Sunday, November 26, 2017

Taking a Risk

In my first year of medical school, an opportunity came up to work on the development of an inner-city student health clinic.  I got excited just reading the job description; I loved the idea of getting early exposure in a clinical setting, and the clinic was well-aligned with my desire to improve healthcare for marginalized individuals.  The job opportunity was exactly what I wanted to be doing during my first summer of medical school.

I didn't apply.

I had no experience working with marginalized populations, so I thought there was no possible way I would ever be chosen for the job.  I didn't even give them the opportunity to reject me, I just self-selected out.  I completely ignored the fact that I had been writing and editing grants professionally for four years, which would have been a huge asset in a position that involved a lot of fundraising.

My best friend got the position.

She had even less relevant experience than I did, but she wanted the position and had the guts to apply for it, so she got it.  And she was excellent at it, because it turns out you don't need to fit perfectly with a position to be good at it.  You bring in your existing skills, and you learn and you stretch yourself, and you gain the ability to do something different.

Her getting the position actually worked out well for me, because she didn't want to work full-time in the summer, and she asked me to job share!  (Funnily enough, there wasn't a huge demand for the poorly paying job, so they were willing to be very accommodating.)  I ended up liking it as much as I had hoped, and I stayed on to volunteer during the school year and to work for the clinic again the following summer.  

Fast forward to the present.  I have been looking for ways to meet new people and broaden my activities, and in my search I came across a feminist theatre group that is looking for new members for its board of directors.  I luuuuurve the theatre, and I am an unapologetic feminist, so the ad filled me with the same excitement I had felt reading that job description as a baby medical student years ago.  Followed immediately after by that same sense of inadequacy.

Why would a theatre company want me?  What do I know about theatre, beyond attending 39 fringe festival plays this summer*?

It was exactly the same as with the summer job years ago.  So I sat on it.  Didn't apply.  Ignored the fact that the opportunity sounded fun and exciting and exactly like something I would want to do.

But then, I asked a friend about it.  Poured out my heart and my doubt and my little tiny bit of hope to her, and she said "The worst that could happen is they say no."

As simple as that.  She stated it matter-of-factly and then immediately resumed stuffing her face with deep fried veggie balls at the vegan restaurant where we were eating.  My neurotic self wanted to counter with one hundred reasons why they might say no and why being rejected would be the worst thing that ever happened to anyone, but really?  If they said no, I would get over it.

So this morning I wrote a letter.  And as soon as my friend edits it and gives me feedback, I am sending it off.

The worst that could happen is they say no.

*Too many.  I think 25-30 in 12 days is my sweet spot.


  1. My son has done the same thing at a similar clinic for no pay both before and while in med school and I chair a foundation that runs a low income free medical clinic where I volunteer myself. My rule is always say yes when asked to meet a need unless you have a good reason to say no. Being willing to step out of my comfort zone has given me an extraordinarily awesome life!

  2. This is TOTALLY awesome. They would be LUCKY to have an avid theatre-lover like you on their board!! Hope it works out!!

  3. I used to often have these worries, but one conversation with an awesome feminist friend was the total turning point for me. Another friend's boss had encouraged her to apply for a big position and she was hemming and hawing because she might not be ready, or might not do it well, or might not have enough experience.
    My friend turned to look at her and just said: Have you ever heard a man say that?
    Or in the words of Mindy Kaling: I just have the confidence of a mediocre white man. This has been proven to me time and time again. Most recently when I stressed for weeks about giving a presentation in Spanish even thought I have spoken in Spanish almost every work day for the past 5 years and studied it specifically so I could provide medical care in Spanish. New resident shows up and one his first day tells me how he struggled to use his high school French of 12 years ago for a patient visit... even though we have access to interpreters and are absolutely supposed to use them if you're not fluent. Face palm. I stopped stressing about my presentation (after I told him to use an interpreter) and of course it went great!

  4. I have these same worries for myself, but for others I say the same thing your friend would. I should take my own advice more often.

  5. I think this sounds cool! Please let us know if you get the position. It's great advice, but hard to follow.

  6. Self-selecting out of opportunities you want is a habit I've tried to break. I was asked to speak on a panel at a regional theatre recently. My first instinct was to squee! I was raised doing theatre and miss it a ton. It's been hard to be onstage or backstage with my current lifestyle. Enjoying it from the audience is wonderful, but so different. My second instinct was to think that someone more qualified should speak on the panel. Like many other things, I had to ask myself if a white man would turn down the opportunity, and then I agreed. I'm glad I did. I'm still nervous that I won't have enough interesting things to say, but I will have done it and contributed to my community. That's a win, no matter what.