I don’t really like rules.
It struck me in my time off from clinical practice that perhaps this was yet another reason that I have found general practice more challenging over recent years.
Ever-changing guidelines playing catchup to the pace of evidence base, complex treatment algorithms such as diabetes that defies the comprehension and retention abilities of pressed clinicians , and the numerous referral pathways to services that often no longer exist. All add to the ever increasing sense of boxing patient care, of forcing grey into black or white.
All these systems are a worthwhile attempt to standardise care nationally, to reduce devastating clinical errors, to rationalise stretched services and to make sense of the increasing complexity of clinical practice today, but are yet another set of rules. To deviate from them – entirely justifiable clinically at times – requires confidence and emotional robustness. And as clinicians come under increasing pressure, this can be lacking.
I was interested to learn recently that my personality preference leans more to going with the flow than liking systems. Probably not a surprise to those that know me well! What this means though is that operating in a world where systems are key is perhaps inherently more stressful for me than for someone who prefers order and clarity.
So, there seems to me to be some sense in learning (early on ideally) what our strengths and preferences are so that we are more aware of which situations / roles may make us feel more and less comfortable.
Discovering our strengths
Discovering our strengths is something that we start doing in childhood. There are certain subjects or activities that we might appear to have a natural aptitude for. We may get labelled as being good or less good at these not only by ourselves but by those around us – our teachers, our families and our peers. Incorrect or negative labelling may limit us or conversely, drive us constructively to prove others wrong.
Regardless, this pigeon holing is fairly basic as softer skills and strengths are often not considered. We may be unaware of strengths that we have that others may be aware of or we may be feeling negative and think that we have no real strengths apart from perhaps being able to perform well in exams, once or twice in the past.
So how can we discover our strengths?
When I was considering my options, I used a variety of free resources to help identify my strengths and passions. I asked friends and family what they thought my strengths were and what they thought I could do, but to be honest found this less illuminating
What I have found helpful though, mainly to validate my current path, is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This is a tool devised by a mother and daughter team, which uses Jungian theory. It helps us to identify our natural preferences for operating in the world, based on how we become aware of things around us and how we reach conclusions about what we perceive.
A simple example would be to sign your signature with your non-dominant hand. Try it now.
It may feel uncomfortable or unnatural or many other things to you, but as you will see, it is possible. Yet our natural preference, the one that feels more comfortable, will usually be our dominant hand.
So discovering our preferences is about finding out our optimum way of operating in the world and maximising that. In essence it is about playing to our strengths.
There are many other tools to help us identify our strengths. This list from Action Happiness is a great resource. They also describe how to review and use our strengths, as simply knowing them is not enough.
I like the MBTI model. It has helped me understand why I find some tasks more challenging than other people and why I find some easier. And is it not best to spend more of our time doing the things that we love and are good at? Positive psychologists certainly think so.
The world around us is changing rapidly. Jobs that were options for us when at school might not exist in 10-20 years time. Different ways of working, roles that we will never have heard of or that even existed previously, will be options for future generations. So, truly knowing ourselves, understanding our strengths and what makes us passionate and alive is important so that we can adapt and thrive.
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”