I Am A Lone Nut!

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.

34 thoughts on “I Am A Lone Nut!

  1. I am not a physician and am only rarely a patient. My wife is a constant patient (it seems to the one who drives her to doctors’ appointments and picks up her prescriptions), but me, not so much. I see my primary doc every 3 or 4 months, my foot doctor and eye doctor each one time a year, and just recently started going to the dentist again after a lapse of quite some time. So, I did not expect to relate to your posts. Yet, I do. Every single time I read something on your site, I am amazed at how you can tell us about your desire to improve your profession, yet make it sound like a clarion call to all of us to improve the world. I am in awe of your writing ability and your dedication to your profession, and the way you combine them into something much greater than either alone is stunning. I hope you will put together a book and that, when you do, you will come on a book tour through Memphis so that I can come and buy the book and have you sign it, then shake your hand. I may not be of your tribe, but I am of the tribe just over the hill in the next valley. Thank you for hollering loud enough to be heard over here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my gosh, Tim, wow. Your generosity and encouragement lift me up. This is a comment I will keep for when I feel sheepish and unworthy, thank you. And it would be my honor to shake your hand in Memphis! I will get there someday! Here’s to continued connection and making the world better, one lone nut with another! I fully consider you fellow tribe member, as well as a tribal leader of my neighboring tribe (hellooooo, over there!). And we, the tribal leaders, are the ones who will effect change, by speaking the language of collaboration to our respective groups, and modeling the benefits! I wonder if you have already read _Tribal Leadership_, by David Logan and colleagues? He also gives one of my favorite TED talks. Best wishes to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Catherine, I so relate to the sentiments expressed in this piece! I find it exhilarating when in my tiny “shop”, which is perhaps more of the rummage sale variety, there is one who lingers and finds value in a trinket they have found. When I was 6 I had a profound experience in an old church that had been converted to a classroom. During a violent storm one morning, lightening hit the structure causing a huge booming flash. In the midst of the ensuing panic of my classmates I remember putting my head down on my desk, closing my eyes and sleeping (most likely I passed out). But later I remember being roused by a voice that said “go find the others”. I found myself alone in the building surrounded by the scattered desks that had been pushed out of place by my peers in their panic to exit the building. I made my way to the exit door just as my teacher was directing everyone back inside. It was such a surreal experience. I have been finding the “others” (what you refer to as your “tribe”) ever since. There is a familiar resonance that catches my soul when I find such a person and I think to myself…I think you are one of the “others”. So nice to meet you! If I may be so bold, I dare say you might be one of my “others” too. ☺️


  4. It occurs to me that what you write here is also relevant to blogging:

    “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.”

    My approach has been somewhat different, and it’s one reason I avoid WordPress (and other) writing tips, courses, and etc. like the plague. At the very least, I read them with a critical eye. They approach blogging (and writing in general) in precisely the same way, and I refuse to limit
    myself by accepting their view of what makes a piece of writing “good.”

    It’s important to remember that, just as patients sometimes elevate doctors to the level of “gods” who have “the answers,” writers can do the same thing with representatives of the learn-to-write industry. You have the skills and the heart to interest readers. Build on those, but do it naturally — one size fits all rules often don’t fit anyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I laughed when you said you’d rather live and work amongst mixed nuts!

    I can totally relate to what you say here, the concept of calling out to a group just to touch one soul is how every artist must feel, I know I do.

    I hope your constant arm waving starts to sweep people into your shop. You have many important things to sell.


  6. You are on to something, Catherine, in terms of your instincts about your audience and your resistance to picking just one “side” (physicians OR patients). The core of your message, as I’m hearing it, is bringing the two sides together, to breaking long-standing barriers between (and perhaps analyzing why those barriers are even there in the first place). So your book, in my opinion, must address both (although there could be individual chapters that focus more on one or the other).

    Stepping back and looking at the larger picture, to ignore your instincts is to ignore your passion and to forsake your passion would have a negative impact on your book and ultimately your message. Right now you are fired up – your enthusiasm clearly comes across in your posts. Channeling that fire will propel you through the book-writing process, which of course is itself an arduous journey. Take away that fire and all you’re left with is the arduous task—all the work of writing with none of the spark that comes from your heart. Which of course will diminish your chances of seeing it through to completion.

    Are you familiar with the concept of obliquity? It comes from British economist John Kay and although it often comes up in purely business scenarios, I like his core idea, which I’m just starting to wrap my head around myself. The idea, as I understand it, is that some endeavors are so large and complex that it is very difficult to work at them directly. Instead, we must come at them indirectly. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it isn’t when that indirect approach comes from a point of strength.

    Take, for example, your idea of starting a movement. How on earth does one begin to tackle that? Common sense would probably say that you start by finding followers. So you set a goal, for example, of using social media to find x-number of followers every week. Can you imagine how impossible that would feel to set some arbitrary limit, struggle with the effort, and then feel depressed and full of self-doubt when you don’t hit your numbers? (I’m not saying you would do this, I’m just constructing an example here.)

    Instead, when your point of strength is this: I believe in my message and my ability to craft my message in the best way possible, well, guess what? When you put your best message out there, people will find it (if you build it, they will come). Which isn’t to say that you abandon any effort on your part to increase your following and simply “wish” for people to find you. No, you move the process along by giving professional development presentations, attending conferences, teaching interns, writing this blog, and so on. Yet because you are not solely focused on the goal of increasing your number of followers, your focus is where it needs to be: on the message itself. Your energy is devoted to exploring your ideas, crafting the words, finding illustrative examples, and making the connections that develop and explain your message.

    People then respond to that energy, that passion and they WANT to follow you. (I think this comes back to Simon Sinek, doesn’t it? I watched one of his TED talks. 😉 )

    In other words, when your starting point, and therefore your initial motivation, is one of “I want to make a positive impact” rather than “I want to have a gazillion followers,” then you can always tap into that sustaining source of motivation because it reflects your heart (aka, intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation). I see exactly this heart-driven motivation in your words, Catherine.

    And because you haven’t framed the endeavor in a constricting fashion (I must have a gazillion followers or I’m a failure), you are embracing the possibility of possibilities: the endeavor can evolve organically and you are confident that it will.

    Needless to say, I’m a fellow lone nut. 🙂 I look forward to following your progress!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NANCY!! I wanted to reply to this right away but it’s too hard on the little phone keypad! Thank you so SO much for this insightful comment, you validate everything I’m trying to do! So grateful to know you, fellow lone nut! And is Simon Sinek not a GENIUS??? I have read and now listened to _Start With Why_, written out my Why, How and What, and finished listening to _Leaders Eat Last_. It really feels like all the things that have caught my attention and that I have studied and contemplated the last several years are all finally integrating now, and hereafter it will only expand and manifest!! Woooooo hoooooooooooo!! 😀


  7. I agree that speaking/writing to both physicians and patients is vital to what you’re hoping to accomplish–creative communication and connection. This blog seems to me to be an ideal laboratory where dialog and understanding can start through the comments made here.

    Like everyone else has said, stay true to your passion and the nuts will follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. What an interesting discussion, Catherine. And, like most important things, no easy answers. Whenever someone gives me an “either/or,” I start looking even harder for the “both/and.” I think there’s a both/and here. Undoubtedly, the publishers, editors, and instructors you talked to know their business and know what has worked in the past, but you are focused on creating a new future. Maybe there’s another publisher (Riverhead?) that would say, “Yes! Let’s be part of initiating the dialogue that brings patients and doctors together, that brings doctors and doctors together, that brings people with clear intentions together…. I know it is possible to bring physicians and non-physicians (whether patients or potential patients) together—I’ve attended a few retreats and workshops with Rachel Remen and seen it happen. And there’s no separation between the docs and the non-docs. People are able to let go of their titles and their labels and connect at that human level. Everybody’s wounded and everybody’s whole … and if we look for connection we will find it. It seems to me in the short time I have “known” you that you are a masterful connector. I hope you can find a publisher that recognizes that!
    With regard to the “neutral” looks on the faces of people in your audience, perhaps that is the look of people who know they have some new ideas to think about. You have shown them a door; they are pausing at that threshold moment before opening it and entering. They may not yet have seen what you see, but they may be ready to look for it—today, tomorrow, or a month from now. How exciting to be such a catalyst!
    Love the image of a “Hippie-Zealot Conference High.” Been on both sides of that one! Here’s to the mixed nuts movement!
    P.S. – thanks for mentioning Nancy Duarte’s book, “Resonate.” I’m going to look for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Donna! How awesome that you have done workshops with Rachel Remen, she is one of my heroes!! Wounded and whole, YES!! Oh, I’m so grateful to have found you, and I think you really do “know” me!! 😀 Thank you thank you thank you!! 😀


  9. Absolutely loved this! Keep dancing, Catherine! You are absolutely right. I completely agree that “our healthcare system can thrive again only if we all work to reclaim our relationships.” My mom and I have received far more healthcare that I care to think about these past few years. In that time, we’ve received good care, less than adequate care, and OUTSTANDING CARE. One thing I’ve noticed is that outstanding care never took place where there wasn’t first outstanding communication between us and the care providers. It’s really hard to maintain that kind of communication if there is no relationship! Keep going, and I’ll dance around with you whenever I can (though not with my shirt off 😉 )!


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  11. Hi Catherine, thanks for signing up for my blog “Elly van Laar, Compassionate Communication for Connection”. What led you to have an interest in my blog? Which issue/topic would you like me to write about? I am experimenting with writing on request, so I would love to read your request and support your needs.


    • Hi Elly,
      Thank you for asking! I have worked with a coach for about 10 years now, and find myself coaching my patients often. I’m always looking to connect with like-minded and -souled people, fellow tribe members on the journey to fully conscious, forgiving, and kind living. I request that you write about your own experiences, and how they connect your inner dots. Stories are so powerful–they are how we connect. Looking forward to reading more of your work!


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