I’m sure you’ve always wondered what Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, chairs of national organisations such as NICE, the BMA and medical students have in common, right? I’m here to answer the questions that keep you up at night. No need to thank me.
In trying to introduce myself in a nutshell, I struggled to settle on “founder of”; it sounded too official for comfort given that most of what I do is just talk to people about their experiences and record it. However, to fully embrace the spirit of self-reflection and introspection simmering around this time of year, I recognised that part of this struggle was in internalizing accomplishments and a fear of exposure as a fraud. Clearly, I missed the vaccine, this was a classic case of Imposter Syndrome. As a medic with a motive to motivate and inspire, this mindset needed shifting real quick.
Four months of podcasting and over 25 interviews later, my skills as the host, producer and sound engineer for Medic’s Motive have developed a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to gain insights in the form of ‘cheesy pearls of wisdom’ from medical students and doctors with inspiring motives in and outside of medicine, and speakers from the Healthcare Leadership Academy’s inaugural conference, such as CEOs, CBE holders, leaders in healthcare, philosophy and politics.
Through conversations with a good variety of individuals, I noticed a common factor connecting students wanting to or in various stages of idea execution and professionals already established in their careers. The International Journal of Behavioral Science reports that at least 70% of us experience it. it’s nothing new. But the differences in how people respond to it got me thinking: Imposter syndrome is a spectrum mindset disorder (SMD).
Indulge my use of illustrative medicalisation here. If high-achievers such as Maya and Albert aren’t immune to imposter syndrome, is there any hope for us? Well, a healthy mindset is the established set of of attitudes we hold to help us get to point A to B. Yet, if you’re at one end of the SMD, where you feel like a complete imposter, the confines and strength of this “it’s only” and “I’m just” attitude limits what you see yourself capable of doing and therefore attempt to do.
Further along the spectrum, you may feel like an imposter but retain the ability to suppress any feelings of self-doubt to do what needs to be done. I found this variation was common in medics. This might work in the short-term but positive affirmations of your abilities built on the foundation of an aversion to negative emotions like self-doubt are baseless, simply gas and hot-air. If this is what you need to get started on that start-up, to go for a position, to push yourself outside your comfort zone, fire away. The end goal however, is to depend on renewable energy sources; a mix of confidence from experience and practise to establish a well balanced confidence to competence ratio, passion for your vision and a nurturing environment of both like-minded people who support and share your vision and those who respectfully challenge it thus helping to establish its strength and shape it.
I’m aware that it’s easier said than done, but it’s a new dawn, a new day, and a new life for the New Medic so, I’m feeling good about this realisation. Therefore, I thought of my top 3 practical steps to break down SMD for progress in academics, extracurriculars or personal development. These were formed through insights from my personal experiences and that of so many inspiring and motivating individuals I’ve spoken to:
1. Find comfort in vulnerability.
This is too big a lesson to cover in a bullet point but a good place to start is by “ acknowledging how vulnerability is humanising” - Simon Fleming. Find small ways to ease into vulnerability. Start by reframing your attitude toward it as a weakness and instead, embrace it from a place of strength. Share more of your ideas, don’t hold back out of fear of getting something wrong or reprimanded, in lecture theatres, in ward rounds, in friendships and relationships. Finding comfort in vulnerability this way allows you to align your thoughts, feelings and intentions to their expression through your actions. If you refuse to do things that expose or recognise your weaknesses, you’ll never be in a position to strengthen or overcome them. The authenticity that comes with vulnerability makes it hard to feel like a fraud. And trust me, this feeling is freedom itself.
2. Be mindful of negative emotions
Alignment is key but dependence is toxic. Suppressing emotion only amplifies dependence. When you feel self-doubt, inexperienced or nervous, brushing it off is a hard habit to break especially for self-proclaimed optimists like myself. But I’m learning that once you learn to let go of your own judgement and learn to experience and acknowledge the emotions as they come and go, your actions don’t become so attached to how you feel and any energy you would have spent suppressing negativity can be fully directed into planning and execution. It’s ok not not to feel you can do something first time or doubt your abilities. I almost said no to producing the HLA’s conference series due to a lack of confidence in my own abilities but I made a clear distinction between embracing a feeling versus simply experiencing it; most times you don’t lack skill, you just feel like you lack it so just recognise that these emotions are temporary and do not define you - Feel the feels, process, then boss it out.
3. Reflect and reframe
Having certain mindsets is incredibly valuable in achieving goals. However, the inflexibility that comes with conforming to a set of preformed ideals, on certain attitudes and ideas, will only amplify and escalate any feelings of “ should I” “ can I” to “I can’t” and “not me”. As Rollo May said, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity - even a dead fish can go with the flow.”.
Addressing certain mindsets especially those fed into by society and through subconscious patterns can be difficult. However, it is possible through being mindful and reflective. I.e. why did you not do something you wanted to? If it’s not enough skills, what can you do to get the skills so that’s no longer a limitation? The most important thing you can do for yourself is to be self aware as only then can you try to reframe and blur the boundaries of a mindset’s limits. Push that little bit further knowing that your vision will still be accomodated, you’ll just have more flexibility in pursuing it. Refuse to conform and challenge every assumption of your own making and of societies. Don’t be a dead fish, swim against the current.
My motive is to motivate and inspire by spotlighting medics doing more than medicine. This aligns quite nicely with the vision for the New Medic and so I want to echo the wise words of the iconic duo Troy and Gabriella when they, in perfect harmony, said “this could be the start of something new, it feels so right, to be here” with the New Medics.
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