2021 in Review
I’m going to be honest. I almost didn’t have the bandwidth to put any thoughts down about this past calendar year. Already running on empty, the unfolding events of the pandemic in the last 14 days have almost been more than I could digest. Add to that, some operational challenges behind the scenes (that we try very hard not to let anyone see, in order to keep the care for our families seamlessly moving forward), the added busyness of the holidays, and all of the other usual balls in the air that are just part and parcel of the human condition, and well? I hit a wall. Hard. Was I done? Ready to throw in the towel? Gave it a good run, but hey, I’m only human and nothing is worth this much sacrifice? These past few days, I truly didn’t know.
But then I remembered a phrase that I “adopted” a few years ago that has stuck with me ever since, and that forces me to always pop back up, dust off, and keep pressing. And that phrase is: Make it matter. Make it matter. The hard, stressful, ugly, exhausting stuff…I don’t just want to complain about it. I don’t want to succumb to it. (The hard stuff doesn’t go away, even if I give up.) I don’t want to be in denial about it or pretend it didn’t happen. I can’t avoid the bad stuff, I can’t orchestrate my way around it, I can’t Instagram or vacation my way out of it. I can only accept it, and then make a promise to myself and everyone in my orbit, that I will make all of the difficulties matter. I’ll reflect, step back for a moment or two, and extract whatever lesson it’s giving me, and then…I’ll make it matter. So, indulge me for a moment, as I work my way through the stuff that 2021 threw at us and brainstorm all the ways that I vow to make it matter, going forward. (Yes, I said, going forward.) And I hope, that if this year has been a challenging one for you too, that you feel a little sense of kindred kindness, and renewed hope.
1. Divisiveness – Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly witness more divisiveness than 2020 had given us, January 2021 happened. Whether it was January 6, or the arrival of the COVID vaccines, or our absolute insistence in this country on not figuring out how to love people who don’t look/believe/vote/talk/worship/exercise/eat/etc. exactly like we do…divisiveness has ruled this calendar year. And as an empath who thrives on connections? Man, this did a number on my mental health. I’m still sad about it. In fact, on really bad days, I don’t even feel sadness. Just anger. So, I guess I’m picking the “hardest bad thing” first, to try and find some meaning in. But here I go. The easiest concrete example of divisiveness that instantly comes to mind, that affected me/Pediatric Housecalls personally, was the video that I posted to our Pediatric Housecalls social media page, about the COVID vaccine. It led to hundreds of thousands (this is, I promise, not an exaggeration) of the most extraordinarily ugly, threatening, derogatory, and vicious messages, I’ve ever received in my entire life. Most from folks who’ve never met me in real life, never will, and don’t have any interest in understanding my motivations behind posting the video. But. Then there were the texts, the calls, the emails, from people who saw the authenticity in the invitation to field questions, and they came to me, vulnerability be damned, and laid all of their questions on the table. And, all I can say is, these were some of the most beautiful, loving, and honest conversations I’ll ever have, in my entire professional career. And these were conversations I had with people who I am CERTAIN do not look/believe/vote/talk/worship/exercise/eat like I do. And yet, we found common ground. We made a true connection. It changed me. It changed them. And it made all of the awkwardness surrounding a conversation like that, worth it. It made it matter. Divisiveness did not win, at least on this one.
2. Exhaustion – Not unique to me, but rather the badge of honor that leaves a toxic mark on healthcare providers everywhere, this was a continuing theme, that was already at unhealthy levels leading into the pandemic, but then got amped on steroids in 2020 and that upward trajectory just kept on going through 2021. It’s no secret that our healthcare system is so broken. It’s the best in the world, but that “best” is built on the backs of folks who will. eventually. break. As I look back on this year, I’m frustrated that I fell into this same trap. I created Pediatric Housecalls as a way to take back some of what I had lost, in a traditional practice setting. Namely, my soul. In the process of creating a new way to practice and see patients, I somehow let myself forget my “why.” And the result? Exhaustion. I’m still trying to figure out which exhaustion is worse, mental or physical. Probably it doesn’t matter. The lie we tell ourselves, is that it’s a requirement, this level of exhaustion. That in order to have a servant heart, a patient-oriented attitude, we must place ourselves at the bottom, and others’ needs should always come first. That works. Until it doesn’t. So, while I’m just coming to grips with how badly I botched this one in 2021, my plan for 2022 is to extract the lesson that taking care of ourselves first, sometimes means saying no, not being available at all times, and prioritizing our wellness and health first, so that we can give you the best of ourselves, second. For some, this won’t be good enough. And that’s ok. For others, they’ll reap the benefits of having a fully-engaged healthcare provider who is running on a FULL tank. Not on empty.
3. Loss – 2021 was filled with so much loss, for so many people in our lives. A parent, a child, a job, our health, a pet, an identity, a home, a plan. How do you ever really make loss, matter? Is it by carrying forward a lost loved one’s legacy through charity and advocacy work? Is it by committing to being more present in our daily lives? Is it by embracing a “Plan B” or by becoming more flexible, more forgiving, more gentle? I think it’s all of those things. Loss will come again in 2022, and it will look like a million different variations of the loss we had in 2021. But let’s make the loss matter, not just by repeating the trite phrase “All things happen for a reason” but by being more open and less judgmental with ourselves and others. So that when the loss comes, the conditions are ripe for us to grieve, recover, and heal.
4. Death of the expert – In a moment of frustration earlier this year, I took to my personal Facebook page, and posted a commentary about the “death of the expert.” We all know what I mean by this. 2021 was THE year, when suddenly it seemed like expert opinions no longer mattered. Some found this liberating. Others found this terrifying. The vast majority, though, didn’t really even notice. Because it’s become that commonplace. What I mean by this, is that with a little Google “research” everyone has decided they know just as much as their (insert any number of professions here – doctor/teacher/plumber/financial advisor/pastor/real estate agent/etc.) does. And folks, this is dangerous, it’s depressing, and man. It’s demoralizing. Social media has given a platform to all of these newly-annointed experts. And people use the umbrella cover of things like “Show me the peer reviewed studies to support what you are saying” or “I researched it and mainstream people don’t want you to know that…” or “Use your brains, people!” to justify why they have decided to ignore experts in any given field. Has this made my job and my life hard? You betcha. It’s maybe contributed THE most, to the second-thoughts that have plagued me this year about whether a career change would give me a better quality of life. But here’s the thing. I think if we air it out, we’ll all admit to being on both the dishing-out side of this, as well as the receiving end of this. All of us. So, how about this? How about we try to make this crappy part of 2021 matter, by stepping back and extracting the lesson. And what lesson would that be? Maybe it could be that we change our default position, to one that gives any expert, in any field, the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it could be that we start with the working assumption that experts know more than we do, and then we work back from there. Maybe we seek out those experts we have actual connections and relationships with, and ask them their stance. Maybe we stop using social media, to proclaim our opinions, snap judgements, or pseudo research, about all of these fields we haven’t spent decades of our lives learning about. Maybe we let teachers teach, and nurses nurse, and engineers engineer, and coaches coach. Maybe we look inward, find our own purpose, and trust that others are too. Maybe, we stop talking so much, and we listen twice as much.
In that spirit, I’ll be quiet now. For all the hard of 2021, many of you were directly a part of the moments of beauty, good, and magic that I got to experience, and that this whole Pediatric Housecalls team got to see first-hand. The last thing I’ll say, is that for all of our fits and starts, missteps and challenges, to my team, hear me say: thank you. And to our patients and families, who’ve been at the heart of all that was good, and real, and worthy this year, we all thank you. Be well, and we will see you in 2022.