‘One of the ways that Gil adds value and makes important contributions is…’ That is the assignment, to reflect upon when we are at our best. We were to solicit opinions from our colleagues, family and friends about moments when they had seen us at our best. Asking for positive feedback from people that know you well, why is that so difficult, why is it so frightening? Yet, here is was, that sense of trepidation as I pressed send, that sense of unease, of disquiet. It felt really wrong to ask for positive feedback from people, really wrong.
In medicine, you learn early on, that feedback is essential, and essentially negative. It is the key to improvement, and given the number of tests that you take to get through to the end of medical school, you become very familiar with feedback. Each test is a chance to see where you need to improve, and once you transition to the clinical training, you get feedback from pretty much every encounter. The intern tells you what you did not do, the residents tells you what you did not do, the attending quizzes you to the very edges of your knowledge base. It is relentless, these cycles of feedback, and pretty much all of it is on how to improve. You read, and read more, and still find your fund of knowledge short when rounds begin. In medicine, feedback is almost always about what you should improve, the shortcomings of your work, and where you should focus your attention. Positive feedback is pretty much a rarity, and so to step outside your comfort zone and ask for this is really stepping into the Twilight Zone.
The letters began to arrive, and as I read through them, themes began to emerge. A picture of a person began filing itself in, and slowly I began to see how other people viewed me. I began to see a person who was committed to mentoring at all levels, who embodied his values and leads by example, who builds teams and encourages each member to be their very best, who shares knowledge, who has a very deep compassion for the lives he touches. As I read through these responses, I thought to myself, ‘I would love to work for this fellow….’ And then it hit me, I did.
Mammals, and humans in particular, are wired to see danger in their environment, after all, the nervous horse running first and asking questions later is often the one to survive. Humans are wired to see the negative, to hold it close, and often to ruminate upon it. I have seen this in my own life, this negativity bias. Someone is giving me positive feedback, I sit waiting, patiently, for the ‘room for improvement’ message. Even in my Hakomi small group work, where I know that the people with who I am working love me deeply and support me in every way possible, I still find myself waiting for the ‘things I should change’. This is a crazy place to be, where all we see, all we notice is the negative evaluations, the negative self-talk, the negative.
So, the assignment was to seek out positive feedback from those that know me very well. To ask them to think of a time when I was at my best, describe it, and provide examples. Looking through these responses builds a collage of images for me to consider about who I am when I am at my best. It provides grounds for me to really consider what my best looks like, and where my strengths really reside. It is a difficult assignment, but one with tremendous value. It shows me where I already perform well, and it shows me where I can go from very good to great. It shows me where my greatest strengths lay in this moment, and also points to where I should lean in and look for support from others who possess skills and strengths that I do not. It points out to me how to build a team that will bring the best from each member, by asking them to do what I cannot, and by doing for them what they cannot. It is in this manner, in this way, that we create magic that makes the work seem almost effortless as we each do that thing that we do so very well.
And in this moment, I can see how I have worked to bring these innate talents and gifts forward. I can see how I have honed them to a sharper edge over the years, often on the grindstone of criticism. I can see how I have watched the way that medicine is taught, and I have chosen a different path forward for teaching. I can see how I have smoothed away the rough edges of who I am so that I can more readily give what I have to offer.
If any of resonates for you, and you happen to be curious, and wish to know more, do not hesitate to drop me a line. If you would like to know more about my work, or to work with me, feel free to contact me. I post regularly to Instagram (@gilgrimes), Twitter (gilgrimes) , Medium and Facebook (gilgrimes) about whatever arises. And if you would like to stay in touch sign up for my newsletter (probably once or twice a month at most).