At the end of my recent physician burnout/resilience presentation, I stood wondering if it meant anything to anybody. I did my best to follow Nancy Duarte’s structure in her book, Resonate: Make the audience the hero, contrast what is and what could be in story with texture and emotion, sound the call to action and describe the blissful future! Every time I give this talk I feel energized and passionate by the end, but most of the audience looks positively neutral. Thankfully, a few usually approach me afterward with words of praise and I feel somewhat validated. I remind myself, if only one person is moved, then I have made a difference and it was worth presenting.
When I spoke to editors, writers, and instructors at the Harvard writing conference, they said I should not write for both patients and physicians, I had to pick one. They told me to identify my audience (but keep it broad), and then differentiate myself from all the other authors writing for that audience. It feels like opening a retail shop. What will I sell? Who do I want to shop here? What is my purpose? It’s not to make money; it’s to make a positive impact on the community, to fill a need. Some people will walk in, look around, and walk out without buying anything. That’s okay. If I stay open long enough, they may wonder, ‘What’s so great about her store that she’s still in business? Maybe I should look again.’ They may eventually make a purchase, if they see something of value.
Others will enter, feel immediately at home, and linger in the aisles, soaking up the aesthetics, wishing they had more time to spend. One shiny piece will catch an eye, they’ll snatch it up, and come back as soon as they can, looking for more treasures. They belong here, and so do I. Now I know, I’m not simply writing for patients and physicians; I’m writing for those patients and physicians who, like me, believe that our healthcare system can thrive again only if we all work to reclaim our relationships.
I aim to start a movement.
But one does not accomplish this by barking a generic message to everybody who walks by. Doctors come to noon conference as a routine, a social and academic ritual. We earn one hour of continuing education credit for showing up, staying to the end, and completing the requisite evaluation forms, regardless of how much we actually engage with the presentation content. It occurred to me this time, that there are always a few in the audience primed to receive and respond to my message—they are my tribe. While some parts of my talk may resonate with some people, the whole talk will resonate deeply with those few. They are my target audience. Why? Because they are the ones who will take up the torch, hail the call to action, and participate in the movement now. They feel, like I do, a visceral agitation for this change.
To the attendees who don’t feel it (yet), I must seem like some lone nut, roaming the room and flailing my arms about. They may remember something I say and apply it for a short time, and forget me in a few days. But for my fellow tribe members, my waving and shouting (I don’t really shout) stirs something kindred and profound. They want to wave and shout back, “I get it, I get it! Hallelujah!” They will carry my message with them and share it with anyone who will listen, because it is their message, too. I know because I get this way when I hear someone speak who believes what I believe. It happens at professional meetings; I call it the Hippie-Zealot Conference High.
I get the idea of the ‘lone nut’ from Derek Sivers’ TED talk, “How to Start A Movement.” Sometimes I feel like the one on the amphitheater lawn, dancing unabashedly, provoking expressions of ‘weirdo’ from others. But there will be tribe members there, the townspeople who love my shop. They will get up and dance with me, if only I can connect with them. Maybe all it takes is eye contact, a welcoming smile, or an exuberant gesture to join in. Once they stand up and start dancing, pretty soon the gawkers may feel our collective energy, shuffle cautiously at first, then let loose and get down with abandon. We will all be in relationship for the better.
Derek Sivers calls those tribe members ‘the first followers.’ I prefer to think of them as fellow lone nuts. Lone nut status, especially with a microphone (or megaphone) can feel special, and it also gets lonely. I would much rather live and work among mixed nuts, with complementary and mutually enhancing, yet unique, contributions to the jar.
From now on, when I present on physician resilience, patient-physician relationship, or any other passion, I will make a concerted effort to acknowledge my fellow lone nuts. I will call out to them especially loudly, and invite them personally to join the movement. Then we will all feel empowered to rally the masses, one small circle at a time, until everybody’s up and dancing, happy, strong, and together.