Define It, Engage, Listen, Organize, and Closure. There, You Have It!
When I was asked to give this lecture at the 2017 American College of Emergency Physicians’ (ACEP) Scientific Assembly, I literally snorted and looked over my shoulder. What? Moi give this lecture? Am I a successful emergency physician (EP)? Well, of course I am as the first emergency medicine (EM) residency-trained female professor at the University of Colorado, chair of the meetings subcommittee for the ACEP Educational Committee, and director on the American Board of Emergency Medicine.
What I have learned is that the first step to being successful is to define your personal barriers and self-defeating behaviors, and to identify and define your personal self-defeating behaviors—eg, perfectionism, procrastination, self-doubt?
My own personal self-defeating behavior is most certainly “imposter syndrome,” which is very common among professionals. I first heard about imposter syndrome on my very first day of medical school, and this behavior still follows me today. I have written some short blurbs on this topic because I want others to know they are not alone. Highly successful people have this syndrome, and it can be very debilitating. What is imposter syndrome? According to Sandberg, “Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are- impostors with limited skills or abilities.”1 Valerie Young, an internationally recognized expert on the subject, categorized imposter syndrome into five subgroups or habits: (1) the perfectionist; (2) the superwoman/man; (3) the natural genius; (4) the rugged individualist; and (5) the expert. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Young builds on decades of research studying fraudulent feelings among high achievers.2
Identify Your Self-Defeating Behaviors and Write Them Down
Regarding the top five subgroups/habits proposed by Young unfortunately, there is no evidence-based literature on imposter syndrome. Most information consists of anecdotal reports from highly successful people. When you read about successful habits from such individuals, they include such things as: efficiency; bring your A-game; embrace communication; personal wellness; and most importantly, growth mentality.3 You have most likely heard phrases such as, “Don’t touch a piece of paper more than once.” The “touch it once” philosophy maybe is efficient, but I’m not sure about it being a successful habit.4 The following is my list of the top five principles that I have used to guide my career.
What is success to you? Are you thinking about your whole career, or just a successful shift or a successful triathlon? Do you want to win the triathlon or just finish it? Or, do you want to be a department chair? Define and set your goal(s), and make sure to reach and stretch yourself to the best of your abilities to attain your goal. To achieve your goal, you must force yourself out of your comfort zone. If you do not reach for something, chances are it is not going to drop in your lap.
When I attended my very first ACEP Scientific Assembly as a newly minted EM residency-trained EP, I thought the lectures were a bit too basic and needed to be at a higher level of knowledge. I decided I really wanted to be a part of that process. I defined my personal challenge as improving the ACEP educational content level, and I set my goal as getting on that committee. Your goal may be quite different—eg, maybe you wish to become the medical director of an ED, a residency program director, or an officer on your hospital’s medical staff. Regardless of your goal, the first step is to decide and define what it is that you desire.
After you have defined and set your goal, the first steps to attaining it are to get started on the road you’ve chosen by showing up at relevant meetings, events; being present, engaging, and demonstrating curiosity. Maybe you will have an interesting journey!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to just show up. Sometimes, you will find that you start in one direction and get pushed in another. One of the first steps I took to getting on the ACEP education committee was to ask other ACEP members and colleagues how to do so. Most told me that the education committee was a very highly regarded one and that perhaps I should start by getting on any ACEP committee—or even better, start with a section. A respected friend in the “know” suggested that I choose an ACEP committee/section of which I had high interest, and to just show up to one of the meetings. I have found this advice to be true for most of life, whether it’s your hospital medical staff, local medical society, or state specialty society, or another professional organization—just show up.