Who helps you succeed?
Who checks in with you regularly and gives you feedback on your performance?
Who rushes to your side when you need help?
Who can tell not only when you have a lugnut loose but also how to help you tighten it again?
Who is on your pit crew?
I can’t remember the first time I started using this analogy. I do recall, of course, it came about in a patient encounter. For a long time now I have consistently asked patients about their emotional support networks, their connections. As I get older, I feel increasingly aware of and grateful for all the people at every phase of life who have helped me learn, improve, succeed, and become. Nobody succeeds alone—really, all but a rare few of us can even survive alone.
My friend Jeremy Topin, a critical care physician, husband, and dad, writes a heartfelt and honest blog about life as all these things—because he is at once all of them and more—there is no way to truly separate one role from another in life. His recent post on depression among physicians reminded me of the pit crew idea. Medical culture does not encourage pit crews for its workers. It’s evolving, painfully slowly, and I hope to have a hand in that evolution. But for now, far too many physicians and other caregivers suffer burnout, depression, anxiety, and other work-related heaviness in silence, and it can cost us our lives.
Thankfully, many of us have intact and well-functioning pit crews. 46% of physician respondents to the most recent Medscape survey reported talking to friends and family as a coping mechanism, second only to exercise, and right above sleep. I count my trainer, my therapist, my life coach, and my Counsel of Wisdom, my closest friends, as my core crew. I have become more and more open about having a therapist and a coach—ya gotta walk the talk if you’re going to be credible about your work.
Full disclosure, I am not a car racing fan. Pretty much all I know about pit crews is from Disney’s “Cars” and admiring Lightning McQueens’ motley one. But that’s how it happens, right? We acquire and accumulate relationships and connections along the winding way in life. Who knows when or where it might happen? I met mine in school, in the exam room, at meetings, and I was introduced by mutual acquaintances.
As I consider further, though, having a pit crew is only part of the success story. Research shows us time and again that serving on someone else’s pit crew fulfills a profound human need, also. I suggest works by Adam Grant and Kelly McGonigal if you wish to read more about this. But maybe you don’t need to read or hear the research evidence to understand this concept? How does helping others help you? On whose pit crew do you serve? To whose Lightning McQueen are you Mater or Luigi?
If your pit crew is sparse, people who study and do this work recommend finding something meaningful or someone you love to serve. It could be something simple and non-committal, like serving at a soup kitchen or collecting winter coats for shelters. It could be reading or playing piano at a senior center. Or it could be mentoring a junior colleague over many months or years.
Imagine a music teacher who accompanies her cello student at recitals. She plays piano, fingers and hands moving lightly and nimbly over the keys as her protégé plays her heart out during each performance. I went to my son’s school this afternoon for a music concert, where this pit crew idea struck me again. I don’t know if the accompanists were the performers’ teachers, but that’s how I saw them, as they were all clearly middle aged adults playing alongside teenagers—surely they had some wisdom to impart in this relationship? It occurred to me that ‘accompanist’ may not fully accredit these adults’ roles in the kids’ lives. The music they contributed not only supported the students’ performances. These adults integrated their music making with the primary performers’, lifting it beyond where it could go alone. They contributed their own advanced skills and supportive presence to help these young people succeed. It was a team effort. And that’s the point, I think.
How widely could we apply this pit crew metaphor? How does it resonate with you today? How else is your life like a racecar driver’s? What’s exhilarating about it? How is it faster and more intense than other drivers’? Is that okay with you? How much longer can you sustain this work, and what do you need to maintain the joy and reward?
Lastly, what did you think of this post? It’s much more stream of consciousness and impromptu than I’m used to. I’m trying to get more efficient with my time—three hours per post finishing at 2am on a weeknight is no longer an option. Your feedback is welcome!
One more weekly post and then the 30 day marathon that is NaBloPoMo, my friends! Woo hoooooo, ONWARD!