“Hey Dr. Kathryn, guess who I am!”
Harry Potter, Hermione, her mom, or any number of other possibilities wouldn’t have surprised me. But my young patient didn’t imitate any of them.
She imitated me — and she had me laughing at myself even before she told me she’d “done me” at a party the weekend before. People paid her because they thought it was so good.
When you’re a doctor, people watch you. They look in your grocery basket, pay attention to the kinds of places you visit, how you dress, the things you say, and even who your friends are.
They’re putting their health in your hands, referring their friends, family, and co-workers in, and they want to know that they can trust you.
But now that I no longer practice, I’m realizing that people watch you no matter what you do. And sometimes they’re watching and listening far more closely than you realize.
And that’s why it’s not only okay, but vitally important that you be honest, courageous, and most of all, yourself.
But that’s hard.
Yes, it is.
As I transitioned from doctor to writer, it became increasingly clear that being successful as a writer hinges on being an open book.
“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.”
~ Maya Angelou
If you want people to read your material, it can’t be all wishy-washy.
You have to tell your story, with your biases, mistakes, emotions, motivations, triumphs, and fears laid bare for the entire world to read.
And let me tell ya, it scares the crap out of you when you’re doing it right.
But it also gives other people a chance to learn from your mistakes, know they aren’t alone, experience places and people they’ve never known, and form their own ideas and beliefs.
And the biggest surprise of all? When I started writing about my life as openly as possible, my life started changing for the better. People started sharing my posts with others and sharing their lives with me.
I started seeing past patterns that held me back and began doing something to change them. After all, you can’t be open with the world without first being open with yourself.
And then, I found myself wanting different experiences, longing to travel, and even wanting deeper connections with people. You can’t be interesting, life-changing, and intimate in your writing without actually being those things.
What if someone doesn’t like you?
Impossible! I’m adorable, witty, and loveable!
But someone out there definitely doesn’t like me. Like it or not, someone out there doesn’t like you, either. And that’s okay.
Maybe she’s projecting her own issues. Maybe he’s scared of really living life and facing the challenges that come with that. Maybe we have different beliefs and your version doesn’t allow for peaceful differences. Maybe he’s scared you’ll tell someone what he did to you as a kid, so he tells lies to make people doubt you in case you ever decide to tell.
And maybe some people just don’t like you or me.
When you decide to start sharing, to stop trying to be what someone else wants you to be and start being who you are — when you start doing things that scare you because they really matter — someone isn’t going to like it. But a whole lot more people will love it. And they’ll love you.
You’ll feel alive. The people in your life will be there because they like you as you are. All that stress over what people think will slide off your shoulders and you’ll have more energy for the things and people that truly matter.
You’ll breathe deeper, be happier, and influence the world more.
How Do You Get Started?
Start small. Do one thing this week that makes you happy.
Next week, tell someone how much they changed your life, good or bad.
Or dare to dream again about that thing you’ve always wanted to do but were too scared to go after.
If nothing else, find a short YouTube video that teaches a single lesson about something you’ve always wanted to learn.
Walk away from drama. You don’t have to fix the world. You can’t. But you can fix yourself.
In the nature of practicing what I preach…
Ten Things You Probably Don’t Know About Me
1. I’m ornery.
I’ve “Vaselined” a toilet seat (my wiry roommate actually got stuck in the toilet and had to be pulled out), hung a glowing skeleton in a bunch of scary spots and put red Jello in a showerhead (this is especially fun when people are reading Stephen King), scared the bejesus out of my husband more than once, and helped pull numerous pranks that always ended with all involved laughing until it hurt or at least laughing and talking about it for weeks.
I’m considering a t-shirt that says, “Did that comment make my ass look smart?”
2. I’m agnostic.
Most of my patients thought I shared their belief system and would even argue with each other over it. Not because I claimed any religion, but because I could talk with them about theirs. I studied several religions when I was in high school and college, but in the end, an agnostic approach was the only one that made sense to me.
Does it make me uncomfortable when someone says they’ll pray for me? Nope. Nor does it make me uncomfortable to go to my brother’s church and listen to him preach. He lives his beliefs to the best of his ability every day, and I think he’s a better man for it.
With the exception of psychopaths, we all want to be better people. If religion helps you in that pursuit, I’ll fully support you in it. Harm others because of your religion, and I’ll not take kindly to it.
Faith is important, and we all have faith in something or someone throughout our lives.
The most common question I get when people find out I’m agnostic relates to what motivates me if it isn’t hope for heaven or fear of hell. My answer is that I live doing my best to treat others the way I want to be treated and striving to leave the world a better place for my living in it. The results of that are my reward and the mistakes I make along the way often feel like adequate punishment.
3. I went to school, studied with, played catch with, and went fishing with Dennis Ryan. Google his name plus Rulo, Nebraska if you don’t know who he is.
I know that he did terrible things, but when I knew him, he was just a kid who wanted to be a doctor, liked baseball, and disliked homework as much as the next kid.
A year or two before he moved away, we were catching fish and releasing them when one of his didn’t swim away. He cried when he realized that the fish he’d caught was going to die. I smeared pond mud all over his face and clothes to make it look like he fell because he was terrified his dad would know he was crying. (For those of you who don’t live on a farm, farm pond mud pretty much always has cow poop in it.) He stunk like crazy, but his dad bought the story and he didn’t get in trouble for crying.
It still saddens me that a parent led someone with so much potential so far astray. In different circumstances, Dennis would have been saving lives instead of taking them.
I know a psychopath that is incapable of empathy, and Dennis was nothing like that. He was just a horribly misguided kid. I wish my parents would have had the courage to help me be a friend to him while he served his sentence, but they were so alarmed just that they knew the family at all that I’m not sure they ever even considered it.
4. I play the guitar and really loved bluegrass music while growing up.
I was lucky enough to be at a campsite in Winfield, KS that Mark O’Connor sat down and played at until dawn. I’ll remember that night forever.
Before they became famous, and when they still played bluegrass, the Dixie Chicks asked me to go on the road with them. I turned down the offer and chose to go to college instead. Although I like most of their music, I’m still glad I picked school.
These days, I listen to and enjoy a much broader range of music, but I don’t play as much as I once did. There may come a time when I do, but for now, writing calls to me more when I have time and energy at the end of a day.
5. The Game of Thrones has something in common with my heritage.
The Red Wedding portrayed in Game of Thrones is based on a real event from Scottish history called the Black Dinner. I read the Game of Thrones books and shuddered at the horror of that massacre. Then I started researching my family history on my father’s side and learned that I’m descended from the line of people who were slaughtered at the real dinner. How bizarre is that?
6. I am both very forgiving and patient and very intolerant and impatient.
I believe we all have areas we struggle with, areas where we excel, past mistakes, and moments of glory. If someone is working to change the less positive areas, apologizes for their mistakes, sincerely works to not repeat mistakes, and they’re trying to live a better life and make a difference in the world, I’m extremely forgiving and patient with them as they grow. In fact, I admire people going through that process. It’s how I want others to treat me, so it’s how I treat them.
When someone isn’t willing to admit their mistakes or work to grow, I have a lot less patience and tolerance with them.
7. For all the years I was in practice, I didn’t cuss. Or at least it was extremely rare.
I strive to avoid cussing most of the time, but I think there’s a time and place for it so I don’t totally avoid it. If I talk with a particular friend, I’ll swear for days (you know who you are, damn you!). If I’m around someone who finds it offensive, I don’t need to cuss, so I don’t.
It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with cussing, it’s just that I realized that I’m less creative in my language when I rely too heavily on swear words. However, there are times when I think swearing is the only thing that adequately and succinctly expresses feeling. That’s why I use it in my writing and life sometimes.
And I giggled when I heard that my husband’s friend’s son got in trouble for saying to his kindergarten teacher, “Well, ship high in transit!” The child is a sailor. What did she expect?
8. For those who see my sailing pics and think that I love sailing, I don’t.
In fact, I hate being on a boat. However, I love my husband. And next to me, sailing is what he loves most in this world. I think the boats are pretty on the water; I just don’t want to be on one. I do like taking pictures, though.
We make it work.
9. There’s been much speculation about why I closed my office.
Some family members tell people I burned out. I’ve heard rumors that I secretly won the lottery (man, I wish that one were true!)
The truth is that I closed because I was sick. I ate at a restaurant in 2005 and left with 5 parasites, but the first test only showed one. By 2007 I wasn’t doing very well and a few more were found. By 2009 when I closed, life was vastly different and I was a shadow of my former self. It’s been a long ride, but this year (yep, it took a really long time to get one of them diagnosed and treated) I think it finally ended. Talk about an expensive meal!
Will I go back to practice? No. Between the parasites and not knowing that I had celiac disease until I was 37 years old, there’s a bunch of joint damage that just doesn’t let me stand all day or do the physical work I did before.
But I miss it, and I miss my patients. Most of them were fantastic people. I think of them often and hope they’re well and happy.
And although I miss it immensely, I absolutely love my new writing career. People pay me to write stuff! And most of them are talented and interesting people that are fun to work with.
10. I talk to animals like they understand me, and sometimes they do. I’ll also talk for them.
“Dude, did you see the haul she brought home just now? I feel a little bad that all I put by her bed this morning was one mouse.”
“I left the ball with the bell in it by the mouse. She’ll love me more than you because she can play with the ball forever. She’ll eat your mouse in a couple bites.”
“Didn’t she give you that ball for Christmas?”
Stuff like that. It entertains my husband far more than he’ll admit to.
Man, that was long!
Yeah. Did I mention that I’m chatty sometimes?
So, there you have it. Things you didn’t know about me.
But the thing I want you to take away most is that if I can be open about my life, so can you. Trust me when I tell you that it will positively affect people more than you can imagine.