Relationships, Identity, and Learning

Looking back on 30 days of posts, these are the themes that stand out.

Perhaps they also describe well my highest awareness(es) of 2020? 

How do I relate to (literally) everybody, directly and indirectly?  No other year has shown us more clearly how we are all inextricably connected.  One interaction with one other person can infect a whole family or community, make people sick and die.  One exposure affects multiple coworkers and their families, forcing time off, losing hours and income, impacting kids and schools.  Anyone who does not recognize our unbreakable ties right now is either not paying attention or simply in denial.  But beyond this, how do we show up for those around us?  Do I make people’s day net better or worse for having encountered me?  If I die tomorrow, will I have made a positive difference in the short time that I lived?  How does my presence affect any/everything, and how can I make it the best possible?

Who am I?  What defines me?  I think it’s my relationships.  But what is the balance of internal vs external expectations and standards here?  How much do I need people to like me, what does that tell me about who I am, or not?  What does it mean to be my most authentic, Central Self?  What if I’m not perfect?  How much failure is acceptable, especially when it’s repeated?  Am I really an honest person if I continue to deny a truth about myself?  Can I say I have integrity if my actions don’t always align with my professed beliefs?  I define myself by certain core values, which I declare often.  But how well am I really living them?  How could I do better?

How funny that it’s all connected this way.  My relationships show me who I am.  Leadership and doctoring, at which I spend the majority of my waking hours, is all about people.  I am my best when I down-regulate my internal noise and attune to those around me, while also differentiating along my core values and identity.  But I have learned this year that I get emotionally hijacked more often than I like to admit, and my highest, best self takes flight in a nanosecond.  How fascinating!  I’ve walked this path of self-reflection and awareness as long as I can remember, and I’ve come a long way.  And there is still so long to go, so much left to learn, relearn, apply, and master.

Sitting here in reflection, though, I don’t feel distress.  Rather I feel deep gratitude (and also a bit sleepy—maybe I’d be my better self if I went to bed earlier?).  All of this deep thinking, analysis, and writing takes energy.  But it’s not draining.  I have reveled often at how well supported I am in this work—by friendly and unfriendly allies alike.  The challengers teach me the most.  It all fuels me.  So there must be some purpose, right?  Some calling I’m meant to hear and answer, to make this life the best it can be? 

I’ll keep listening and doing my best. 

Thank you, Mr. Zander

Zander Cheng

Dear Mr. Zander, I met you almost 10 years ago and you transformed my life.

You and Ms. Zander gave the keynote address at the second ever Harvard conference on coaching in healthcare.  I was one of only a handful of physicians in attendance.  You discussed the central tenets of your book, The Art of Possibility.  I could not wait to get my copy signed, and you also graciously agreed to a photo.  I have since read and listened to your book at least a dozen times, and every time I gain something new and relevant.  The names of the practices ring in my consciousness on a regular basis:  Give the A, Rule #6, Be a Contribution, Lead From Any Chair, and Be the Board.  I describe the practices and their benefits, still, to anyone who will listen.

Zander book sig

Back in 2015 I boldly contacted the Boston Philharmonic to see if you could speak at the American College of Physicians Illinois Chapter Meeting.  You actually spoke to me on the phone and considered coming!  I was honored.  Though it did not work out (I knew it was the longest of long shots), it amazed me that someone as sought after as you would personally take a phone call from a random, unknown doctor in Chicago.  Later that year, when I attended the Harvard Writers conference (the birthplace of this blog), I had the honor of observing a master class where I witnessed you love some young musicians into their best selves.  They believed in themselves because you saw them, loved them, and believed in them.  That is the best thing any teacher can do for a student.

Throughout these last ten years, I have continued to seek, study, and attempt to apply learnings from authors, teachers, and mentors like you, people who see the world as broken as it is, and also the hope of humanity’s strengths and connections.  There is no shortage of people trying to help us all be better, for ourselves and one another, and no more urgent time or need for this teaching than now.  I count myself beyond fortunate to have benefited from your influence and inspiration so early in my life and career, to have you as my model.  No doubt I am only one of thousands, if not tens (hundreds?) of thousands, whose lives you have transformed for the better.  I wish you an ever broader and higher platform from which to reach countless more people and organizations.  I wish you peace, health, and joy in all your endeavors and relationships.

Please know how much you have meant to so many.


Catherine Cheng, MD