13 January 2023

If I had a time machine and went back to the 1990s to have a word with younger me, what would I say?

I don’t think there is much of a chance I would listen to some grey haired, varifocal wearing, fifty something year old claiming to be me from the future. But what sort of things could I say, what sort of things should I say, what sort of things might get through to young me?

I want that younger version of me to know what he does well, despite all that worry he had about career, earnings, fame and fortune. Younger me worried about things like that.  He should just remember what goes well and not to get too hung up on what goes wrong. Some things don’t work out but we end up just fine. It shouldn’t all be about “what if” and “maybe.”

Let’s see if I can get away with career advice to a twenty something, ambitious future haematologist:

Don’t worry what people think about you so much

Everything is much less stressful once you realise that. Don’t be competing with other doctors that seem to want to do different things to you. Some of them want to stay behind all night, have their whole careers mapped out and have even bought a college tie. You haven’t. That’s okay. You make decisions at your own pace and in your own way. Other people are different to you. They have different values and needs to you. Stop thinking you are all the same. Don’t be frightened to rattle the cage a bit and step away from the usual, the expected or the normal.

Work out what your values are

People are different. We are all driven in different ways to achieve different things.  Just because you look like the rest of them doesn’t mean you are the same. You can do established questionnaires like the Schwartz Values Inventory if you don’t know where to start, or just have a think about what’s important to you. For example, is it achievement, tradition, novelty, independence, environment, prestige or security that you feel is your biggest motivator? These drivers may change as you get older, don’t assume you will think the same in ten years. Situations change, as will you.

 
They have different values and needs to you. Stop thinking you are all the same. Don’t be frightened to rattle the cage a bit and step away from the usual, the expected or the normal.

Match those values (as best you can) to what you do

I say “as best you can” because its is very unlikely there will be a perfect fit. It is like buying a house. There is always a compromise somewhere. Only you can decide what the most important thing is. You may want to be a specialist in left earlobe diseases, but if there is only one job in the country and it is not due to recruit for a few years, then you are going to have to compromise on something to do it.

Remember how much time a career holds

You have probably got forty years in a career ahead of you. Imagine an enormous piece of graph paper with time along the x axis and happiness up the left. Where have you been so far and how happy were you at the time? Focus on those points where it was OK, or awful, or amazing. What was it about those times and what got you into those places? Reflect and review on what happened. How did you decide things, was it all spontaneous or did you plan? Then look at how far along the x axis you have gone. How many more pages are to the right of where you are now? Remember how much time you have to amend, change, replan and enjoy.

Follow your nose

What else is floating your boat in your job?  In medicine you can just stick with patients or you can look at other options such as leadership, training or research. I know twenty something year old me was starting to think about becoming an educator, don’t worry that it isn’t the traditional pathway of a haematologist. It doesn’t matter if DNA polymorphisms leave you numb. You will have a lot of fun doing educational qualifications and you will get a lot of very interesting career options because of it. I ended up in conflict management, mediation, coaching, foundation lead, Director of Medical Education and running a masters in Medical Education.

Shy Bairns Get Nowt

A Geordie saying which I hope doesn’t need too much translation, but for those of you a little further south, this means you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. Talk to people about what you enjoy, what your plans are, what you are thinking about. You will be amazed how many jobs are only advertised when they know someone will apply. What jobs could help your career, what other roles are people needing help with?

I know twenty something year old me was starting to think about becoming an educator, don’t worry that it isn’t the traditional pathway of a haematologist. You will have a lot of fun doing educational qualifications and you will get a lot of very interesting career options because of it.

Look after your health

You will get to know and see things as a medic that make you realise how quickly your health can change. Some things you can influence and some you can’t. Don’t think of it as luck. Think about your health a lot, don’t take it for granted. You need to stay healthy for as long as possible. The people who depend on you, love you or need you, want you around for as long as possible. You want to be around them for as long as possible too.

In the end

Things will work out and fall into place eventually and it is the health and happiness of you and your family that outweighs everything by a country mile. My parting advice is to keep on looking after yourself - don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, eat sensibly, and exercise regularly. Talk to everyone, reflect a bit now and then and remember how much time you have ahead of you is completely unknown. Enjoy it.