Familiarity: The Double Edged Sword to Our Growth

Familiarity is quite simply knowledge of something. That can of course be for better or for worse. I mean, I am familiar with how I feel with my 6am alarm but that doesn’t mean I like it. On the other hand, I am familiar with that wonderful feeling that I have when I take my first sip of morning tea to start the day. The thing is, in order to be familiar with something, you have to experience it repeatedly. What I want to talk about is that sensation of unfamiliarity and how we need to stick with it so that it does become familiar.

Now being a doctor definitely has its downsides. One of those big downsides for me is unfamiliarity. I, along with all the other doctors that go through their medical school placements and then their speciality training rotations will encounter this. For me, it is made all the worse because I am always, unequivocally lacking in my confidence as I start a new training post. So there I am, every 4 months – starting a new unfamiliar training post with no confidence. It is such a pain in the arse and very much a ground hog day experience until I fully quality as a general practitioner – and then, onto Sports and Exercise Medicine!

So let me give you an example; at the end of July, I would walk onto the gastroenterology every ward – a familiar ward, my medical stomping ground, knowing ever little corner of it, the staff, where I can hide my coffee without my being told off my the ward sister (aka the boss). I was comfortable. I was confident and that translated into how I felt about the medicine I practiced. Fast forward into August and I can’t even find my way to the paediatric ward. I don’t know the staff. I don’t know the expectations of me in paediatrics. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a child. I don’t even try and hide my coffee because I’ve spilt half of it down my trousers. So, when I do finally arrive for my first day I am not only late but appear to be incontinent. In short, I was in unfamiliar territory.

As type this I have just finished a week working my 9th week in paediatrics. I can now navigate a babygrow effortlessly having conquered this, the rubix cube of the garment world, I have resuscitated babies and I have dealt with unwell children as part of the paediatric team. I no long wear my coffee on my trousers but in a mug – with its own hiding space. In essence, I am now familiar – and happier for it.

So why am I am talking about familiarity? Well, it’s something that affects us all. It’s also something that grows and evolves with time – and as it does, so often does our confidence, knowledge and application. And that is why we need it! We need unfamiliarity to stretch and unceremoniously push us out of our comfort zone. That, afterall is where we grow. Stay in familiar territory for too long and we stagnate. Nobody wants to stagnate!

My worry however is the period before we feel this confidence and the risk that many of us let our heads drop, let our motivation wain and we quit. I have definitely been there with my career in medicine – constantly taken out of my comfort zone, constantly questioning my ability, and constantly considering leaving medicine. But you know what, every time, and I mean EVERY time, I get through that period of unfamiliarity – and in its wake is familiarity, more confidence and more application. Now of course, yes, like I said in the beginning, it’s not always ‘nice’ familiarity. But you know what, even then I learn how to deal with it – and soon It is no longer a surprise and is an opportunity to adapt and evolve. Afterall if you cant change the situation, change the way you well about it.

I hope that if you are reading this, you to decide to stick with it, to get past that period of unfamiliarity and know that you will get into that familiar zone with progression, knoweldge and application at your fingertips.

And don’t forget – after a while, dip your toe into more unfamiliarity. It’s how we all grow….

Nick

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