Why We Need to Give the Process Time

Sep 7, 2023 | Humanizing Medicine, Identity, Thriving

This summer, my cousin Cindy has been raising Monarch butterflies. Two weeks ago, when I was visiting her for the weekend, she gave me a chrysalis to bring home. She’d already done the bulk of the work, feeding and caring for the caterpillar. I left with a mesh-sided carrier and an expected due date of 7 days. I was instructed on how to determine the gender and that I needed to choose a name.

Once home, I photographed the chrysalis each morning, watching the minute changes each day as the caterpillar inside remade itself into something new and different, something capable of more—in this case flying.

Two days ago, Herbert emerged, vibrantly colored and beautiful. He left behind the shell of his former life, no longer needed. He fluttered around in his small space, looking like he was ready to soar. I waited 24 hours as instructed, then yesterday took him outside for his big release. I enlisted my husband to photograph, because I was certain that Herbert would take flight the second I opened his carrier. I was wrong.

He stayed put.

Finally, I carefully removed him, luring him onto a nearby leaf. He stayed put. I waited. Nothing. We decided it was not yet warm enough, being 8 am in New England. I brought him and his leaf back inside. I tried again at 9:30, when it was sunny and decidedly warmer.

Again, he sat on his leaf. I waited. He flapped his wings several times but showed no interest in the next step. “Come on, Herbert,” I implored him. I had a meeting to attend in a few minutes, and I wanted to see his liftoff. No go. I noticed in that moment how much I was trying to control the uncontrollable, to push the pace of a natural process. I took a last photo and went in for my meeting.

When I returned an hour later, Herbert was gone. I wished him well on his trip, hoping he’d make it to Mexico to meet up with his kind.

I think Herbert has an important lesson for all of us, me included. He waited to move to the next stage until he was fully ready. He let one process finish before going to the next.

Too often I focus on an end result but want to hop over or hurry up the steps from here to there.

I see this too with my coaching clients who are unhappy with their current work situation. They may have experienced burnout or moral injury and want to move right to a search for openings on a job listing site. To my mind, there is a danger in hurrying. Often there are tweaks they haven’t considered or tried. When they do, some find a huge improvement in their happiness at work, and they choose to stay. Others find the changes are not enough, but at least they leave with the surety that they tried.

When my clients are sure they want to leave and are ready to begin a search for something different, I ask them to wait to check those job listings. We start at the 10,000-foot level. We explore what they have loved and hated about their current situation, what their passions are (e.g., working with an underserved population, a particular disease state), features of the ideal setting, and the dealbreakers.

Over time, these physicians develop a clarity that pulls them towards a next job that is better aligned with their career and life aspirations. They get to know what they really want first, making it so much easier to find a good fit. They let the natural process of gaining clarity have the time it needs. It takes some courage and some support, but I have seen the advantages of this approach over and over again.

Where might you be rushing a process? Where could more clarity and intention serve you? How might slowing down be beneficial? 

P.S. I’ll be asking myself the same questions!

[ ABOUT THE AUTHOR ]

Diane W. Shannon

MD, MPH, ACC

Diane Shannon is an award-winning writer, author, and coach. Since leaving practice as a primary care physician due to burnout, she has worked to support physicians in achieving their personal and professional goals and to highlight the changes needed to reduce burnout, improve career satisfaction, and protect the bidirectional healing power of the patient-physician relationship.

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