I love metaphors. I think they can be so powerful and can convey so much, sometimes with just a few words.
One metaphor we use in coaching to describe the coach’s role in a session with their client is that of a swimming pool. The client is in the swimming pool, and as the coach we have the job of not jumping in the pool with them.
Imagine you were listening to a friend venting about what a jerk their husband had been the other day when he said ‘so and so’ and about how unreasonable her facility medical director’s expectations of her are at clinic, and about how much she always has on her to-do list as she balances her work and her marriage and her kids, not to mention all of this during pandemic times. As her friend, you would probably jump right into the pool with her, affirm her story, pound your fists about what a jerk her husband had been, how unreasonable her director is, and how it’s just all so much and all too much. You’d be empathizing the way that a friend might do, and rightly so.
If that same person were coming to me as a client and I their coach, however, it would be my job to offer something different than nodding yes and believing her interpretation of her circumstances to be the truth. She has you, her friend, to jump into that pool with her.
As her coach, though, I’m sitting outside the pool. I am asking her for the circumstances. What were your husband’s exact words? What did you make those words mean? Why did you choose to interpret them that way? How does it feel for you when you make that mean “X”? When you feel “X,” what do you do or not do—how do you show up? And what results come from you showing up in this way? More often than not, the results that come have a sneaky way of coming back around to support that very presumption we made when we interpreted our husband’s words to mean “X,” “Y,” or “Z.”
When we look at burnout and the stripped-down, bare-bones causes of burnout, we see that a loss of a sense of control over one’s life plays a central role.
Coaching is so beautiful in that it unlocks and reveals the fact that in almost each and every circumstance, we actually hold the majority of the control over how we feel about ourselves, about others, about our lives.
Each and every one of us has within us this capacity—that of intentionally choosing our thoughts.
And because it is always our thoughts that create our feelings.
And because it is always our feelings that drive our actions or inactions.
And because it is always our actions or inactions that create our results.
We hold so much power.
What we don’t control is our circumstances. Everything outside of us—what someone else does or says, what happens in the world. Yeah, that’s a lot, right? But circumstances only have the power to affect our lives through the filter of how we think about them. And man, is that a whole lot of power right there.
And when it comes to physician peer coaching, the beautiful thing about that is that there exists a foundation of understanding that is prebuilt, there from the start. No time must be spent by the physician client explaining to their non-physician coach what medical school is like, what residency is like, and the demands of being a practicing physician. Your physician coach already knows this. Your physician coach has been in that very pool as well.
She knows that throughout all of these years you’ve heard the message that you must be perfect, must never show doubt or uncertainty, must never show weakness, never struggle, never fail, never get sick, never miss a day even when you do get sick because of course, you will.
Long story short—the message has been: Don’t be human.
Or, at the very least, hide your humanness away—push it down, deny it, live in shame about it. And just keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
No wonder we are so burned out.
We are human, with all of the challenges that being human brings. And, on top of that, we are spending so much energy pretending not to be—pretending to the world, to those around us, and most damaging, to ourselves.
Coaching is about affirming our humanness. Physician coaching is about one physician holding the space for another physician to be human.
That, my physician friends, is one of the most impactful and transformational experiences any of us can give ourselves.
The author would like to thank Brooke Castillo at The Life Coach School for some of the coaching concepts described in this article.
Sara Tamarin is a pediatrician and can be reached at Sara Tamarin, MD Coaching.
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