What’s your perspective? Maybe it’s time for a change!

I squirmed in my seat, impatiently waiting for the Cohn brothers’ movie, Fargo, to end. I couldn’t believe how AWFUL it was. I stayed only because I thought it had to get better. As I walked out of the theater, I was greeted by friends who exclaimed, “Wasn’t that FUN?!” “Fun” was definitely not my perspective on this movie. But what if I could change my perspective? How would I experience Fargo if I looked at it through the lens of “fun?”

I could laugh at the absurdity of the situation, and appreciate that the directors put the gruesome scene of chopping up a body alongside what should have been a beautiful encounter, so we would be sure to see the characters’ lack of connection to their emotions. I could marvel at Frances McDormand’s brilliant performance (she did win an Oscar for it, after all) and wonder at the many ways in which life gets out of hand. There are so many aspects of the movie that I could have enjoyed.

In the same way, most of our experiences in life can be looked at from a number of perspectives. Just as a cut jewel will reflect the light differently as it passes through another facet, viewing a person, place, object, or event from another perspective will show us a different color, evoke a different feeling, and open a new – and perhaps more helpful – way of seeing things.

Do you groan each time a new journal arrives, knowing it will only add to the “unread” pile? Do you dread having to tell a dear patient about a new diagnosis? Concerned about confronting a receptionist about the way she interacts with patients?

In each of those situations, we are affected by our current perspective – one that shows us only a negative view. Maybe we feel buried by the journals, as if we are stuck in a hole and every time we try to dig ourselves out, more dirt falls on top of us. With our patient, we might be sad about what we believe will be the unhappy outcome, and lack confidence in our ability to provide answers or a cure. We might feel as if we are backed up to a cliff, with no escape route. With our receptionist, it might seem as if we are on a tightrope, worried about saying the wrong thing and being left with an even worse situation – so we’re afraid to even move.

But if we viewed our journals as if we were a mountain climber, we might realize that a mountain is scaled in individual steps, by placing each foot into individual crevices that appear as we look ahead. In the same way, we might see that we have 10 minutes here or there in our day during which we can read one article, thus managing to get through each journal within a week or two. A great perspective from which to view the discussion with our patient might be that of Mother Theresa, who felt that providing respect and love, even in the face of incurable illness, was the greatest gift she could offer the many people she cared for. And what about contemplating the conversation with our receptionist through the perspective of a door? Just as doors open to new opportunities and experiences, is it possible that our conversation might introduce her to new and more effective ways of interacting that will actually make her job more enjoyable for her?

Perspectives can be drawn from people we know (how would your grandparent view a troublesome situation in your life?), our heroes, members of other generations (a child’s perspective is frequently quite empowering) or can even be on the silly side. I have found terrific ideas from considering the pizza perspective on things! (Pizzas are a whole made up of small, unrelated delicious items. In the same way, my life might be more delicious if it contained a variety of short experiences, rather than insisting that I spend an inordinate amount of time on each activity.) As you play with new perspectives, you will find ideas that don’t fit for you. With others, you may suddenly realize a new, exciting, and satisfying way of living your life – and you’ll wonder why you didn’t see it before. After all, it was there all the time…you just needed to shift your perspective.

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in physician coaching, physician fulfillment, physician work life balance and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What’s your perspective? Maybe it’s time for a change!

  1. Bruce Hoyle says:

    In the book Happiness by Matthieu Ricard (accomplished scientist turned Buddhist monk and advisor to Dali Lama) he talks about 2 women arriving separately at the monastery having walked through the rain on a trail. One complains about mud and wet clothes and the other about how much fun it was to skip through the puddles. It’s all about perspective.

    • It sure is, isn’t it! And we each have the opportunity, every moment of our life, to seek and select a perspective that gives us more choice in the situation. That perspective frequently helps us move from feeling like a victim to being an active player in our life. I would much rather spend my time skipping in puddles than drudging through mud. And when we find ourselves repeatedly spending our time in the mud, we should ask what we’re getting out of that choice.

  2. Kathlyn says:

    I call it “the gift of perspective” and life and every situation in life can be viewed positively or negatively. It really depends on how you choose to view it. After dealing with severe circumstances, it makes you look at what you used to view as important, and you realize, it’s not so important. It is truly a gift.

  3. You have certainly lived that shift, Kathlyn. I admire your perspective and appreciate you contributing to the discussion! It’s always surprising to me that when I’m irritated by something (usually trivial), and am able to shift my perspective, things immediately lighten up and the situation loses its power over me. I wonder why it seemed so important that I was ready to let it run my life in such a negative way.

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