I learned a ton of lessons about leadership, collaboration, and team work among other things at my previous job. My biggest growth point was in navigating one particularly challenging area. People. Interacting with people can bring some of the biggest challenges that you’ll face each day.
Can you guess what one of the biggest lessons that I learned about interacting with people was? Advocating for myself.
What does that even mean? It means that I learned how to make sure that my needs were met. If my needs weren’t met, then I wasn’t going to be my best for the patients I was trying to help.
Notice I said needs, not wants. Not to say that wants aren’t important, but meeting your needs are how you survive.
Sure, I wanted to lead a revolt against a painfully inefficient EMR. I also wanted to be able to eat outside in the sunshine during my lunch hour instead of jamming food into my mouth while catching up on charting in aforementioned EMR.
My needs were a bit different. I needed to have my time with patients protected, not continuously shortened. I needed to put a limit on how many patients I would see each day. I needed to leave by a certain time because I had an unpaid job at home to get to.
Getting your needs met are the foundation for creating sustainability in any situation that you’re in. Unfortunately, faced with an employer unwilling to meet my wants or needs, I resigned.
The lesson learned? Know how to name, ask for, and claim what you need. If your needs go unrecognized, be ready to take action.
How often do you pause in a situation and consider what you need?
"What do I need to understand or need someone else understand?"
"What do I need the outcome to be?"
Maybe you’re struggling with long hours in clinic only to lug work home right along with you at the end of each day. You probably feel frustrated, disgruntled, exhausted. But, what do you need?
Do you need shorter work hours, a guaranteed “stopping” time? Do you need your workload decreased? Do you need you employer to recognize the unsustainability of your situation and be willing to problem solve with you?
You might not like all aspects of the situation. Most likely, there will be other things that you want. You can deal with your wants after getting what you need. Remember, getting what you need is all about surviving.
A client of mine was able to proritize getting a full nights sleep only after she named sleep as a long neglected need. Then, she was able to design an action plan to build a good night's sleep into her schedule.
Ask for it
This might be the hardest part. Women physicians, like SO many other women, struggle with asking for what they need.
What do you worry about? Hearing “no”? Disappointing someone? Losing something? If your needs aren’t being met, none of this really matters. You can’t survive if your needs aren’t being met.
If you’re getting home late every evening, missing dinner with your family, rushing to put the kids to bed and then staying up to finish charts, eventually this situation or an important part of it, is going to collapse.
Maybe your relationship with your kids or spouse is suffering, your health is declining, or your performance at work is deteriorating. At some point, something will break. This is not surviving.
Asking for what you need is your only option. Remember, it’s a need, not a frivolous want. If you need a schedule adjustment, ask for it. If you need to problem solve with your medical director or department chair, get on her (or his) schedule.
No one can read your mind. They’re probably not even aware that your needs aren’t being met. You have to let them know and give them the opportunity to show up and respond.
If you can’t get what you need, what will you do to ensure your own survival?
Let go of fear, guilt, or shame around asking for what you need. Don’t settle for less than what you absolutely need to survive.
When your director arranges for you to have Wednesday afternoons off, don’t regret asking for what you needed because your colleagues are stuck with their same, long hours.
You asked for what you needed because you are all about survival. Your colleagues can do this too.
Step fully into caring for yourself by accepting the gift of meeting your needs. When your needs are met, you can grow towards mental, physical and psychological wholeness.
Imagine what an amazing physician/wife/partner/mother/friend you will be!