Foolish for a Good Cause

IMG_0360Earlier in my career I was really aware of not wanting to look foolish. Even if I had no idea what was going on (which was frequent) I tried to seem as competent as possible. Fake it ’till you make it was one of my most cited personal mantras! As a young, youthful-looking woman in board rooms, I felt the need to over-prepare, over-communicate, and dress older than my age to be taken seriously. And that’s what I was aiming for- to be taken as a serious professional. I was young and green and the focus was on me: How I was going to be received, how the presentation would go over, whether my idea would be adopted, etc. At that time my worst nightmare would have been looking foolish.

But by the grace of God my life and career journey has progressed, and I don’t worry so much about looking foolish anymore.

Not much has changed externally… I still look young and I  still feel like my job challenges me daily… but when I’m in the board room that’s not the main thing on my mind. These days I’m thinking about our patients.

This past week we held an important board meeting to discuss the future growth of our organization. Because of some pressing external factors, we were trying to envision possibilities without the time to follow all the normal processes of drafting a plan. My co-leader and I had done our best to prepare, research, meet with experts, etc. but nonetheless there came a point in the board meeting when, in front of a room filled with brilliant executives, I stood up with a single piece of white legal paper and described in earnest a sketch I had done depicting a potential building project complete with a childlike depiction of Good Sam’s logo.

“We should probably hire an architect.” said one board member (ha! agreed!)

“We may be putting the cart before the horse here… we need a plan.” said another (yes, amen!)

Another board member’s face said it all… a sort of, are you serious? expression. I would have looked the same way if the situation were reversed.

I know how it came across- green, immature, unsophisticated… but it started a discussion that could lead to big things. Specifically, bigger and better resources to address social determinants of health for our patients- increasing their quality of life and longevity. And it started the conversation at just the moment it needed to happen.

Later as I replayed the entire day in my head I thought about those moments and laughed. Sure it wasn’t my most competent looking moment (even my business dress and blazer couldn’t compensate for stick figure sketching!) but I didn’t mind.

I realized an important truth about myself that day: I’m willing to look foolish for a good cause.

I see more of this happening in the world today- women leading out front in big roles and taking risks, charting new territory, and creating new normals. I am encouraged by them and it empowers me to do the same – homemade sketches and all.

Does your company have an “up all night” policy?

up all nightAs is so common in the life stage with young children, last Thursday I was up all night with my five year old Aubrey. She came down with a stomach bug and started throwing up around 12:30 am. There was vomit all over her, on the bed, and in multiple spots on the carpet. She was scared and miserable and came looking for mommy. I bathed her, attacked the carpet with OxiClean, did a load of laundry, put her back to sleep, and just as I fell back asleep she woke up again, throwing up a second time in her room. This cycle happened five times by 5:30 am and she never made it to the toilet. Around throw up episode #3, Emma also woke up crying loudly for a bottle. I woke Eric up at this point so we could divide and conquer.

Aubrey stayed home from school the next day to rest, but Mommy and Daddy didn’t. We split the workday and each stayed with Aubrey half of the day and worked the other half, as is our normal routine when one of the kids is sick. Or, if I have a day full of meetings, Eric will take the whole day.

A few days later at 12:30 am on Saturday night, Eric and I both caught the stomach bug at the same time. I had just finished throwing up when I heard him getting started. We were up all night again, still not recovered from earlier in the week, and we were both pretty pitiful. The next day we spent Sunday at home still sick and trying to care for the girls when we really needed to rest. It was an exhausting day.

By Sunday evening I found myself still nauseous, dehydrated and weak, and fighting a tension headache in the back of my neck, muttering, “I quit. I should just quit. I can’t do this.” I found myself wishing something like an “Up All Night Policy” (UAN) existed at work. My employer is wonderful and very accommodating, but I still feel like I need to explain every time a situation like this arises. And, if too many UAN incidents happen close together, it starts to sound like excuses. In fact, last night as Eric and I debated whether to stay home today for ourselves, we both decided to go to work for the same reason: we’ve taken too much time off lately to care for the girls, and we didn’t want to send another email saying we’d be out of the office today.

It would be great to have something like UAN hours as a company benefit. It would work like PTO (vacation or sick time) in that you would have a dedicated amount of time granted to you per year. There would be an understanding that UAN hours are unplanned and can arise quickly without much notice. It’s different than sick time because the parent is often not the one who is sick – and most sick time policies allow for enough absent days for the parent alone, not considering a parent + child/children dynamic. UAN time could be used to just give a mom or dad a few extra hours in the morning after a rough night, rather than having to take a full sick day. No explaining necessary, no guilt, just using your company benefit – UAN time.

Let’s be a workforce that understands and sympathizes with parents who are up all night, so that as they groggily attend to a sick child the last thing they have to worry about in that moment is work.

 

New Book Promotes Work-Family Justice

9780691178851_0I am excited to see a new book has just been published that takes a deep dive into the world of working moms. It’s called Making Motherhood Work, How Women Manage Careers and Caregiving by Caitlyn Collins.

This blog describing the book coins a new term (that I love by the way) called “work-family justice” explaining,

The book offers a clear, research-based argument that the US is failing its mothers and families. America’s mothers don’t need more highly individualistic tips on achieving work-family balance. They need justice.

Justice would include federal paid leave, a minimum guarantee of sick/vacation time, equal pay, and just general understanding and flexibility.

I am blessed that my employer is very understanding and I felt zero guilt coming to work an hour late this morning because Emma is still sick and needed to sleep in. But for some moms, just the mention of caregiving responsibilities at work puts them on thin ice. This is unacceptable. From the blog,

And Collins reminds readers: these women are middle-class. They’re the proverbial canaries in a coal mine for mothers’ work-family conflict. Low-income women, too often racial/ethnic minorities, have far fewer resources to draw on and less support to reduce their stress than those Collins interviewed. So if middle-class mothers are engulfed in stress, less advantaged mothers’ difficulties are likely far more acute.

The reality is, most of us working moms are just making it one day at a time – one major life event away from dropping all the balls on the ground. For me, it’s been over a month with a sick baby and in some areas of life the shoe has dropped. But as mentioned above I am blessed with countless privileges, health insurance, financial resources, the ability to pay a house cleaner to get my life back together, a helpful husband, and an understanding corporate culture… what about the women without these advantages? The lack of justice (or equity) forces them to trudge uphill every day. They’re likely still making it all work, but at what cost to their health and quality of life?

As I mentioned in a previous blog on The Case for Moms, making adjustments to keep moms happy and sane sends ripples of benefits to organizations, including to their bottom line.

I’m glad to see more books and blogs coming out on the side of better support for working moms. It’s time to shine a light on this issue, roll up our sleeves, and make it better.

 

On Bouncing Back

plants.jpgI think this every year around this time. I walk around my front yard and survey the plants, convinced that this is the winter from which they won’t bounce back. The two twiggy hydrangea bushes twitching in the cold wind look like they’re shivering. It is beyond my imagination to see a path from this cold, overcast day to the reality which will soon be spring – when their gorgeous blue and purple flowers will be the prize of my front yard. Each spring when they emerge I let out a sigh, realizing I have been holding my breath all winter wondering if they can do it again…if they’re resilient enough to survive another winter.

I learn so much from plants, from gardening. In a society that values and expects the proverbial flowers to always be blooming, I am reminded that seasons of the year are a gift. It’s not always spring. Our plants and soil need the winter to rest and prepare for the next fruitful season. At mine & Eric’s wedding my cousin sang Every Season by Nichole Nordeman, which is still today one of my favorite songs. I’ve included the full lyrics below and a link to listen online. She beautifully describes the gifts and wonder inherent in each passing year, particularly the surfacing of new plant life after the winter’s frost.

I think there are parallels for working moms here. The process of being pregnant, giving birth, bonding with baby, and returning to work (which I’ve now done twice) has recreated me in new ways both times. With Aubrey it made me stronger, yet more vulnerable too. With Emma it changed my body more significantly, but also strengthened new muscles. Both times I found myself thinking with certainty, “this time I won’t bounce back”. The fatigue will never lift, the belly pooch will never go away, my brain will always feel fuzzy.

And then I remember the lessons nature is always teaching. It’s wired into the way life was invented to recreate, again and again and again. So while I wait for spring this year, I’ll decide to believe that new life is around the corner.

Every Season by Nichole Nordeman Listen HERE 

Every evening sky, an invitation
To trace the patterned stars
And early in July, a celebration
For freedom that is ours
And I notice You
In children’s games
In those who watch them from the shade
Every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder
You are summer
And even when the trees have just surrendered
To the harvest time
Forfeiting their leaves in late September
And sending us inside
Still I notice You when change begins
And I am braced for colder winds
I will offer thanks for what has been and what’s to come
You are autumn
And everything in time and under heaven
Finally falls asleep
Wrapped in blankets white, all creation
Shivers underneath
And still I notice you
When branches crack
And in my breath on frosted glass
Even now in death, You open doors for life to enter
You are winter
And everything that’s new has bravely surfaced
Teaching us to breathe
What was frozen through is newly purposed
Turning all things green
So it is with You
And how You make me new
With every season’s change
And so it will be
As You are re-creating me
Summer, autumn, winter, spring

Comparing Ourselves to Other Women

On the Move Show 2Since my “Can’t You Just Workout” blog in December, I have been trying in earnest to workout regularly. It doesn’t easily fit into the schedule, and most days I feel like I need a nap more than a workout, but I made losing weight my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I ordered a new pair of running shoes and re-joined my favorite yoga studio. Now one month in, I’m building the habit but still feel more “out of shape” than in when it’s time to sweat.

Despite this, I recently signed up for the hardest yoga class at my studio. If you’re not a regular yogi and can’t imagine how the words “hard” and “yoga” belong in the same sentence, then you need to come to a class with me! It’s full of body weight exercise challenges and a tempo that leaves me sweating so much I almost slip off my mat.

So I showed up for the Strong Class and chose my place in the back corner. I wasn’t feeling very energetic after a long week at work, so I just set my intention to “stay present and finish”. No frills, no extras, just survive. But no sooner had we launched into the flow that I was distracted by sudden movements on my left. One of the reasons I like yoga is because I can just be in my own head space, with no interruptions, for an hour. I don’t usually pay much attention to anything but the instructor’s voice and my breath… but there was this periodic flutter of intense movement in my peripheral vision so finally I looked. The woman next to me, perfect body and full lulu-lemon yoga gear, was doing four extra push-ups before each chaturanga. And then, my comparison voice started talking…

“Wow, really? Is that necessary?”…”Is she just showing off?”…”Is she going to do this the whole time?”…”The teacher didn’t even ask us to do extra! Isn’t the Strong Class hard enough in itself?”…”Why is she in the back row?”…

I’m embarrassed that this was my first line of thinking. It clearly came from a place of insecurity and envy. In the end, the fact that she showed up with such intensity pushed me to re-imagine the extent to which I could push myself, and made it much harder for me to cheat on the basic moves knowing she’d be right next to me killing it on her mat. The comparison born out of insecurity led to feelings of inadequacy. While it drove me to do better, it also left me feeling bad about myself.

The comparison game is alive and well in the female community. For some reason we ladies compare and contrast ourselves with each other like it’s our job. I’ve heard all my life that women dress more for other women than men, that the mommy wars are real, and women can form cliques that keep other women out. One of the central messages I took from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is that women need to stop competing with each other in the workplace and instead lift each other up – making overall gains faster, together. Yet even though I am 100% bought in to debunking comparison in favor of collaboration, here I was in this yoga class thinking…

“Ugh, show off.”

Bad habits run deep. But there is hope.

Two years ago while working at The Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta our CEO at the time suddenly decided to leave. The board was then faced with a decision – they could either run a formal executive search or promote me and my colleague, Breanna Lathrop, into higher levels of responsibility (Breanna as COO and Medical Director, me as CAO) establishing us as something like co-executive directors. I didn’t know Breanna that well at the time, and I’ll admit being a little nervous as to how this was going to play out. I was nervous because Breanna is really incredible. She is a mom of three, a nurse practitioner, a gifted leader, a hard worker… would I just live in her shadow? My comparison voice spent a lot of time wringing its hands in the first few months.

But then I realized this was a waste of valuable energy. Comparison simply makes a judgement and then walks away, no better for the data. I decided I wasn’t going to compare anymore. I realized we have different skills sets and ways of viewing the world – I’d be much more successful if I had a posture of collaboration. If every time Breanna did something awesome, or better than me, or innovative, or amazing I said to myself, “How lucky that I get to work with her! How can we capitalize on this and maximize our collaboration?”

This line of thinking has led to some pretty incredible things. At the most basic level, collaborating means that we’re on a team together in leading Good Sam and making a difference in the world. Since we both have families, there is need for teamwork and filling in for each other on a regular basis. When family calls, we know we have each other and work doesn’t have to skip a beat. We also brainstorm regularly and, as first time executive leaders, have found a sounding board and a source of wisdom in one another.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that we decided to write a book together – a book neither of us could have written in a silo. We brought our unique stories and strengths to the story, rounding out the overall message because of our differences.

Last Friday Breanna and I were filming a workout and interview segment on a TV show for our newly released book. As we stood on the stage and did workout moves in sync, laughing at ourselves and feeling equally awkward wearing yoga pants on television, I realized this is women doing life together at its best. As we walk through the new territory of marketing and promoting a book, especially on radio and TV, I sure am glad I’m doing it with a partner.

In comparison thinking, I’m evaluating for a winner and a loser. In collaboration thinking, we’re winning together.

On Becoming Dr. Mom

hallmans

Today’s guest blogger is a long-time dear friend of mine, Madhura Hallman. Madhura is a Pediatric Intensivist at UAB and lives with her beautiful family in Alabama. She is a loving mother, wife, and follower of Jesus. Today she blogs about what her successful career journey has really been like, and a few lessons she learned along the way. I think we can all take heart in her honest sharing that the path can be messy and hard, but it’s worth it. Enjoy!

In true scattered working mom form, I actually didn’t complete this blog post when I said I would because life happened, I had a train wreck of a week at work, and lost track of the date.

I am a wife, a mother of two girls, a pediatric critical care physician, and much of the time I’m a hot mess. And I wouldn’t have it any other way…

Veronica asked me to weigh in on my journey towards becoming a physician and what it has taken to balance the demands of my career with my family. It took 4 years of medical school (5 with a combined master’s degree in public health), 3 years of pediatric residency, and 3 additional years of fellowship in pediatric critical care to do what I do now. I spend part of my time as an attending (lead physician) in a 24-bed PICU at an academic children’s hospital, and the rest of my time building up different advocacy and research projects of interest.

I spent 8.5 years of my training as a wife and 4.5 years of it as a mother. I was fortunate that no one discouraged me from raising a family while in medical training, and I was surrounded by women in medicine who had done the same, so I was naive to the raw challenges of being a mommy doc.

If I could talk to my 27-year-old self, right before I began residency, I’d tell myself and other young women trying to navigate a career and parenthood a few things:

You will fail…and your successes will be all the sweeter for it. I’ve known people who never seem to miss a step and have achieved far more than I ever have or maybe will. What Veronica didn’t know when she asked me to write about being a rock-star doctor mom, is that that is not my story. I lacked direction in medical school and to some degree in residency. I learned hard lessons and failed to reach my potential at multiple points in my training, and parenthood made me even more confused about what I truly wanted. It wasn’t until fellowship and beyond that I truly came alive with my own passions both for patient care and my extra clinical niche. Yet even then I very nearly quit because I was burned out after having our second child, so fearful of being incompetent that I actually became a lesser doctor and I hated going to work. It took two strong women in our division to see what was happening and encourage me to keep going, because they knew that I was where I was supposed to be. I started my job this year with terrible impostor syndrome, worried that my colleagues would eventually realize I didn’t deserve to be there. But I remind myself that I am better because of my failures, and I have a testimony for those who feel that they will never measure up, because they don’t see people ahead of them screwing up. In the last 6 months, I have successfully put several children on ECMO (total life support), walked with several families through withdrawal of support to pursue comfort care, taught lectures, passed my critical care boards, and started 2 or 3 new projects outside of clinical care that I’m really excited about. You may very well be a smarter and more focused person than I and your story won’t be the same, but no matter who you are, you will stumble at some point and it will be ok.

There is no such thing as work-life balance. I’ve never believed that “having it all” is really a thing, or that it is really important to begin with. Your work and your personal life will never be balanced…it is a fluid give and take. The weeks I’m on service in the unit, I’m going to be home late, I can’t drop off or pick up the girls from school, and I work most of the weekend including a 24-hour shift on Sunday. Even when I’m home, I’m thinking about my patients or I’m on home call and have to be available for emergencies from whichever fellow is covering the unit. But when I’m not on service, I’m all in at home. Unless I have a deadline coming up, I leave work at a reasonable time and pick up the girls when necessary and I’m always home to help with dinner. During those times, everything I leave at work can wait and my family comes first. Realizing this ebb and flow has helped me to feel less guilty about one facet of my life when the other takes precedence. Now if you’re anything like me, you will still feel like you’re never enough, and that you could always be doing more. It’s a natural feeling, and one that I still grapple with. Over time, though, I’m learning the difference in how it feels when we are taking something on that is difficult but the right thing for us at the time or meeting an important need that is worth it (like committing to living and ministering for 3 years in a poor neighborhood, letting a high school student live with us who needed a place to stay, or contemplating adoption) versus just feeling guilty for saying no when in reality there is someone else more equipped to say yes. The former has given us peace in the midst of hardship, whereas the latter has just made us feel burned out and bitter.

There will be people who will suggest that being a mother will hamper your career. In reality, it can make you better at it…if you let it. Having two little people who couldn’t do anything for themselves when they were babies and now need my attention, love and discipleship has made me much more efficient with the little free time I have left. I try my best to get my notes done at work when I’m on service because otherwise I’m stuck until the girls are in bed. When I was studying for boards, I’d take some time out every night after bedtime and listen to lectures while I was cooking or cleaning. And being a mother absolutely makes me a better pediatrician. I am blessed to have never had a critically ill child, but I can sympathize more with parents who are scared, stressed and exhausted. I can commiserate with parents over stories of nursing, sleep training, toddler meltdowns, and favorite Disney movies. I can imagine how excruciating it must be not to be able to hold your child for weeks on end because I miss my own after just one day. You may think this has nothing to do with what I learned in medical training, but forming a therapeutic alliance is as important as knowing the facts. I am friends with excellent pediatricians who are not parents so it’s not a prerequisite. But I am certainly a better doctor now with children than I was before. And lastly, having my own beautiful and healthy children to come home to helps me heal when I am grieving the loss of one of my patients. Every time a child has passed away under my care, I have made sure to hug my children just a little bit tighter, because I am reminded that I am not guaranteed any length of time with them. Again, I do not think parenthood is necessary for fulfillment or joy, but neither is it a liability.

My life and my career are all the richer for having my girls, not more burdensome.

The Case for Moms

img_7377Despite the gains working moms have made in society, the question still lingers for some employers as to why, in a competitive environment, they should choose moms for top positions. The assumption underneath this question is, “If given the choice between one employee whose attention is divided (between work and home) and another who does not have family responsibilities – why should I choose the mom? What competitive advantage does the mom bring to my company?”

Let’s start with output. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game. In fact, mothers with at least two kids were the most productive of all (more on this here).

But there’s more! Other studies demonstrate that working women bring a competitive advantage across multiple corporate dimensions: profits, innovation, workplace culture, and management, to name a few. (I am assuming a big portion of these women are moms, since seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent are employed full-time. More stats from the Department of Labor on working women here).

A recent article cites research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics, which completed a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.

“A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders,” the report notes. “By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”

That same article also concludes that women bring benefits in terms of creativity and retention:

Joe Carella, the assistant dean at the University of Arizona, Eller College of Management, has found that diverse companies become more creative. “We did our own analysis of Fortune 500 companies,” he tells CNBC Make It, “and we found that companies that have women in top management roles experience what we call ‘innovation intensity’ and produce more patents — by an average of 20 percent more than teams with male leaders. Having female senior leaders creates less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention, according to the Peterson Institute. That gives a company a better chance of hiring and keeping the most qualified people.

A 2017 Morgan Stanley report “An Investor’s Guide to Gender Diversity” found similar conclusions:

“More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

And finally this Forbes article from last month concludes that:

  • Firms with women leaders have increased sales revenues and certain dimensions of market performance.
  • Having female representation on boards of directors is positively related to a firm’s financial performance.
  • The new wave of women elected to Congress could also be a positive development for our government. Historically women legislators sponsor more bills, pass more laws that benefit women in the workplace and infuse more money back into their districts than their male counterparts.

Clearly the data points to the fact that women (and moms) in the workforce is a positive thing – but I think our imaginations are still limited by thinking about women with family and work obligations as being divided and therefore having a competitive disadvantage. We (mistakenly) believe that working moms are finite creatures who only have so much time and talent to go around, and if they give a significant amount to their family – work performance will suffer. In my experience as a working mom, manager, and leader – this is simply not true.

While working moms are indeed finite creatures, we are also really good at integrating our many spheres of life and managing multiple, competing priorities simultaneously. This can be as simple as practicing a speech while driving to your book release party while talking with your five-year old and soothing the crying baby and making sure the catering platters don’t spill in the backseat (true story! More on this personal project here) to running a large company in a fast, ever-changing industry – the muscles are the same.

And as I stood at the front of the bookstore reception room and watched my co-author (and mom of three) talk about our mission of advancing health equity in this country (while my five-year old daughter hugged my legs) I thought about the case for moms. The fact is she and I care deeply about our work because we’re moms, not in spite of it. Our mom responsibilities to be present with our families have taught us countless lessons about being present with our staff, our audience, and our neighbors in need. We wrote our book in ten minute increments in the daily chaos of life, and we’ll continue to give presentations that get interrupted by our children (either because they’re in the room or they’re on our minds) – and this will translate over into our work capacity because leadership at work is often chaotic too. The security issues, patient policies, strategic plan committee, and budget assignments all need to get done right now and the report is due by 5:00 pm.

In the fast-paced and increasingly complex world that we live in, if I need someone to handle a big job at work – I go looking for a mom.