I remember seeing the movie Catfish and wondering how someone could get so tricked into thinking that someone they met online was so far from who they actually were in real life. Marvelling at the effort it must take for these fraudsters to create a persona and craft the personality to the extent that it comes across as being their authentic self.
As I read some of the stuff that I’ve shared here over the past few months it makes me wonder about how my online persona is interpreted.
Perhaps some have an image of me as a gentle, nurturing soul who loves people and warm hugs. The kind of person who gets invigorated by wandering around the exhibition hall of conferences having chats and making connections.
The reality is that while compassion and building a strong network are things that I really value, they’re not things that have come naturally to me. At all.
Dare I say it, those who worked with me around ten years ago would probably read some of the stuff I’ve shared about empathy and compassion and think I’m a bit of a hypocrite. Back then I didn’t have a nemesis, I had nemeses (I don’t even know if that’s possible or if it’s a contradiction of terms).
I valued people’s contribution if they were aligned to my mission, but if I felt they were an opposing force of some kind then I wasn’t passive aggressive, I was straight up aggressive. I did not back down from an argument if I was sure I was right. I once brought someone to tears and didn’t deal with it a particularly nurturing way. Another time when someone confronted me about their concern about our relationship I abruptly informed them that we don’t have a personal relationship, we’re just workmates. So yeah, not exactly a portrait of kindness.
This may make you think that I used to be a real asshole. I don’t think I was, I just behaved like one sometimes. I was given a task to do to implement service change and I was totally caught up in pursuing that goal and looking after my team. I didn’t have anyone in my professional circle (probably older and definitely wiser) to listen to what was going on and help me gain perspective on the best way forward. I was surrounded by people in similar life stages as I was, who were just as frustrated as I was and who were cheering me on. This made me double down on my approach, not correct it in any way. It wasn’t exactly an uplifting, fulfilling time professionally.
What changed for me was when I left that work environment and got away from all the politics. I immediately felt lighter. I realised how my colleagues and I were getting each other down in our echo chamber of negativity, not because we were bad people but because we lacked intention and awareness. I started to gain perspective on aspects of professionalism beyond technical domain expertise, quality standards and efficiency. Learn about the value of person-centred care. I realised how that work environment had been bringing out the worst in me and that I didn’t want to go back to that. Ever.
Which brings me to the here and now.
I believe we can do better than either waiting for things to hit breaking point, or passively waiting for individual professionals to mature over time and gradually become better to work with (or not). I think there’s an opportunity for us to create environments that can actively foster this kind of personal development both in ourselves and other.s You can call it peer support, mentoring, whatever you like. The important thing is that is freely accessible to anyone who wants to be part of it. Not some exclusive, cultish like community that preaches peace, love and harmony for the health profession. Just a group of people who are comfortable with being honest and open with one another because they want to get better.
That’s the reason I’m here, learning out loud and sharing stuff that I wish someone had shared with me. Because I figure maybe there are people out there who are finding themselves in the same kind of circumstance I was in and it’s getting them down. Maybe you’re unable to find an exit like I could. Maybe you need some people who will support you through it and help you gain perspective.
I hope we can build that here. Not fake online personas, but honest ones, albeit aspirational at times.
Have you ever felt like this in your professional life or is it just me?
What do think we need to do about it?
How can we move beyond talking about the problem and start making things better on a practical level?
Please note, if you are having a really tough time right now and are in need of more structured support you can reach out to your professional support service or a peer support group for immediate assistance.