The Physician Philosopher Podcast

TPP 86: Finding Your Self-Worth as a Physician

As a Type 3, Wing 2 on the Enneagram, I am what is know as the “achiever” or “charmer”.  Basically, what this means is that if left to my own nature, my internal self-worth comes from external accomplishments and the need for other people to see the work I’ve done.  

Larry Keller

The Enneagram Institute says this of Type 3 personalities. Type “Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them. They typically have problems with workaholism and competitiveness.”

They go on to state, Type “Threes want success not so much for the things that success will buy (like Sevens), or for the power and feeling of independence that it will bring (like Eights). They want success because they are afraid of disappearing into a chasm of emptiness and worthlessness: without the increased attention and feeling of accomplishment which success usually brings, Threes fear that they are nobody and have no value.”

So… now that you have jumped inside my head, you can see why I’ve published about 200 podcasts, written two books, hundreds of blog posts, all while publishing papers in academic anesthesia and running educational endeavors, too.

It’s not because I want to be seen as successful, it is because my nature is to create self-worth by accomplishments and achievements.  It is because of my constant need for external validation.

The problem is that this naturally produces a people pleasing nature.  The accomplishments and achievements create purpose and identity in my life.  They make me feel valuable.

And that’s what we are going to talk about in this episode.  Some of the problems with our need for external validation and some ways to work through getting rid of it, if that is something you struggle with as well.

The Problem with People Pleasing

We talked a little bit about the problems people pleasing causes in Episode 22.  People pleasing is often a symptom caused by the need for external validation in many people.

One of the biggest problems with this as we read in that description above from the Enneagram Institue is that it means that when we devolve into people pleasing, the result is that we often have no idea what we want.  And this is one of the biggest reasons that people decide to get coaching inside of the Alpha Coaching Experience.

When our goals and ambitions are determined by what makes other people happy, our focus is not on what will actually make us happy.  Our vision is taken off of what our own purpose and connection is in life.

For me, this led early in my career to check all the boxes in academic anesthesiology that I was supposed to check.  This led me to publish randomized control trials, overcommit to various committees, and the like.  For others it might lead you to write a book chapter you later realize does little for your career in academics or to keep going to meetings that you care very little about.

So, have you ever paused to consider what it is that you actually want?  What provides the most meaning, purpose, and connection for you?  If not, it may be because you have been determining the direction of your life based on what your employer, boss, or someone else in your life expects of you.

Three Ways to Defeat People Pleasing

If people pleasing causes us to overcommit to things we don’t really care about, and it prevents us from figuring out what we really want in life… how then do we go about getting rid of it if people pleasing is in our nature?

Let’s talk about three different ways to defeat people pleasing that I’ve found to be effective.

  • Getting Back To Your Internal Roots 

The first way to stop depending on external validation is to seek your validation internally.  This will look different for each person based on their background, culture, identities, and values.

For me, this meant plugging back into who I am according to those that love me.  Specifically, my friends and family.  These people –  who know me best – describe me as honest, loyal, and willing to stand up for injustice when I see it.

These are my intrinsic and unchanging values.  Probably the most closely held to me is injustice.  This is why I wrote my upcoming book, for example.  I think that the systemic and systematic injustices that exist in medicine cause moral injury.  This systemic culture of moral injury is what then causes the injustice of burnout in individual doctors and nurses.

This is explains how I got back to my roots of empowering individual doctors to fight against an unjust system.  And why I am so passionate teaching doctors about money and mindset in order to empower them, because I’ve found those to be the two most effective ways for doctors to fight back.

  • Remind Yourself of Your Beliefs

Another way to find internal validation is to return to our belief systems.  For some listening, this may be based in humanism, or the idea that humans hold intrinsic value and who look to reason and science and human compassion for direction.   For others, it may be based in religious traditions.  

For me, this means going back to my Christian roots.  And, actually, there is a great book written from a Christian tradition for anyone looking for the closest thing I’ve found to coaching within Christianity.  It is a book called Winning The War in Your Mind by Craig Groeschel.  

In this book, Groeschel – who is a pastor in Houston, Texas – encourages us to go through a process of recognizing the lies that we tell in our life, looking to sources of truth, and then to practicing these truths when confronted with the lies in our life.

For example, for me a lot of the lies that I tell myself are that achieving and accomplishing in order for the world to see it will help me find self-worth.  Yet, it doesn’t work this way in my belief system.

My internal self-worth – and I would contend your self-worth, too – is intrinsic.  On this, both humanism and Christianity agree.  Internally, I am worthy, and enough.  Right now.  Just the way I am with all my flaws and blemishes.  And, you are, too.

I see this in some of my favorite Biblical verses.  Verses like Zepheniah 3:17 that tells me that God rejoices over me with gladness and Isaiah 4 where it says God knows me by name and that I am precious in his eyes, honored, and loved.

When I remind myself of these values and intrinsic identities, I am reminded that none of them require me to accomplish or to achieve.  I was enough and worthy of love long before I ever did anything for the external world to see.

In this way, it rids me of any desire to people please for others to find that external validation we often require.  If I am worthy and enough intrinsically, I do not need to do things simply for the sake of others’ expectations of me.

  • Believing Others Are Resilient

A third way that I’ve found it helpful to defeat a people-pleasing nature is to realize a couple of things that I hold true.  

First is the idea that I am usually telling myself a story that “if I say no to this person’s expectations of me, they will be disappointed.”  And we have to recognize that – as we would say in coaching – this is a thought, not a fact.

What if I am not giving people enough credit?  What if I firmly held the belief that the other person I was saying “no” to is tough enough to handle my no?  Is it possible that by telling them no – even if they aren’t tough enough – that I may be helping them to become more resilient by hearing no?

This one belief is what helped me get past my people pleasing to build the Hell Yes Policy we teach on this podcast (Episode 22) and to our coaching clients inside the Alpha Coaching Experience.  

It becomes easier to say “no” to anything that doesn’t make us say Hell Yes when we firmly believe the people we are saying no to are resilient enough to hear it.  

Saying No To Yourself

These are three ways for you to say no to that people pleasing nature.  With this, you might find that your self-worth cannot be found externally.  It can only be found internally.  

This will give you the power to say no to other people.  Just as importantly, it will also give you the power to say no to yourself.  Because – in the end – we say yes to far too many thing in life because we can, or even because we want to, but that don’t make our Hell Yes Policy.

Just because you “can” does not mean you “should”.  This the one and only, amazing, incredible, and crazy life you get.  Let’s stop spending so much time seeking external validation, and look to our values, traditions, and roots to help us find the purpose, connection, and identity that matter most to us in this life.

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