Defining YOU

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This past weekend I attended a medical conference with over 300 other medical providers. This wasn’t your typical conference, it was a functional medicine conference. What does that mean?

Well, Functional Medicine fosters a deep understanding of the physiology of the body and getting to the root of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms of disease. That’s all wonderful, sign me up. Yet what I found so interesting was that despite the belief that we as health care providers need to approach health and healing differently, treat patients differently, understand sickness differently, I found myself sitting in a room full of people who defined themselves by what they did for a living. That’s not to say that doctors are the only ones who do that, virtually every person I’ve ever met defines them self this way. Think about it. What’s the first thing you ask someone you’ve just met, after their name of course? So, what do you do?” 

How many of you have dreaded and gulped when asked this question? I have. For a lot of people it can bring up all sorts of insecurities, fear of judgement and self-doubt. When you think about it, it’s a strange human practice. Some of us are lucky enough to have jobs that we are passionate about, that we jump out of bed every morning excited to head to the office for. Others punch the clock, do what needs to be done, a means to an end, puts food on the table and keeps the lights on, pays the mortgage, the car, the bills. Yet we are still defined by our work. Seem strange to anyone?

Aren’t we capable of anything more profound than that? I think so.

Let’s say that you’re standing at a party, by yourself holding a glass of wine waiting for your date (super-smokin’ hottie) to get back from the restroom. Someone you’ve never met before looks you right in the eye from across the room and starts making their way to you. Oh God, here it comes! They’re going to ask you the dreaded question…and you’re going to have to answer – the big explanation about what exactly it is you do because they’re sure not to understand the one-line answer you’d like to give. And worst of all you’re going to have to reciprocate the question and ask them about what they do, even though you really don’t want to know. Arrgh! Deep breath.

This person walks up to you, extends their hand to shake yours, introduces them self as “Chris” (or Joe, or Rachel, or Patty) and then moves into place on your right to survey the room with you. Silence….wait for it…wait for it. And then they ask “So what totally rocks your world these days?” Gasp. Did you hear that right? You don’t even know how to respond. You turn and look at them, they are beaming at you with a smile and look of complete sincerity. “Well,” you begin, “I just got a new paint set and I’ve started painting again.” This conversation has sparked their interest, they took an art class in college. When you reciprocate the question you find out that they love to run in the woods, in the rain…in the dark! Crazy!

You laugh, you’re genuinely connecting with this total stranger. It’s not like you’re going to become best friends (or you might) but the realness of the situation is that you have opened a door to real human connection. A connection that is based on what makes you tick, what makes the other person tick, what is real and important. You’ve just made their day, heck they’ve just made your day!

Do you want to change how you define yourself? Or are you really just a bookkeeper, a teacher, an administrator, a doctor, a police officer, a firefighter, a jeweler, a hair dresser (insert your profession here).

How do you know?

Well, what do you dream about, what do you like to do, what lights your fire, what could you stay up ‘til the wee hours of the morning talking about...what feeds your soul? That can be a really hard question to answer for a lot of people, so start simply. Grab yourself a cup of tea (or a glass of wine if that’s your groove), sit down in your favorite chair with a pen and paper, and then let it flow.  The bones of the deal are that if you want to re-define yourself, then you have to be clear on what the definition of you is. Get in there and pull it out. It’s not as hard as you may think, you know yourself better than anyone…no matter what your mother may tell you.

Yes, you’re deeper than just this as well, but it’s a good place to start. So what do you do the next time you’re confronted with the dreaded (or not so dreaded) “question?” Try this answer instead. “I’m a (insert profession here), but what really lights my fire is (insert your latest passion, desire, dream, or maybe just something you think is interesting).” The other person may be totally thrown off guard, or you might just spark a deeper connection.

Either way you’ve just re-defined yourself. Want to blow someone’s mind (and let’s be honest, it’s so fun to blow someone’s mind)? Then you initiate the conversation. “Hi, I’m (insert name), I love baking brownies and hanging with my dog. What’s your groove these days?” Can’t you feel the whole mood in the room change? Wow-za!

– Dr. Erin Martin