February 1, 2020

Growth Is Not Linear

There is a particular personality type that tends to gravitate toward a life in medicine. Physicians are driven, continually striving for excellence and perfection.

Society at large, too, is consumed by an obsessive focus on forward movement. In our careers, we are taught to climb the rungs of the ladder constantly. Even in grief, our culture tells us to move forward, to keep going. Of course, it’s good to work hard, to give time and talent and energy to our goals. But allowing this ethos to dominate our thinking makes us blind to the fact that real growth—in our lives, in our relationships, in our careers—is not linear.

The idea that we should always be reaching for more, always aiming to achieve the next thing, is not only an inaccurate model for growth—it’s a harmful one, too. If our lives, relationships, or careers suddenly become stagnant (and, at some point in our lives, they all will) or worse, something begins to slip toward what we perceive as “backward,” we can become depressed and overcome with feelings of inadequacy.

But those moments of upheaval when everything seems wrong, when we feel as though we’ve taken two steps forward and one step back, those are the moments that teach us the most about ourselves and who we want to become. They are quiet moments. They are messy moments. They are moments with no outward signifier of achievement. No one is posting about these moments on social media or adding them to their resume. But these are moments of tremendous growth all the same.

We will never stop striving for excellence, asking how we can improve the quality of care our patients receive. But we are also wise to remember that growth—personally and professionally—doesn’t always look like a rising green line on a chart. Settle into the struggle, the wildly curving line on the chart of your life. There is growth there, too.

by Tracy Sanson, MD, FACEP

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