The other day I was asking a client, “What’s the value that drives your life?” This started me thinking about my personal journey to answer the very same question. As a physician who is now a personal and professional development coach/consultant, I find this question thought-provoking and empowering.
Having practiced medicine in a variety of settings, ranging from private practice to working as an advocate for children with hearing loss to running a cancer support group, I loved my patients and still do. I am endlessly fascinated by the science of medicine, but frankly I have never been particularly interested in the business of medicine. And, the business of medicine always seemed to get in the way of me being the doctor I wanted to be.
I was told by more than one of my bosses that I spent too much time with patients or that I wasn’t efficient enough. The actual icing on the cake—or more like the knife in my back—came when someone told me, “You’re too empathetic.” Are you kidding me? Too empathetic! Isn’t that what being a human being is all about? The amazing researcher Brené Brown, who incidentally is my hero, defines empathy as the ability to keenly pay attention to another, to listen and learn what that person’s experience is and to connect with them in a nonjudgmental manner, letting them know they are not alone. How can a physician be too empathetic?
This interaction rocked my world. After a lifetime of holding onto the career choice I had made in my twenties, something clicked. As hard as this is to believe, and I recognize that it sounds entirely contrived, I had already planned a trip to Africa and left for it soon after that conversation took place. So there I was, in the middle of the Serengeti with my family, on the trip I had dreamed of taking all my life when I realized that I needed to leave medicine; this simply wasn’t who I wanted to be anymore. I thought to myself, “There’s got to be something more, some other way I can help people and make a difference.”
Making that change was and still is one the most frightening things I have ever done. I came back from Africa and gave my leave of notice. It was terrifying and energizing at the same time. I cried my eyes out so much that they were swollen for weeks (just ask any of my family members).
I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, channeling my inner Elizabeth Gilbert, except I didn’t go to India or Italy. I stayed home and could never have envisioned where this journey was going take me. Retrospectively, I’m guessing this was my version of a midlife crisis. Both of my children, who truly are and always will be the centers of my universe, were in college and my husband and I were empty nesters, except for our two cats and our two crazy lovable Labrador Retrievers. And here I was, leaving the only profession I had ever known. The truth was my kids were growing up and I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.
For this reason, I started working with a coach who specialized in helping physicians transition from clinical to nonclinical careers. I started taking classes on Mindfulness-based stress reduction, something I had always wanted to take but somehow never made the time. I took an online art journaling class and painted with watercolors. Mind you, I have not a single creative bone in my body, so this was way out of my comfort zone. I started reading for pleasure again. I spent time with my aging parents. I ran and rekindled my love for tennis. I volunteered for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and became a Wish Granter and I taught tennis to participants in the Special Olympics. Ultimately, I reconnected with what truly matters to me—what makes me, me.
Having started in psychiatry, I thought about finishing my psychiatry residency. I contemplated going to veterinarian school because I’m a huge animal lover! I thought about teaching because I love learning and am a lifelong learner. One day my coach said, “Amie, have you ever considered coaching? You’re a natural.” Until that very moment, it honestly hadn’t occurred to me. Life is so funny that way.
With gratitude beyond measure, I started an intensive training program with The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) and realized during the very first class that coaching was what I was truly meant to do. Being there was like coming home, and I remember thinking, “I absolutely love this; this is where I belong.”
I recognized that what I had always loved about my patients was hearing their stories and helping them deal with “the good, the bad and the ugly.” I had spent my entire life being the confidante and listener for my friends, family and colleagues. Coaching was a vehicle I could use to help people connect to their stories and be the greatest versions of themselves, even when confronted with supremely challenging obstacles. As a coach, I could help people move forward to make transitions and changes in their lives. I could spend quality time with them; find out what truly mattered to them. Coaching was my way of helping others seek greater balance, enhanced meaning and satisfaction, both personally and professionally. I can empower clients to live in the moment and take bold steps in the direction of their choosing, living a life in alignment with their core values.
What I realize now, that I couldn’t possibly have known three years ago, is that the empathy factor is what makes me who I am and gives my life meaning. It allows me to walk the walk and talk the talk, which is a way better journey than I ever could have imagined! So, I’m wondering if you ask yourself the same question, “What’s the value that drives YOUR life?” What comes up for you? The answer may surprise you.
This article was originally posted by Coach Federation on 22 Apr 2016