by Steven Reames
There have been a number of times in my life and career when people have reached out to me for help. Sometimes it has been a person looking for a referral to a counselor. Other times it has been as simple as "I really need another perspective" (or desperate) as “I just don’t know what to do next.” Last week I took a call from somebody looking to get connected to the Physician Recovery Network because of a DUI.
To me, it says a lot about a person who has the humility and vulnerability to say "I am in over my head and I don't have my crap together." So, my frequent initial response to requests like these is to let them finish and then say directly: “First, I want to tell you how proud I am of you for reaching out. It often takes a lot of courage to admit you need help, but you did, and that is the first step towards moving forward.” Almost always, the emotion laden response is, “Thank you. I really needed to hear that.”
It is understandable that for physicians, who are taught to be self-reliant and independent, this is a tremendous mental and emotional barrier to overcome. Maybe the last time they asked for help, they were an intern and were yelled at by their chief resident for waking them up in the middle of the night for “such a stupid question.” Then and there, they resolved to never ask for help again, no matter how desperate.
The problem is that we will always need other people in our lives to toss us a lifeline or help us see our blind spots. If we ever stop believing that, it is too easy to become over-confident about our character or competency. Eventually, the echo chamber of ideas we have about about ourselves may deafen us to reality and this can lead to our demise.
The coaches of the most extraordinary athletes will tell you that you do not need to be better than the person you are coaching; you just need to be able to show them things they cannot see about themselves. Nobody calls such athletes who receive such coaching "weak," because it is understood that is what leads to optimal performance.
While the Lone Ranger mentality may have served you well while in training, it does not serve you well for the rest of your life. So, whether it is asking your medical partners to help you brush up on some practice skills, getting somebody to peek into your marriage or finances, or dealing with an addiction, it is all the same to me. It says that you want to remain as curious and eager a learner as you were when you first went to medical school, and that is something I know doctors can appreciate the value of.