I grew up with a very narrow idea of what success looked like. It was full marks in exams, being top of the class, going to a good university, getting a good job, earning lots of money. For a lot of my earlier life I managed to fulfill that narrow definition. I was the girl who resat my chemistry A level module because I only got 84%, and although that is still an A it wasn’t as good an A as I had wanted. I worked hard, but that hard work was enough to get me the successes I had aimed for.
At various points life threw me a bit of a curve ball, when I made a last minute change to my university plans and ended up with an unexpected gap year. When I didn’t get the surgical training post I had wanted, and then didn’t really enjoy the one I had. And then most disturbingly when I decided there were other things I enjoyed more than working non-stop.
As with every other area of my life, having a baby was the biggest curve ball of all. I discovered that I couldn’t be a ‘successful’ parent just by working hard at it however hard I worked my daughter didn’t want to eat, sleep or not cry in the way that I had expected. At some point in those early years, probably while she was once again refusing to nap anywhere but in my arms, and I was stuck on the sofa with nothing but the Internet to entertain me, I came across this picture:
Now, this picture seems bloody obvious to me, but when I first saw it I’ll admit that it blew my tiny mind. In one very simple picture I realised that pure hard work alone was not always the key to success, that sometimes you had to go backwards, or take side steps, or try something completely new before you even realised that you were actually making progress. I could see it so very clearly demonstrated to me every single day in this small person sleeping in my arms, I could see her learning and experimenting and failing and learning every day. With her I found it incredible, this beautifully squiggly path to discovery, so why had I never seen it in myself? Why had I always berated myself for every single perceived failure, every backwards or sideways step? Why had I given up when things were going in that smoothly perfect upwards slope?
I had my thirty seventh birthday last week. I am in no way at the point in my life where I had expected to be at this age. My life has ended up being far more complicated yet beautifully simple and far more wonderful than I had ever expected it to be. You may have read about my rather late in the game decision to aim for consultancy after nine long years of trying to convince myself that I never really wanted it anyway, after the path turned out to be rather more squiggly than I had envisioned. I have decided to embrace all the experience I have, and try to use it to be a better doctor than I ever hoped. I have been absolutely working my arse off for my imminent exam, whilst also taking on other firsts, such as my first time teaching on an Advanced Trauma Life Support course starting tomorrow, and then getting qualified to teach on other courses too later this month. As well as the exams I have huge amounts of paperwork to get in order, and years worth of evidence that I need to start collecting. At earlier points in my life I would have been put off by how much harder I had made life for myself, I would have been discouraged and given up. Now I think I am old enough to know that things don’t always come easy, that it often feels like you’re going backwards, that you don’t even know which direction forward is anymore, but I have faith that I can keep learning, that I continue to move forward even when it doesn’t always feel that way, and that as long as I keep going I can get where I need to go. However difficult and scary that can be at times.
So for any of my senior colleagues who may read this, prepare yourself to fill in a whole load of forms for me, and one day, in many years time, hopefully I will be calling you equals!!!