I almost quit my job in 2014. I didn’t like my life, and I didn’t like myself. I had a lot of problems personally and professionally, and I wondered if I was good enough to solve them. I often felt weak and powerless. People were coming to me for answers, but I sometimes felt like a fraud.
My usual strategies of working harder and reading more books weren’t helping me, and I knew it, but I didn’t know what to do. I felt frustrated, angry, sad, tired, and lonely. All I knew was I wanted these feelings to go away.
And then I would shame myself for feeling this way. I kept asking myself: What is wrong with you?
By all outward measures, I was a big success. I was a medical doctor. I had a thriving internal medicine/pediatrics practice for 14 years. It was a successful one, too!
I was chief of staff at our local hospital and served on the board of directors. I was married to a beautiful woman for 18 years and had three wonderful children. I had bright, engaging students from the local medical college with me in my clinic every month.
Instead of feeling proud and grateful, I often felt like a scared kid and a victim of my circumstances. I felt uncomfortable around strong nurses, and difficult patients were hard for me.
I had problems with my communication skills. I thought my intense introversion would doom me. I was in leadership roles, but I wasn’t supported, trained, or given feedback. I didn’t know what I was doing. My wife had debilitating migraines, and I couldn’t help her. My daughter had anxiety, insomnia, and school avoidance, and I didn’t know what to do.
One harrowing night, my wife handed me a card and said timidly, “Brett, I think you need some help.”
I barked back, “Who’s going to help me? I just need more time! I can figure this out.”
I looked at the card. “Physician burnout coach.”
I thought back to the last time I was handed a card and told that I needed help. It was when my residency director, three weeks into my internship, handed me one after my intern partner and friend killed himself. I didn’t trust the director. I didn’t trust anyone but myself
at that time. I wasn’t going to show any weakness.
Two years later, my chief resident killed himself. At the funeral, I wanted to scream, “Come on, man, you are the chief! You are supposed to have the answers. What is wrong with you?”
I didn’t understand why my two friends killed themselves. I didn’t understand my life. I looked at the card again, and I had a chilling thought.
How close was I to where those guys were?
It scared me. So I called and in our first 30-minute conversation, he made me realize three critical things.
First, I was good enough. I didn’t have a fatal flaw.
Second, there were patterns of behavior among physicians and medical students, and I was falling into many of these common patterns.
Third, there were skills that, through coaching, I could develop to be successful. That conversation fundamentally reorganized my brain.
I worked with the physician coach for one year, and we worked on things like communication skills, self-acceptance, leadership skills, empowerment, boundaries, emotional intelligence, and much more.
These were like poorly developed muscles.
The methods we used were varied and included deep listening, role-play, scripting, trust, gratitude, and emotional awareness, to name a few.
My life is way better now. The people around me are way better. I feel more excited to go to work every day. I’m grateful for the way coaching has transformed my life.
I’m grateful I didn’t quit my job in 2014.
Brett Linzer is an internal medicine-pediatrics physician.
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