hold of you or wanted to come and have some coaching with you? How can they find you?

Maddy: You can email me at maddy@drmaddydumontcoaching.co.uk You can go on to my website, which is drmaddydumontcoaching.co.uk. There you can also find me through The Joyful Doctor.

Rachel: That’s great. So just encourage people to get in touch with Maddy if you want to find out anything more. And I think there’s loads more he wants to ask you. So can we get you back on the podcast another time?

Maddy: Oh, please. I’d love to. That would be great.

Rachel: That’s fantastic. And yeah, we do wish you all the best and your journey towards good health continues upwards.

Maddy: Thank you.

Rachel: Okay, good to speak.

Maddy: Bye.

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