The question I’m getting asked a lot at the moment is “how did you do it?”
How did I go from frazzled burnt-out GP, with two small children (and a husband who is often working abroad), to happy, successful doctor and coach, living my dream life, in just two years?
The answer is simple: Success is an inside job!
I can’t remember who coined that phrase, but it’s completely true for my own transformation. I had to invest in myself, and change my own thinking.
But what precisely did I do?
First and essential for me was coaching. Over the past few years I have invested in coaching to rediscover my passions, find clarity, and plan my next steps. Each time I’ve got stuck I’ve used coaching to help me get to the next level. The reason I trained as a coach is that I’ve experienced the transformations that a great coach can facilitate.
Second, and very unexpectedly, was a course I did in Holland a few years ago. I was a reluctant participant, because as a doctor I couldn’t see how this could help me, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! The training was in Mindful Self-Compassion, and course put together by Kristen Neff and Chris Germer. It teaches the neurophysiology that contributes to our behaviours when under stress, and how to harness your own physiology to build a more resourceful inner state. What I didn’t appreciate was that this course teaches so much more. It delves deeply into all aspects of our lives – our relationships, our inner dialogue, our boundaries, our inner-critic, our tendency to notice the negative and ignore our unique qualities. It teaches us to enjoy our lives, to connect with others, to appreciate.
I came away from this training, seeing the world in a completely different light. I had been a lifelong self-critic, using my inner dialogue to motivate me to achieve. I was a classic doctor – expecting so much of myself, and those around me, pushing myself through fatigue and hunger, because that’s what’s expected of us.
I was afraid to change, because I feared I would become lazy, unmotivated, or weak. Instead I discovered that the techniques made me braver, prepared to try new things, more motivated, and I found the fun in my life again. I realised that I had been waiting for the NHS to get better, or for it to support me in some way, but that wasn’t going to happen. I needed to change, I needed to find purpose and connection, and a way to deal with the relentless pressure.
When I started my journey I thought it was just me, and everyone else was coping. I quietly went about researching, reading, and learning, but didn’t think that anyone else would be interested.
But I’ve realised that many people feel like I did. So many people are now coming forward to tell me that they can’t continue like this until retirement, and something needs to change. Some are junior doctors who feel so stressed and un-appreciated, and they are fearful that they are embarking on a career of working like a dog, and nobody noticing that they exist. Or that they are approaching retirement wondering what will be left of themselves once they stop working. Some are not doctors at all, but relate to my burn-out and the feeling of constantly working harder for less.
This why I now coach others, and am trained to teach the Mindful Self Compassion course. This is why I want to start a movement for change, equipping ourselves with the skills to allow us to thrive. We weren’t taught these skills at school, or at University, but we can learn them now.
If you'd like to read the book that started my Self-Compassion journey it's "Self-Compassion" by Kristen Neff.