Nelson Mandela brought to light a lovely South African word: ubuntu. It has several translations, according to Wikipedia. But basically it means “I am, because of you.” It’s the idea of human kindness. A feeling that we are all connected.
Connection is my touchstone. My mantra. My core.
So naturally when you tell me about ubuntu, I’m in!
In my TEDx talk, I shared how connection has played a role in why I went into medicine and got through life-altering burnout. What always puzzles me is how we can forget that connection piece.
For example, when we are seeing a patient who is angry about something outside our control (the traffic, their insurance, the weather) and we find a hard time finding neutral ground.
Or when we’re talking with the internet service company (again!) about why our network is down and how it’s kind of critical that we be online that day to serve our people.
Or when an unexpected outcome happens (a biopsy comes back positive for cancer; a young friend dies tragically) and we are pulled up short, wondering that age old question: why?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and find ourselves in the land of burnout when we forget about connection.
Our brains are hard-wired for connection, so much so that a species’ brain size can be predicted by the size of its social group.
So what can we do after we fall down the rabbit hole of disconnect and burnout? How can we bring ourselves back with connection?
Here’s how to make a comeback after burnout:
- Stay in your rabbit hole long enough to honor the crappy outcome: the biopsy, the death, the heartache. You must feel it and lean into it to get beyond it.
- Analyze how connection can help in this particular situation. Do you bond with that patient because she reminds you of your great aunt? Can you share your compassion with the family of the young friend who passed away?
- Take action that matters. Hug your patient with the bad biopsy report. Write or call the family of your loved one who died. Get uncomfortable for their sake.
- Comfort yourself. It sucks when we have to give or receive bad news. Be kind to yourself.
- Look for others who are hurting and share these steps with them.
As you go through your week, as you look into the eyes of others, remember that sweet new word you just learned: ubuntu. I am, because of you.
I’d love to hear your stories of connection. After all, it’s why we’re here. Please share in the comments below.