Leadership Opportunities Are Everywhere: Don’t just go to the Blue Light Special!!!
June 9, 2020
Am I dating myself? Does anyone out there remember K-Mart and the Blue Light Specials? K-Mart was a store very much like Target or Sears. Middle-class families would shop there. I remember my mother would take us there sometimes, and they had a food court that served American food. At home we ate our traditional plastic-free home-made cuisine. My mother has always been a phenomenol cook but as a child I took her cooking for granted. Like many second generation Americans, the K-mart food-court was when we felt so American. Cherry slurpees and french fries! Eating at the food court there just like the rare trip to McDonalds and was a treat for us.
K-Mart also had the Blue Light Special. Periodically the employees would place a blue police-like strobe light at a surprise area of the store. When the blue light went one, there was also some kind of music or alarm. That meant there was a Blue Light Special! Amazing deals that were present only at the area where the Blue Light was going off, that store and that moment in time. We had gone enough times to K-Mart that my mother was able to snag some deals, but honestly we would more watch in amazement as the stampede of bodies would descend from the Food Court or other areas to the new shopping area. It was truly a sight.
The images of the Blue Light Special at K-mart made a great impression on me as a then six year old. Even then I thought it was interesting how people reacted and the world worked. I always knew that it never made sense to run toward the Blue Light Special. There were other opportunities elsewhere that did not require being trampled by the crowd. I am still working with my fellow Assistant Bosses on our Leadership manifesto and there is a lot of discussion about term limits. Should we put term limits in place for the Assistant Boss position? Six years and renew once, which is 12 years? Change the term in four years, and renew once – which is 8 years? I still think 6 years is enough. I actually was shocked that anyone would think the position should be more than 6 years. I can be honest to say that I have contributed disproportionately to our organization in this position, yet I have no desire to sit in this position for over a decade. I could not understand everyone’s hesitation – until I realized that they see opportunities only at the Blue Light Special!!! If they changed their mindset and started looking at the world upside down (check out our mast-head picture on this blog), than they realize there are opportunities everywhere.
I just wanted to reminisce about Five Leadership Opportunities I Found, when others were running toward the Blue Light Special!
- Girl Scout Troop Leader: I agreed to be Co-Troop Leader when our daughter was in first grade, and I am entering my 7th year as Co-Troop Leader, Treasurer and Cookie Manager. Girl Scouts is at its core a Leadership Development Program for girls. I was not in Girl Scouts as a child, so have found joy in going through these adventures with my daughter. https://drplasticpicker.com/raising-leaders-random-thoughts-about-work-my-kids-and-my-patients/ It does take a lot of time, but the networking and leadership lessons I have learned through helping the girls finish projects and working with other mothers has been amazing. It has helped me with my career development. Did you know that Senator Elizabeth Warren was a Cookie Manager as well? Powerful stuff.
- Just Being A General Pediatrician: It took me becoming Assistant Boss to truly appreciate that being the general pediatrician for 2000 families is a powerful role. Think about it. Our deparment is maybe 100-120 people. When I send a work email out, maybe half of people read it? Does anyone actually listen? It depends on the context and the relationship I have built with the recipient. Do they trust me? Is there mutual bonds of connection that make us want to reach a common goal? As a general pediatrician and just by doing what I am trained to do, I have an audience already that I have for over a decade built a trusted relationship. Honestly, talking until I am blue in the face about the importance of vaccines to previoulsy an apathetic audience of fellow pediatricians half-falling asleep at conference – made me appreciate my own patients more. And then as I became more engaged with my primary work of just being a doctor, my delivery of whatever quality metric we were advocating became more nuanced, persuasive and the audience of fellow pediatricians began to be more awake. I can’t tell you how annoying it was at the beginning of being Assistant Boss was trying to move the deparment on vaccines. But then I realize that I just changed my perspective and just stopped being annoyed because I starting enjoying picking up plastic instead, and then everything righted itself. Weird I know.
- Raising My Own Children: A mother is a leader. And the family unit is the most important team. As professional women, our families are often the neglected ones as we climb the professional ladder. But is that the right thing to do? I noticed as I was progressing through training that the most successful physicians did not necessarily have the most successful/well adjusted and happy children. Being the daughter of a stay-at-home mother who raised four accomplished children let me put this is perspective. Nothing is worth the risk of your child’s physical and moral health. No organization and no professional organization will love your children. I have missed my fair share of events due to work. Our son’s first costume parade when we was in preschool. My daughter had an iceskating final performance that I could not make, and I cried quietly in my office. But now, I make it a priority to be there was key events for the children. I find that for someone who never felt able to mention my children at work since I was a young working mother, I find power now in taking their needs into account. If women are really going to change leadership, than we have to incorporate our identities as mothers in our roles. We have long life-spans and working years that can go into our 70s. There is no reason why women physicians should not be able to get married, have children at a reasonable age, raise our children without outsourcing everything. I keep on keeping on in my role much because I want to make our department better for working mothers. I remember being a young mother with a febrile child, and feeling scared to call in sick. Being on the other side and seeing the absolutely ridiculous reason some non-mothers call in for sick leave that are complete abuses of the system, allows me to tell that young-mother, “Call in sick! Your kid is 104! You are replaceable.” And that is because I did not call in sick once and left my daughter with her nanny, and she ended up getting very sick. I regret that decision over a decade later. I am grateful it all turned out okay but that was one of the scariest moments of my life. But now I realize that although I bear some responsibility, it was also the system that created that hesitation and conflict for me. And now, I have the opportunity to fix the system.
- Pediatric Asthma Committee: When I was placed on this committee, it was not that popular. I was chosen along with four other colleagues my same age. One went on to become our Boss, and I became Assistant Boss. The others continued with their careers. I often do not give my younger self credit. But at the same time I was raising young children and dealing with a lot of adjustments in life, I was placed on this Pediatric Asthma Committee without any extra compensation or give time to do this project. Yet I published three abstracts and presented at two conferences.
- Environmental Advocacy: I won’t blog too much about this as this is ongoing. But there is a great need in the environmental movement for leaders. I am now the AAP Climate Change and Health Committee Co-Chair, and recruited a young pediatrician to help me lead this committee. We have two college interns now helping us on some advocacy projects. I am also now on the public health advisory board for Climate Actions Campaign. Both have been very worthwhile and that’s because I just showed up.
Isn’t that amazing? Just by showing up there are many opportuinities. Just don’t show up at only the Blue Light Specials! Just a fun stream of consciousness post about leadership opportunities today. It definitely helps me to continue to organize my thoughts for work and life if general.
Below is a result of my amazing leadership! Our daughter created an entire Quaranteen Birthday Party for her brother, and she made cookies shaped like him. They are “TJ Cookies.” Our tween daughter and teen son have a beautiful sibling relationship, and in the end I am proudest of that. They are my greatest leadership project. I still have his head to eat with my coffee this morning.