Striving to Not Be Average

As children, we all have dreams about what we’re going to be when we grow up. I dreamed about being the country GP who looks after her patients with care and compassion and becomes a part of the community. I had no ambitions of leadership and I never wanted to change the world; my goal was to make a significant difference to the lives of just a small number of people. All I wanted was to look after my little flock in my little town and live a quiet and contented life.

And yet, in the last couple of years it has become increasingly clear that type of life is no longer enough for me. I can’t help myself from putting my hand up for every new committee, project, conference or event that comes along. One thing leads to another and eventually I found myself expanding my horizons by becoming a committee chairperson, joining a couple of national committees and helping to organise a major conference.

Being involved in these extra-curricular activities is not without cost. They take up a lot of time, they can lead to a considerable loss of income, and they come with a whole burden of expectations and anxieties about “not achieving enough”.

So why do I put myself through it, when I could be living a much simpler life? Friends and family sometimes question my motives and suggest that I’m crazy for trying to do so much. Sometimes I worry that maybe I’m just a self-important narcissist who wants to feel validated because people know my name. I’m assured by others that that’s not the case!

Partly it is because  I like to be “one of the gang” and to be part of something bigger than myself. One of the best parts of all of this is the opportunity to meet meet so many motivated, like-minded, and downright awesome people and realising that I’m not the only over-committed person who likes to be on committees and is incapable of saying “no”. Some of those people have become not only great colleagues but also close friends, which has been an unexpected bonus.

Above all, my motivation comes back to the fact that I really get excited about getting involved with things that I think can make a difference to the world. I like to think that I can make a positive contribution to the issues that I’m really passionate about: medical education, teaching and mentoring, enhancing general practice and primary care with the ultimate aim of improving the health of patients and communities. Of all the things I do, it’s this sort of work that energises me the most.

I was particularly inspired after attending the GPET convention earlier this year. An amazing keynote address by Fiona Wood challenged us all to get up every day and “not be average”, but to excel in whatever we do. There were also some great presentations from my peers showcasing their fantastic work in the areas of Aboriginal health, research, education, advocacy, leadership and innovation.  It was enough to make me feel like a hopeless under-achiever, by comparison! 

The question then becomes, “In a world where cloning myself is not yet a realistic option, how can I best invest my finite time and energy to make a difference to the issues I care about?”

I’ve thought a lot about this lately and also appreciated the opportunity to sit down with a respected colleague and mentor in search of advice. It’s been helpful for me to think about my strengths and weaknesses, and even more useful (if horribly confronting) to get honest feedback from other trusted people. 

The outcome of all of that is I have recently become a board director of WAGPET, the organisation that provides GP training and education in Western Australia. I still find this mildly hilarious, given my lack of experience in the areas of business, corporate governance and medical politics. I’m half expecting to be exposed as a fraud for pretending to be grown up enough to be a company director. However, I’m assured that my insight into the experience of GP training and my enthusiasm for innovation is valued, and I’m confident that the other directors will prove to be great mentors who will help me with the very steep learning curve that lies ahead.

Through my twitter interactions with GPs from around the world, I’ve realised that we are all united in trying to provide a great primary care service for our patients, despite each battling with our unique local geographical, political, educational, and financial challenges. With my interest in global primary care thus piqued, I submitted an application for the newly created junior doctor position on the WONCA executive. It was, as expected, a very competitive process and in the end I was not the best person for the role, so I would like to congratulate the successful applicant who I’m sure will do an excellent job. I am still hoping to make a contribution by becoming more involved in the regional junior doctor branch through the Rajakumar Movement.

I’m still involved with the RACGP as a WA faculty board and as an examiner, and I’m also still trying to contribute where I can to GP FOAM and social media. At a more local level, hopefully in the next few months I’ll have decided on a location to set up a more permanent clinical practice and I’ll keep striving to the best front-line doctor I can be.

It’ll be busy times ahead, but I truly believe that you get out of life what you put in. My challenge will be to avoid spreading myself too thin, and be realistic in what I can reasonably achieve in order to stop over-promising and under-delivering.

It will be exciting to see what new opportunities, experiences and friendships will arise along the road ahead. And just maybe one day I’ll be able to look back and think that perhaps the world is a little bit better off than when I started.

8 thoughts on “Striving to Not Be Average

  1. You aren’t the only family member that seems to get involved in multiple extra committees, conferences and on line

  2. Wonderful post Penny, As has been the case several times previously, while reading your blog I had the weird sensation that I was reading something that I had written about myself.;-) Let’s just say that it is not hard to put myself in your shoes as they look and feel remarkable like my own. Congratulations on being appointed to the WAGPET Board, and remember my Mum’s advice “You can do it all, just not all at once.” Hasn’t stopped me trying though!

    • Great post Penny. That point by Fiona Wood continues to resonate with me to get up everyday and ‘not be average’. This ranges from ‘how can I do this consult better next time?’ to what else can I do for this patient, to how else can I change the environment or system?

      Congratulations on being on the WAGPET board. There are excellent people on there to share and progress the training for WA registrars and that includes you!

      Genevieve- thanks for all your advice too. About picking and choosing what you want to do for the day- if you wake up in the morning and look forward to it or when you go to bed and look back at it and see whether you enjoyed it or not. This definitely applies here about different paths to take in life :-p

  3. Thanks for your insightful post Penny. It struck a lot of cords with me looking back on a career in general practice in the UK. I’m studying for a higher qualification in medical education which is fascinating along the lines of “I wish I’d knew that all those years ago…” but also a lot of extra work!

    It seems to be a constant battle to find a good life / work balance. Fortunately for me my children have grown up and I’ve been able to reduce my hours to allow more time to explore new interests and opportunities. I do know that all work and no play are not conducive to becoming an effective, successful and robust practitioner.

    It appears to me that you have a good level of insight into these issues and I’m really grateful to you for sharing your thoughts.

    Thank you

  4. “I have in irrepressible desire to live till I can be assured that the world is a little better for my having lived in it” -Abraham Lincoln I believe this quote fits you perfectly.

  5. Great post Penny and well said. The reality is that all of us “just want to be happy” and part of being happy is to GROW. So you will never be able to sit around and have the “easy” life as easy will not make you happy. Just sharing my 2c worth….Vin from

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