Don’t Let Someone Else’s Script Narrate Your Story

crispydoc Uncategorized 18 Comments

Sometimes the people we love are those most likely to sabotage us by insisting on forcing our unconventional narrative to fit within their traditional story framework.

My wife’s grandmother, a widow, had developed dementia and moved to an assisted living facility. My wife’s aunt, a successful attorney in her 50s who happened to be single, had come from out of town to visit her mother for a few days.

She joined grandma for dinner in the common dining hall, where she was introduced to an acquaintance.

Grandma: This is my daughter, __________. Do you have any children?

Acquaintance (somewhat less demented): Yes, I have two adult daughters.

Grandma: Are they married?

Acquaintance: In fact they are happily single.

Grandma: What a shame.

All spoken directly in front of my aunt.

Love can be powerful enough to unintentionally smother.

Most of us can think of examples where someone we know (a co-worker, friend, or family member we love dearly) unwittingly sabotages us by trying to narrate our story with their entirely inappropriate script.

I recently wrote about an old friend from residency, BT, who chose to work exclusively day shifts as a per diem in the ED instead of continuing on a full partnership track that would have kept him working overnight shifts. His experiences and course correction validated my own experiences and decisions. He’s far from the first physician I’ve known to pursue this unconventional path.

Physicians pursue unconventional paths all the time in medicine.

“Rocky,” one of my favorite emergency attendings from a community hospital we rotated through as senior residents, made a similar decision.

Rocky had been a chief resident at his own prestigious residency program, harboring academic aspirations that were displaced when he was offered a desirable job at a community hospital that would enable him to live a comfortable life and support his family.

He’d worked diligently and made partner over the years, but despite his financial success he felt restless. Something was missing, and he caught fleeting moments of that something when he mentored our residents rotating through his ED.

He began to work more shifts at our academic county hospital as volunteer faculty, and the more he worked, the happier he became.

Ultimately, he resigned his partnership track position and made a commitment to join as faculty for my residency program. He continued working at his old community hospital, but only enough to pay the bills.

I asked him about it during the period around our graduation.

He told me he wouldn’t miss the money but he direly missed the happiness.

His colleagues at the community hospital couldn’t recognize the new spring in his step; they saw only the lost income.

They whispered about the “vow of poverty” he’d taken to work more at a county facility.

None of this is news to female physicians.

When a woman decides to work less clinically in order to work happier, she may be disparaged by co-workers as being on the “mommy track.”

When I tried to engage my group in developing a night shift premium, I was told by one colleague outright that I must not want to work as an emergency physician any longer.

Haters gonna hate.

Martyrs gonna mart.

Bottom line: Never let someone else’s script narrate your story.

Comments 18

  1. I agree. This is tough to do but important.

    Society seems to scream at us “date, get married, have a baby, have another, make a lot of money..”. It can drown out the narrative in our own heads even. Who am I really? What is it that I enjoy and why?

    I finally admitted to myself that I love learning and teaching. I sacrifice huge amounts of time and money because of that. I play the role of the fool in the eyes of a few. I now accept that but it wasn’t easy at first.

    Know Thyself! Still great advice.

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      Wealthy Doc,

      I’m thrilled you went for the academic career, as you seem a natural teacher from having met at FinCon – patient, considerate, deeply engaged.
      If you’re only playing the fool in the eyes of a few, you’re doing a fine job. I suspect I play the fool in the eyes of the majority…on the up side, it’s a role I was born to play!

      Appreciate your stopping by,


  2. It is amazing how much we can sabotage our lives if we do try and please everyone but ourselves.

    As you know, my worst mistake both financially and emotionally, was trying to please my mother and the antiquated tradition of arranged marriages. I lost a decade of my life and so much more because of it.

    I was just trying to make everyone else happy and ended up being miserable.

    Smart decision by Rocky to go where the happiness is and not the money. In the end he will likely prolong his career and make more money cumulatively compared to if he stayed and burned out with a shorter career.

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      Your story resonates despite my not being Indian.

      I can relate with the immigrant child’s desire to make his parents happy. I joke with my wife that they are not trying to undermine us, it’s just that my parents’ native languages are guilt and shame, so they express themselves in the medium in which they are most fluent at times.

      Thanks for weighing in, my friend. It gives me great joy to see you thriving after coming through such an ordeal.



  3. Valuable lesson. Nobody truly understands a person’s situation/values/goals more than themselves.

    Sure, haters are gonna hate. But that’s because they are trying to validate their own life decisions. They are trying to feel more secure about their insecurities.

    It’s best not to let other people’s hate and insecurities bring you down.

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  4. The best thing about living in this country is you can do pretty much what you want. You want to be an employee and off lad your risk on your employer, be that! You want to teach residents? Teach ’em! You want to bust your ass and make a mint? The bank is happy to store your dough. It just has to make economic sense. When you get old or burned out, retire or change the job and enjoy the fruit. It all works. People strangle themselves with schemes of optimization, and shoulda coulda woulda etc. No future in being strangled. I’m not really sure why anybody else has an opinion.

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  5. Haters are so gonna hate. It’s part of this bizarre, idiosyncratic theme in medicine: insecurity. It abounds everywhere!

    When I inquire about children, I try to refrain from the “Do you have children?” because I feel like that’s implying a judgement. I prefer to ask “Did you have furry or human children? Or both?”

    Society has a way of trying to get all us lemmings to! 😉

    Great post, thanks for writing it. And thanks for that mommy-tract link.

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      1) Spot on: Insecurity drives a big part of the dysfunction in human interactions in medicine.
      2) Great tip on asking about children – I’m stealing that one for my playbook.
      3) As someone on the daddy track, I’m particularly sensitive to those “mommy track” comments.



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  6. Loved this post Crispy Doc. There is a reason why eccentric people tend to have higher levels of happiness than average. They are happy to dance like no one is watching. Most people aren’t watching. They’re too busy checking their phones.

    I have always been a bit “different” (my mom said special) and my biggest hope is honestly to instill that in my kids. I am spending lots of time doing things with them that their peers aren’t really into. It is fun to see them glow about things they love and gratifying to see them have the confidence to flip the bird at conventional “kid culture” when it doesn’t suit them.

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      I’m a huge fan of cultivating a sense of outsider status from a young age – good for you for getting your kids to nerd out while young so they don’t succumb to peer pressure as they get older.

      Glow is the perfect adjective for taking a kid to walk tidepools, creating a home-made homopolar motor , or running through improv exercises after dinner.

      We’ve drilled it into our kids so often that now, when someone calls one of them weird, the matter of fact reply is, “That’s just another word for creative.”

      Thanks for stopping by, my eccentric friend!

  7. The unconventional medical career is becoming conventional. Medicine is no longer a one-size-fits-all job.

    The more I talk to fellow rads, the more I see it. The groups that are struggling the most are failing to recognize this and not making the necessary adjustments.

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      Well put, SAHD FIRE. There’s a lot of evidence that you do a lousy job of doing anyone else but you.

      I like to joke with my wife that we no longer try to impossibly please all of our family members by meeting their unrealistic expectations.
      We simply try to disappoint them equally.

      Thanks for stopping by!



  8. It’s always nice to see people prioritizing happiness over money when they can afford to do so. Rocky sounds like he was very comfortable but wasn’t happy. His switch did him a world of good and we should all heed that if we’re able.

    Isn’t that partly what this FIRE movement is about? Save enough money to become financially independent so you can pursue the things in life which matter to you the most? Be it early retirement, switching to a more rewarding, though lower-paying job, or starting your own business.

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