My second podcast episode is called, “In the beginning." and the theme scripture is Genesis I. In it, I tell the story of my career. How it began. How it unfolded. And I talk about the lessons that I learned from that space of my unfolding career.
Remember that you are meant to be here
First, I want to encourage you that you are supposed to be here. You're here because you came to make change happen and you can. You will make it. Your career is going to make the difference in the lives of your patients. It's going to make a difference in the lives of the people you care about. You came to hematology because you want to transform the world and you have all the power that you need to make it happen.
The beginning of my career in hematology
The story of the beginning of my career dates back to medical school when I was thinking about choosing a specialty. I wasn't really sure what specialty to choose. I considered many things, including obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and pediatrics. But I ultimately settled on a career in oncology. My father died of hepatocellular carcinoma, and I just knew that oncology was the space where I was going to make a difference in my world. But somehow, on my way to becoming an oncologist, I discovered I didn't quite like oncology.
What I came to discover was a specialty called hematology, the study of blood. At first, I wasn't even aware of hematology as a specialty because when people say hematology/oncology, most of the time, it just means oncology. But I recognize that there was a specialty called hematology and I really loved hematology and I wanted to become a hematologist.
One of my mentors, Laura, was a hematologist. She saw patients who have sickle cell, and I really loved her clinical practice. I loved the patients that she saw. I really liked what she was doing in that space and resonated with it. So, I started working with her. I started doing research with her as a resident. Some of the work we did together on transfusion in sickle cell disease became the subject of my senior assistant resident talk (the talk that we give at the culmination of our residency program), for which I won an award. I loved hematology. I especially loved the providers who took care of patients in hematology. Hematologists were happy people and I'm a happy person. For these reasons, hematology was exactly the right space for me. As I enjoyed working in the space, and people celebrated me in that space (mostly Laura). I just knew I was going to become a hematologist. And so, I went on and did a fellowship program in hematology/oncology and then I got to the point at which I started looking for a faculty job.
Many of you actually have a good sense of what you want your career to look like. You know exactly what you want to do. You already have the plan. You've been talking with your mentors. You know what you're supposed to do in your first faculty interview. Or you know when you're looking for your first faculty job and you're on top of things. You know which programs you want to go to. You know exactly what mentors you want to work with. Yeah, that was not me. I was clueless. I was a mature woman interviewing for my first position out of training and I really didn't have much of a clue of what I wanted to do. In fact, I didn't understand what it meant to have an academic career.
I wanted to do research
What I did know is that I wanted to do research. In my fellowship program, I had done some research; but not anywhere near the amount of research that I really wanted to do. And so, I was looking for faculty positions with the strong sense of I really wanted to do research. So, as I was interviewing, there were a couple of flavors of programs.
In one program they told me, “Oh yeah research is the thing we all do in the middle of the night when no one's there. It's the thing we do at nights and on weekends.” Research was something they did after their daytime job was over. They were pretty explicit about wanting me to do full time clinical work and then somehow figure out the research in the background.
Another flavor of jobs was the one in which people would say, “Wow research is hard. You might not make it. Nobody gets funded any more. Nobody's really doing research. Nobody succeeds in research. Are you sure?" In this type of job, they were trying to use scare tactics to stop me from pursuing a career in research so that I could focus on what they really wanted me to do, which was to pursue a career that was entirely clinical, without any research focus.
And the third flavor was really just from one program where I eventually took a job. In this program, they were excited about my interest in research. They said, “Of course hematologists do research. Hematologists are great at research. And we do research here. You should come here." And so, I fully resonated with the vision, and I took the job.
You can do research but . . .
I took the job because it was the only job out of the opportunities I was looking at where they actually celebrated research. They told me I could do research; but my ability to do research as part of my daytime job would be hindered by the fact that I didn't have any funding. Because I didn't have any funding, the job I was "qualified" to take was an 80% job as a clinician. Though the clinician job would be my main job, they would support me in my quest to do research. I could eventually transition to do the job I wanted in research once I was able to find funding for my work.
The challenge was that my 80% clinical job somehow didn't fit into my quest to do research. Here I was seeing patients 5 days a week every week. Somehow, the 80% was taking over my entire life, including nights and weekend. Even though, on paper, I had the 20% research time, I was really doing a 100% clinical job. And so, it was really difficult for research to come out of that space.
Research is a full-time day job
I met a mentor who told me that research was not a side job. Research was a 100% full-time job that happened during the daytime. Research was part of my job and not something that happened in the fringes of my life. This mentor showed me how to work toward making research a part of my daytime job. She supported me in submitting my first grant that was funded. She helped jump start me on the course of what eventually became my research career.
Now over the course of my career I've continued to apply for grants to protect my time to do research. Currently, I have a career development award that protects my time to do research 70% of the time. So how did that happen? How did I come from a position where I was 80%, really 100%, clinical to having 70% protected research time?
That story is for a future episode. But, here is where I pause to share the lessons that come from this story.
At the beginning, your career may look like one big amorphous blob
At the beginning of your career, what you have before you may be something amorphous and like a BLOB. It is not quite well shaped and quite well formed. Although you may have a sense, on paper, of how much of your job is research vs. clinical vs. education, you don't have a concrete sense of what it will look like. You are not sure of what your career will look like because it is unfolding right before your eyes.
Although you may be overwhelmed by pieces of your career that you don't like, there is a seed of something in it that you do like.The piece that you like is the seed of a future career that you are going to create. Yes, you have taken the job and made a commitment to it. You committed because there were parts of it that you are really excited about. The parts that you are excited about have the potential to become the foundation of the job you want.
What is the piece of your career that excites you?
What is the seed of goodness in your messy career? In the midst of the stuff you hate, there is a seed of something that you actually like. There are things that you actually enjoy within your job. And the question is what? For me, it was the possibility of doing research as my primary full-time job. I knew it was possible because there were people around me doing research during their daytime hours. And because they were succeeding, I knew I could succeed.
And so, in the spaces where people had told me that this research thing only happens in the middle of the night and on weekends, I knew was one reality, but I decided it would not be my reality. Then, when I got to this other place where they told me that research was just too hard and nobody succeeded doing research anymore, I recognized that that was not my reality, that was their reality. Because I didn't accept their reality, I was able to gravitate toward the people who said, “You know what, we do research here and we can make it work.” Although the job was not 100% what I wanted because I was trying to become a researcher while really being a full-time clinician, the strong hold I had of the reality I embraced helped me gravitate toward someone who taught me the steps to take to make research part of my daytime job.
You have creative power
You have creative power to magnify the seed of what you like in the space of your career until it becomes the bulk of your career. In the midst of the chaos and amorphous blob of your career, you have clarity in your mind about the pieces that energize and encourage you. Your creative power bridges the gap between what you see before you (the chaos) and what you imagine for your your future (the tranquility). The most important piece of having the career you want is your creative power to take what you see that you don't like and out of it bring out the thing that you do like. As you stare upon the amorphous BLOB that is your career, you don't see the future. You don't know where you're going. You have the creative power to take the things that you like in it and expand it until you have the career that you really want.
Some of how that unfolded for me was in the space of the friends that surrounded me and supported me. And one such friend is a person named Toma, who supported, prayed for, and encouraged me through those challenging times. Her support and that of my large camp of supporters helped me take the seed of the work I enjoyed and expand it until really what I have now in my career is mostly what I enjoy.
Your call to action
You may have a job before you that you don't love. You may have a job before you that is not what you really want it to be. But do you see the seed of potential in your job? Is there something in it that you really like, that you really resonate with? Is there something in it that you could take, and you could expand? Because if you see something in it that you love, you have an opportunity to take what you love and expand it so that all that remains is what you love.
Don't say, "That's wishful thinking," or "It's idealistic. Everybody has to have a job that they hate." Don't accept a "reality" that is not yours.Challenge the assumption that you always have to have parts of your job that are a drudgery. Ask yourself how can you expand the things that you love so much so there isn't really space for the drudgery? The drudgery may still be there; but doesn't have to be yours. And it doesn't have to overwhelm your career.
Even when you can't see the future and you have no idea where your career is going, you see the seed of potential. That seed is what I want you to hold on to; because you have creative power to bridge the gap between what you see today -- The stuff you don't like vs. what you really see your career becoming. Start today to make the transition from the stuff you hate in your career to making your career one that you love, that you're proud of. A career in which you go into work every day knowing that you're making the difference in the world.
Remember who you are. All things are possible for you.
You are a superstar. You're wonderful. You're intelligent. You're creative. You're resilient. You've made it this far. You haven't given up because you know that there is work ahead of you. You know your passion. You know what you came to do. You know the difference that you came to make. Even if all you see before you is ugly, start looking for the seed of what is good so you can expand it and make your career what you need it to become for you.