What will YOU choose? A physician coach chooses joy

Viktor Frankl, the psychiatrist who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, is thought to have said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to
Options Just Ahead on Yellow Highway Signchoose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”  Unfortunately, our responses are often unconsciously triggered by prior experiences.  If we were rejected by a group in our adolescence, we might feel rejected whenever we don’t feel a warm welcome.  If we experienced dishonesty earlier in our lives, we may find it difficult to trust again. That we are limited to these automatic responses is a myth, as it ignores the space between stimulus and response. Realizing that can bring us not only a greater range of potential responses, but true freedom in our lives.

As a relatively new bass guitar player, it felt both exciting and terrifying to play in a band with experienced musicians.  I worried that the professionals, after investing so much time and energy and dedicating their career to this pursuit, would feel disrespected.  Who was I to think I was good enough to play with them?   I worried I would ruin the sound, depriving our guests of the delight of hearing really great music.  As a high school cello student, I played in an orchestra far above my skill level.  I reveled in the beauty of the music, and during passages I couldn’t play well I kept my bow an inch above the strings so I wouldn’t create dissonant sounds.  As the only bass guitar in the band, that option wasn’t available. And yes, I worried that I would make a fool of myself.  “She’s awful!” I imagined people whispering.  Yet, the draw of being surrounded by the music I love and being a part of its creation was too much for me to pass up.

Making a mistake was a given – there was no way I could know how to adapt to live musicians who, unlike the YouTube videos I practiced along with, played things differently every time. I knew I would screw up, and probably many times.  And I decided that, in every moment I remembered I had a choice, I would ignore any negative feelings and instead choose joy.

The time came to take the stage along with the band.  Having rehearsed my first song over 100 times, I felt I knew it well.  I looked at my friends in the audience, surveyed my bandmates, and suddenly realized that they had already started playing! Choosing joy, I quickly jumped in and began playing my part, exhilarated to be contributing the Flex3.1.19JOYbeautiful, resonant bass notes to the song.  A short time later, I noticed the pianist motioning to me and realized I had missed the place in the music where the key changes.  I was playing all the wrong notes!  Again, I chose to be amused by my inexperience rather than go down the path of negative self-talk, and chose the joy of learning from this new experience.  Later, I noticed the drummer exaggerate his movement so I would know when to play the last note, rather than coming in at the wrong time as I did during rehearsal.  I chose the joy of feeling supported, enhanced by gratitude for his kindness.

It would be dishonest to say I don’t have feelings of inadequacy, not measuring up, or feeling like a fraud.  We all struggle with those at times.  What has become clear is that, while we have these human feelings, we can choose to put our attention on another feeling instead.  There are so many options available to us – love, awe, curiosity, compassion, contentment – the list is long.  I chose joy.  What will you choose?

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.
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