Welcome back to the blog this week! I just pulled off my first ever in-person event, and I wanted to share what that was like. In October, I put together the first-ever Mastermind Retreat for Women in Male-Dominated Fields. Approaching a retreat like this– taking on a responsibility of this magnitude feels analogous to the training we go through to become doctors, and it’s probably analogous to life in general, too. So what was it like to run my first retreat? It was new. It felt a little bit like planning a wedding, which I have done before, but there were many aspects that were new. There was COVID-19, and then the surge passed, and things seemed to calm down. And then we surged again. The vaccine came on the scene, and this retreat I’d wanted to plan seemed reasonable again. But still, it was a risk. Here’s what it’s like to have a dream, take a risk, feel the fear and do it anyway.
Running an in-person event is a big deal. Let’s just say, I have a lot of credit card points now. There was a financial risk. Just booking a small hotel for 4 days- it was almost five figures. There was a risk people may not show up. After all, there were a lot of steps involved: booking a flight, getting on a plane… There was a risk people would get COVID19, as one of my speakers did. Since she was feeling up to it, we pivoted to a virtual presentation, making our event a hybrid one (voila!). There was a risk people wouldn’t vibe, or wouldn’t share their experiences, making the experience fall flat. I experienced all these fears for the better part of a year as I brought this retreat idea to life. With so many risks, why do it, you might wonder.
Nothing like this retreat has existed, to my knowledge. There are other trips to expensive spas, targeting physicians who need to throw some money at the problem: namely, their chronic stress. But I saw a gap and felt compelled to fill it. I wanted to create my own space and experience for women in male-dominated fields because our challenges are unique. So compared to those other physician wellness retreats, my aim was a little different. Yes, it was important for attendees to be able to relax. But the most important component was gathering a specific group of women who are normally isolated in their professional and thereby often their personal spheres. I wanted to provide a forum for this specific group of women so that they could have the conversations they needed to have. They live with common questions and challenges, often having just tiny corners of time in which to explore and address them. We were hungry for this retreat. It needed to happen, and I knew that in my core. So I felt the fear and kept marching forward.
Did I feel like I was failing along the way? Yep. It was a lot of fun to put together, and I knew I had a lot of value to share. After all, I’m the local expert in a pretty cool place. So I had some confidence to help me through my fear of failure. As I booked the venue, the caterer, the entertainment: I had to have confidence. But the possibility of failure haunted me throughout the process. I obstinately pushed forward, focusing on serving my people, and making this the best experience it could be.
To get people to sign on to come, I had to market the thing for nearly a year. And I’m not actually a marketer! I have tried to learn what I can in my spare time, and I applied that to spreading the word about this retreat as I planned it. Thanks to some sponsors, I was able to make the retreat a reality without emptying my own accounts. But there were months in which no one showed enthusiasm for it, and I wondered if I was making a mistake. I felt the fear, then dismissed it. I was creating an experience I thought had the potential to change someone’s world. And it did.
Finally, the month before the retreat, I started getting little notes here and there, from these busy women, telling me how excited they were to come to Palm Springs, and how they were looking forward to it. Some of these were from people I had yet to meet in real life, like Dr. Stephanie Pearson, a long-time supporter of this blog. I sent packing lists. I confirmed our catering, our transport, and our park guide. Made sure we had a yogi and masseuse. I confirmed all the location details and figured out how to get CME accredited. (Thank you, Rush University!)
As I put one foot in front of the other, I figured out how to work a projector for the first time, and set it up in the California sunshine– that part worried me for weeks! Thank you, Alvaro, my intern and tech support guy, who found a projector screen in great condition on Craigslist, so we could display all the incredible information presented over our four days together.
As per my catchphrase, “save lives, enjoy your own,” I was determined to enjoy this thing. After I confirmed the key players, printed the itineraries, and sent the final emails, I enjoyed the crap out of my retreat. Yeah, I shuttled trinkets and yoga mats and leftover food to and fro, but I was also present. I relaxed. The beauty of the attendees and the environment surrounded me like an embrace. I was able to give all my attention as I witnessed real, lifelong connections being forged. We lacked connection during the pandemic, and we can feel it’s lacking in the male-dominated fields of medicine and surgery.
I’m grateful for my retreaters’ presence and their trust in me. I’m glad I felt the fear and kept going anyway.
I bet you know what it’s like to feel the fear and do it anyway. After all, you’ve signed up for organic chemistry, knowing it’s a weed-out class. You’ve studied for hours a night, knowing you could fail. You show up to medical school, knowing you’ll need to memorize reams of material. And you show up to your intern year like a lamb for slaughter, hoping to aid suffering and treat disease with compassion.
As an attending approaching mid-career, I show up to my next case not knowing the anatomy I’ll encounter or the challenges we’ll find. I come to work not knowing the next mass casualty or administrative edict that could drop at any time. I still feel that fear, years after training, but it’s different now. The retreat reminded me what it was like to dive into the unknown– to feel the fear and do it anyway. Oftentimes, when we do this, we are handsomely rewarded for it.
I hope you are rewarded this week. You don’t have to be fearless, but you can feel the fear and do it anyway.
The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.