Focus More on Using Your Peak Experiences, Not Just Your Medical Experiences

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Aligning With Values & Purpose,Career Resilience & Fulfillment,Podcasts

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A question that I am often asked by physicians who are a crossroads in their career is this:

“How can I make use of all my medical experience?”

Implicit in this question is the desire and expectation that your experience as a physician or a leader should advance stepwise toward higher levels. Higher levels of responsibility, titles, status, or prosperity. Or said in a different way, you want all of your experience to have “counted” – not be wasted.

Indeed that’s the scariest phrase I hear some physicians voice when they are nearing a crisis point in their career: “I would hate to think all my medical experience was a waste.”

To think that you’ve “wasted” your career or training because you can’t apply it all is certainly a frightening prospect to many physicians. Our time and energy is precious and we want to make the most of it.

If you’ve ever felt this way, I want to respectfully suggest to you that we “reframe” the original question. Rather than ask “How can I make use of all my medical experience?” let’s ask this question:

“How can I make use of all my PEAK experiences?”

Why Care about the Peak Experiences of Your Life

Before you get the impression that you medical experiences as a clinician, leader or innovator are not important, let me assure you, it is most definitely worthwhile to spend time critically evaluating what you’ve learned and accomplished in your role as physician, physician leader, or contributor.

However, it is just as important, and in fact for some of you, it will be more important, to identify those times in your life when you felt most engaged, in “flow” and alive. These may be professional moments, they may have been personal experiences.

Uncovering and articulating these Peak experiences is beneficial in three ways:

1) These are the kinds of experiences where your values were being honored; therefore it’s an opportunity to figure out what you actually value (not what you SAY you value)
2) Peak experiences often hold clues about our natural gifts and talents; this is especially helpful if you feeling fuzzy about what you can “do” besides medicine
3) You can look back and see whether the peak experience was of your own making or was it purely a happenstance; this helps us understand the steps required or condition to establish in order to create new peak experiences.

What Can You Learn From Peak Experiences?

I remember the first time I went through a Peak Experience Exercise (you’ll get to do that too with instructions below). During the process I retold and recorded 3-4 experiences/stories. One of my Peak Experiences was the year I was an appointed “ambassador spokesperson” for the health system I was working for at the time (as a clinician).

What made the experience “peak” for me was that I was getting out of the clinic mid day to visit employer groups and talk a about our healthcare delivery model.

Digging deeper, what I discovered about myself in period of “peak” were these important points:

1) I valued the flexibility of “breaking up the day” and getting out and about,
2) I was a good communicator and could think on my feet,
3) I had a knack for distilling complex health topics into more simple ways for people to understand and take action, and
4) The steps that it took to create this experience were mostly my own doing: I had initiated a self-described role of ambassador and proposed it .

Going through that Peak Experience exercise validated my values of autonomy, creative expression and connection. It also gave me some insights about how much I enjoy (in fact thrive on) being the “initiator” of new projects and programs. These were huge discoveries that propel me even to this day.

How to Conduct a Peak Experience Exercise on Your Own

When I work with my physician clients, we walk through the Peak Experience process together. But you walk yourself through a similar exercise. I suggest you find a buddy, and perhaps do it together and then mentor each other.

Here is what you do:

Set aside about 60 minutes to reflect on and write down the answers to these two questions:

1) Recall a time (or times) in your life when you felt most alive, joyful, in “flow”, and fully contributing from your core being. What were those times? What were you doing? What was it like? Who was there? (include as much detail as you can)

2) Next, For each of the Peak Experiences you identified, what values were you in touch with or honoring? What strengths did you employ or express? What discoveries were you making about yourself?

3) For each of the Peak Experiences you identified, ask yourself, how did this experience come about? Was it of my own making, primarily? Or was a “chance” occurrence? How much did I play a part in making the conditions to come together?

After you go through this exercise, share it with your spouse or friend. Ask them to pick out additional values or strengths that “emerge” as they listen to your stories of personal peaks.

I’m curious to hear what insights come up for you during the exercise. Email me with your discoveries.

Francine R. Gaillour, MD, MBA, FACPE, is an Executive and Career Coach for Physicians. Dr. Gaillour specializes in helping physicians who are venturing into new territory as leaders, entrepreneurs, and career adventurers. She can be reached at (206) 686-4205, francine@physicianleadership.com

On a Personal Note: Peak Does Not Mean Perfect

I have been taking a few extra days off from my business to be with my family during January. Wish I could I was skiing but sometimes “life maintenance” has a way of taking all your days. What I’m learning as the mother of two teenagers is how much my life is a “peak experience” right now, even though my husband and I find ourselves being stretched physically and mentally as we aim to keep up. Despite all the go-to-the-mall taxi service we provide, I am feeling joyful, alive, expressing my strengths, and still sometimes frazzled.

Hey, Peak does not mean perfect.

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