"We touch people's lives in ways we may never know."
For my first two years of medical school, I spent most of my free time at an inspiringly amazing family practice clinic in rural Vermont. The clinic's founder and director is a mind-blowingly brilliant physician who is one of the most globally impressive people I've ever met. Uniformly adored by patients, colleagues, politicians and the general public at large, every word out of his mouth is precise and utterly impactful. My interactions with him have been very carefully selected -- I've had to balance my propensity for stuttering/blabbering/otherwise embarrassing myself with how friggin' much I learn in a few minutes of conversation with him, most of which truly stays with me (assuming I have the presence of mind to "breathe my heart rate down" long enough to encode it). But the quote above, which he said to me on one of my very first days at clinic, that stayed with me for sure.
I remember being a kid and dreaming of "making a difference," "touching lives," blah blah blah, all that vague, generalized do-gooder stuff. Initially, that translated into local community service projects and general attempts not to be a jerk towards others. As I got older, I started seeking out professional opportunities to be involved with stuff that had lasting consequences, and found that I found the concept of being attached to those consequences rather rewarding. Doing stuff with consequences almost, in a sense, had a built-in feeling of purposefulness and meaning. I suppose that deciding to become a doctor is much of the same.
When I became a Spinning instructor in 2007, however, I had none such lofty ideals. I got certified purely "for the heck of it" - more curiousity than anything else; I didn't even plan to teach. When I did decide to audition to teach for a prominent nyc franchise, my expectations were quite concrete: plan training session reflective of scientific soundness --> play music that doesn't suck --> set a good example of projecting positivity and self-care --> done. I never imagined, 3 years later, that I'd have had unbelievably intense relationships through this program: people I've taught, people I've trained, people who have taught and trained me. I never thought I'd author a blog read by hundreds of people. I never thought I'd change the way I saw myself, how I saw the world. Or that, nearly exclusively through the course of my new role, that I'd carve out a way to balance my quest for "consequence" and meaning.
Simply put, I never thought I'd touch anyone. I wasn't trying to.
Yesterday, I got an email from a fellow fitness blogger who has impressed me over time with her upbeat, enthusiastic, soul-pouring posts, and with her generosity with her seemingly endless energy and creative ideas for fitness instruction. She told me a story of how something I'd written a year or so ago had inspired her to step outside her comfort zone and teach an endurance ride in a very risky setting (i.e., pressures to pack the room). To be honest, it took me a while to "register" what she was talking about. I'm on an away-rotation at a hospital in Maine, and have been so far removed from this part of my life. I haven't coached since February, haven't written for this blog (or ICI - I promise, 4 weeks til this rotation ends! My next medical column will be about use of blood pressure meds in exercise), haven't even been training myself (for medical reasons that I'll ultimately describe on ICI - it's a useful case study in how hard it is to provide good medical care for athletes). I've just been so completely disconnected from stuff that, prior to a few months ago, was such a hugely life-defining realm of my world. Somehow, I actually kind-of forgot about it. It's no wonder I've been feeling so useless, tagging along like a puppy in a white coat around a miserable, cold, chaotic place that would be the LAST place I'd want to be if I were really sick (i.e., The Hospital).
It's humbling to think that stuff you do has larger consequences than you intend, sometimes. My sidebar of my other blog, describing how its URL earned its name, says it all. Truth be told, what this person accomplished had very little to do with what she read here -- it's all about serving as the spark that "clicks" people into shifting their own paradigms.
You never know what's going to set people off, get them thinking. You never know what's going to truly speak to people at the very specific place where they're at, to inspire them to choose the direction they want to go. My boyfriend teases me about my redundancy - I speak the way I write, and I write the way I coach (both athletically and medically - and, yes, I do continue to see my role as a physician-in-training as such) -- delivering messages in multiple different ways, with the hope that one particular fragment of one of those messages will be the one that "carries the day" for someone. Because if it doesn't, then what's the point?
Of all the times and contexts in which I've suffered from burn-out, I can honestly say that I've never had this experience as a coach. Sure, there have been times when I'm tired or cranky or sad and want to stay home and nap instead of getting up in front of a room and kicking into "positive life presence mode." But that's not burn-out. Burn-out is being so drained that you temporarily forget your purpose. And if your purpose is to connect with people, to reach them, to share your expertise and passion for the things you believe in -- do it. Even if you don't think it's working.
You're always touching lives, even if you never know it.
*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study
12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.