I have written previously about the fact that life has a funny way of throwing obstacles in my way and here I am, in yet another week of my life, where as one truly great and pure experience emerges into the limelight [think #TwitterDisco] several other extremely challenging events have risen up to greet me.
I have spent a goodly portion of this week in contemplation, grappling with unsettling and adult truths, trying to work out exactly who I am in order that I can stay true to myself, my values and everything that I hold most dear. An ethical Easter with the potential for life-altering considerations, as it were.
As I step up to a new [and very exciting] challenge in my career, I have felt a responsibility to reflect my humanity and my humanness, to share my insecurities and my fears. I feel this as a teacher, and perhaps I am, in part, writing this for our medical students who we ask to share so much of themselves with us as our learners. But I am probably also writing it for anyone reading this who has the potential to do amazing things but has, thus far, been deterred by lack of confidence or an inability to perceive themselves within ‘that’ world where people call themselves ‘leaders’ [I too am uncomfortable with this word but use it here as it acknowledges the situation I now find myself in] and set out to try to change the world. And I know that there are many of you out there, particularly amongst my female colleagues, who shy away from a culture that feels alien and unpleasant, where ivory towers remove decision-makers from direct contact with the situations that they create for their subordinates.
I spent much of last year with a strong visual image of myself standing in an open doorway, looking into a room and wondering whether to step in and join the party. The welcome that I have received and the excitement that I have felt has been highly intoxicating and alluring. I have felt more alive in my career than I had for many years. And so, I have had to work very hard to temper that feeling, and remain grounded. And I have started to understand exactly why [some nice and some not very nice] people gravitate to such work environments…and how this intoxication heightens the divide between senior leaders and their colleagues.
It is important to me to know that I am not simply trying to find ways in which to justify myself and defend my choices…and whilst I grapple with that, what has really surprised me, and given me some small reassurance, is that I am finding myself to be actually rather good at what I am being asked to do…little old me!
Over the last twelve months, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to challenge and influence decisions at a momentous time in our city’s history. I have championed for radical changes to the way that we view the answers to Deprivation and inequality in healthcare, kept difficult issues on the agenda and held us accountable for the well-being of our colleagues as the NHS stuggles on around us. And what I am trying to remind myself, as I constantly question my motives and my reasons for being here, is that, if I am not here, there may be someone else, less prepared to speak out, in my place.
The limiting factor in any of this self-deliberation is that I only know what it is to be me. My only reference point is a complicated and vivid imagination, creating fairly constant turmoil within a head which doesn’t seem to have the required ‘off switch’ to allow me to ‘just be’ for the vast majority of the time. Maybe this is the same for everybody. Maybe life is one steady stream of obstacles and insurmountable challenges for most…certainly many of my patients would share this view. Maybe other people are just better at navigating this smoothly, or making it look like they are navigating it smoothly or, at the very least, better at faking it than I am. I guess I will never really know.
I don’t always help myself…I am [almost certainly] more challenging than most, tricky at best, obstinate and [it has been said more than once] ‘a complete nightmare’ on a pretty regular basis. But what is interesting during this week, as I have forced myself to talk more honestly than I have in years with a few trusted friends, is that each of those confidantes has also shared uncertainties about themselves, as well as trials and tribulations of their own. And so it has gotten me to thinking that one of our flaws as grown-ups is that we do not share enough of what makes our life hard and us vulnerable, leaving everyone to feel that it is just them that struggles to make sense of a pretty crazy and often brutal world.
There is so much for me to continue to consider and explore…there is something about being a ‘new’ leader…although my little brother would say there is nothing new here! Something about the need to challenge the status quo, especially where there is reluctance to share personal difficulty within a culture where this is seen as weakness and risks calling one’s ability into question. And there is definitely something about being both female and a mum in a [very frustratingly] male world. There is another blog to be written somewhere on this latter consideration.
Rightly or wrongly, I feel a responsiblity to set out my stall and show that things can be done in a different way. To dare to believe that sharing my humanness and vulnerability might actually make me a better leader. And to be blatant about the fact that I don’t park my personal self at the door when I come to work each day. Whilst this heightens my own personal risk, I think that I have concluded that I would rather be me somewhere else than pretend to be someone else in a culture that needs to be both more truthful and more humane than it presently is.
If I am going to achieve what I want to, and live out the [somewhat ambitious] goals that I have set myself as I further integrate into ‘that’ world, I am going to need to find a way to hold onto the principles that motivate and drive me forward on a daily basis. I need to use my new-found place in this world to best effect. And I think that being honest and transparent about the turmoil that accompanies such grown-up decisions and responsibilities may be one way in which I can continue to hold myself to account and not lose the most important parts of both my morality and my innermost self in a extremely big and scarey and complex world.
Writing this down is one small step in that direction, making me hold myself to account for my current deliberations. I have to go on…there is too much potential to change our city for the better. But I am going to try my very, very best to do this my way and the right way…continually remembering to challenge the system within which I have now been allowed to established a role.
And so, I promise both myself, and the folk for whom I am trying to make things better, that I fully intend to stay ‘me’ and I sincerely hope that this is exactly what makes it okay for me to be where I am right now…