How do you keep yourself energized and motivated? How do you inspire other people to be excited and enthusiastic? How do you get patients with self-inflicted illness (like smoking and overeating) all jazzed up about changing their lives? A medical student recently asked for my guidance on inspiration and keeping a positive attitude amid so much pain and suffering. He wondered how I “willingly drink in the most heart-wrenching of fodder, yet exude even larger volumes of love.” Listen in to a small section of our mentorship call above as I share how you too can be inspirational.
Inspire means to breathe in, to inhale. Without inspiration we die. To inspire is to animate, arouse, embolden, excite, influence, and invigorate. Expire is to breath out, to cease, pass away, to die.
In order to live (really live—not just go through the motions) we must remain inspired! What do I mean by inspired? What is it like to feel inspired? I personally believe we should all be jumping out of bed every morning like an excited three year old ready for the adventure of the day (yes, even adults can do this). Can doctors behave like overjoyed kids too? Yep! After our retreats at Breitenbush I see a lot of inspired doctors (those of you who have been there know what I’m talking about)! It’s a feeling of invincibility, energy, joy. Sometimes docs tell me that they’ve been so excited about their lives and careers they’ve been able to get off their anti-depressants. Another example of mass inspiration is a standing ovation. There’s a spark of enthusiasm, illumination, an awakening that sweeps through the room. It’s kind of infectious. Everyone jumps up (like the happy three year old) . . .
On August 28, 2014, I actually experienced my first standing ovation when I gave a talk on suicide How to graduate medical school without killing yourself. I was shocked. Totally unexpected. A standing ovation on suicide of all topics. It changed my life and my message on suicide prevention got noticed on the national stage soon thereafter. Fast forward to September 29, 2016 when Dr. Linda Brubaker, the Dean of Loyola University Chicago Stricht School of Medicine, sent me this letter:
“I am honored to formally invite you, on behalf of the graduating Class of 2017, to be the Commencement Speaker at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine graduation to be held on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at 11:00 am. You topped the list of inspiring individuals nominated by our graduating class. As founder of the ideal medical care model taught in medical schools and currently in use throughout the U.S. as well as raising awareness of physician suicide through your insightful 2015 TEDMED talk Why Doctors Kill Themselves you are very well-known and respected by our medical students. These accomplishments as well as your perspectives on the importance of optimism and leading change align perfectly with the Stritch mission to, ‘…prepare people to lead extraordinary lives and treat the human spirit in an environment that encourages innovation, embraces diversity, respects life, and values human dignity.’ Our students would be greatly honored if you would address them on their final day in medical school, a tradition witnessed by approximately 1500 people.”
How did this happen? How the heck did I end up topping the list of inspiring individuals nominated by a graduating class of medical students. I’ll share what I think happened and how anyone else in the world can follow a few simple steps to start inspiring people in their corner of the world.
1) Be inspired by your own life. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Don’t settle for a half-lived life. Stop complaining or just accepting what is the status quo. Get riled up. about something. We all have stuff that pisses us off. Use that anger or passion as fuel. Be a change agent. You don’t have to read a ton of self help books. Look inside yourself. Speak your truth fearlessly. YOUR truth. That is the key to inspiring yourself—and others.
2) Tell the truth. The uncensored truth. The real words that you feel that you may have never shared out loud. The world is waiting for your unique message, your unique take on things, your original perspective on life, what you’ve witnessed, the secret thoughts you have that you haven’t told anyone. All I did is tell the truth. The truth about doctor suicides, about human rights violations in medicine, about the bullying and hazing and sleep deprivation forced upon our healers. Truth IS power. Truth actually does set us free. Truth is healing.
And the truth is when I found out that I “topped the list of inspiring individuals” nominated by the graduating class of 2017, I was shocked. I quickly accepted the invitation from Dean Brubaker, then hid her letter and didn’t tell anyone (even my mom) because I was pretty sure once they figured out what I actually talk about, I’d be disinvited (because I’ve actually been disinvited as a speaker by the largest medical association in the country when they discovered that I speak on doctor suicide).
Has my truth been embraced by everyone? No. And that’s okay. Has my truth been embraced by most? Yes. Because it is time to stop the abuse. To stop covering up these suicides. All I did was tell the truth.
3) Share your solution. My solution for my own occupationally-induced suicidal thoughts was to stop selling my soul to assembly-line medicine big-box clinics and to invite my community to design their own ideal medical clinic. I led town hall meetings, collected 100 pages of testimony from citizens, and opened the first ideal clinic designed by patients. So founding the ideal medical care model was my personal solution to our dysfunctional medical system. My incessant writing and speaking out on physician and medical student suicide prevention was another solution. We actually can create a culture of caring in medical training and beyond so that healers can thrive and enjoy their careers—and have the ability to care for their patients. And I didn’t just hypothesize and proselytize these solutions. I started living them.
4) Lead by example. I didn’t just talk about how cool it would be to allow a community to design an ideal clinic. I actually did it. I didn’t just talk about how caring for other doctors could save lives, I actually started a suicide hotline for doctors. I never intended to do this by the way. It’s just that suicidal docs keep calling me and I keep answering the phone so it sort of just happened.
5) Do it with love. Every once in a while someone accused me of doing all of this for self-promotion or to make money off of the pain and suffering of others. If that were truly the case I can guarantee that I would not have been invited to deliver the commencement speech next week at Loyola. In fact, every cent that comes my way (beyond what I need to pay for food and utilities for my 900 square foot house) goes right back into giving scholarships to medical students, running the suicide hotline (I’ve never charged anyone in 5 years for my time), and taking care of people. I’ve done this with love in my heart and with no interest in stockpiling money. My plan is to die with zero in my bank account. I’ve told folks from the beginning that I actually feel like “I’m surfing on the wave of universal truth.” And I think other people can feel that—the love and the truth (especially if they are not jaded).
6) Inspire others. Now that I’m moving forward lovingly and fearlessly speaking the truth with creative solutions for nearly every “problem” (opportunity) that presents itself, I’ve discovered I can finally practice medicine congruent with my values. And that is REALLY FUN. This week I told a diabetic patient when she reverses her diabetes that I’m buying her a vacation for 2—anywhere she wants to go in the world! I sent another patient with fibromyalgia on vacation (with me) to a writing conference. She told me she hadn’t been on a vacation for 17 years. Inspiring patients inspires me. Yet another great side effect.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve ever done for someone? How do you stay inspired? Do share your comment below: