Since I was a little girl, I have always volunteered to get the mail from the mailbox. I never saw this as a chore. It is all about the surprise. I loved the possibility of what might be there – a magazine full of fun ideas and places to visit, an unexpected card from a friend, or a flyer about a sale.
My most treasured mail piece is an INVITATION to a party, a shower, an event – a fun chance to celebrate and connect. It signified a possibility. On the flip side, I think my husband does not get the mail when I am away because he does not want to see the bills that come!
During my training as a health and wellness coach, the course author, Margaret Moore, described the experience of burnout (emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and impaired performance) as an INVITATION to develop new capabilities for self-care, self-compassion, and self-leadership.
Wow! This is the ultimate way to reframe the negative to a positive!
When you are at the lowest of lows, it is encouraging to see something that is so challenging become a learning experience – an open door INVITATION to what life might look like if you accept the opportunity to imagine.
Ms. Moore refers to these opportunities as growth edges and explores that we can transcend beyond them. She describes emotions as messengers that tell us whether our needs are being met or not and whether our values are served.
When I went through burnout, my first thought was, “What did I do wrong?” This initially led to shame and frustration. I chose to reframe this experience and see how I could do things differently.
Often there is vulnerability in talking about the personal experience of feeling burned out. I considered it differently when a fellow physician suggested that we get to a place of burnout, not because of something we did wrong, but rather because we said yes too much. It just happened that there were too many yeses, and we never took anything off our plate when we put on something else.
It was at that point that the burnout triad became, instead of a personal failure, an alert, an opportunity, and that sought-after INVITATION that I have looked for since I was a little girl.
What else helped me reframe my thoughts on experiencing burnout? I used the three components of Dr. Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion – Mindfulness, Connection to Common Humanity, and Self-kindness.
With mindfulness, I learned to sit with thoughts and emotions and reflect on my vision/purpose, values, and strengths. I crafted ways to put these reflections into action, such as practicing gratitude.
I realized I was not alone in these emotions. Others have had similar experiences. Openly sharing aspects with my colleagues facilitated this connection to common humanity. I started seeing these thoughts and feelings as more of an alert, an opportunity, and an invitation that I wholeheartedly believe they were.
I practiced self-kindness and self-care by not putting myself last. There is only one me and one life to live. I worked on not letting the scarcity of money, time, or resources overcome the abundance in my life.
In one example, I had to dispel my money scarcity mindset. I had to reframe the thought that I could not spend money on professional education or personal development unless I could use my CME dollars. I never thought that it was OK to invest in myself because I had already made a significant investment with medical school and training. I had a CME allowance allotted to me by my practice, and I stuck with that as my threshold.
It blew my mind to think that I could spend money on personal development programs that could help both me and my ability to do my job, AND it was not a selfish gesture.
What helped me to re-imagine this was being asked to think about how much time and money I had spent on becoming a doctor and compare the small amount that I would be paying now. It took me realizing that what I thought was an extra investment, in the face of already having made a bigger one years ago, was actually a minimal investment because I had already made that bigger one.
Now I see spending money on personal development as just as necessary as spending money on travel, gifts for others, and things for my home and family.
The next time you are faced with a challenging thought or experience, re-imagine it as an INVITATION to grow and lead yourself down a more compassionate path. RSVP YES to the INVITATION!
Marion Mull McCrary MD FACP is a practicing primary care general internist in North Carolina. She works with both physicians and non-physicians as a certified integrative health and wellness coach. She is also a Women in White Coats Fellow. Her website is http://www.marion-wellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at marionmccrarywellness.