As a woman in medicine, where the odds for pay, promotion, and leadership are stacked against me, I feel obligated to light the path for younger women who come behind me. It has taken me a while to be comfortable with my style of leadership, own my own voice, be able to regroup after rejection, and tolerate feeling on display and yet often invisible.
I wish someone would have told me the following things as a young professional woman, so I thought I would share my tips.
They certainly aren’t all-inclusive nor life-shattering, and there are so many amazing women leaders in medicine who likely have even more sage advice.
This is what I had to learn myself, and I hope it will encourage others.
1. Rejection doesn’t mean no. It just means not now. If I had a list of all the papers, proposals, and grants I’ve had rejected, it would far overshadow any list of my accomplishments. But here’s the thing: every rejection taught me something; each “no” made me more decisive, more resilient, and more innovative. I had to look further and farther than others who were chosen. And often, forcing me to look outside the easier route made me build strong collaborative ties nationally and outside of my specialty. I learned to tell myself that no didn’t mean no forever. Just no now.
2. As a woman, when you are passionate about an idea, or you are determined to have your voice heard, you will be called emotional, or overreactive. It’s OK. Be yourself anyway. I can honestly say I have zero regrets about each time I decided to “come out of the dugout” so to speak, and voice my opinion. If anything, I regret not speaking up more. You can be the quietest woman in the workplace on the planet, and the moment you decide to speak up, you will be judged for it. Speak your truth. Respect will follow.
3. You will get tired at times, and want to quit. It‘s normal. As a woman, you will have to work hard to be noticed, stay calmer to avoid being labeled, and have a smaller margin of error. When you make mistakes, they will likely be amplified. You will tire. There are times you will want to step back and not advance anymore. You will grow weary when passed over for things and you may want to throw in the towel.
Being tired is OK. Retreating back to base camp is OK. Take time. Recover, renew yourself, and then charge back into the chaos.
4. You need others who accept you as you are. Remember to take time to nurture relationships with a few good men and women who will bolster your spirits, give you honest feedback, and encourage you to keep going. Find your tribe. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to throw in the towel and a colleague has sensed my retreat or burnout and given me space and encouragement to keep going. Cultivate those people. Needing others is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.
5. Do not let others define you. You define yourself. As a woman, there will never be a shortage of people around you telling you what should do, and who you should be. You will be given advice, some good and some bad. You will be pushed down paths, and through doors you may or may not be interested in.
Stand up for your passion, your dreams, and your ambitions.
Only you are truly capable of it. Listen to your voice.
Let it be the strongest one you hear.
And if you need an atta girl, or a high five, reach out.
I got your back.
Sasha K. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Brave Enough.
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