My Darkest Teacher

We have plenty of opportunities, personally and professionally, to experience dark times. We have patients that we lose who we never forget — individuals who touch us very deeply. We do demanding work day in and day out, and because we’re human, sometimes that means that we fall, fail, or make a mistake. Some of us have been sued and had to go through the challenging experience of litigation. As clinicians, we all experience hardship and struggle; it’s just part of being human.

However, just because something changes you forever, it doesn’t mean it has to leave you broken. We can learn from our darkest moments and put those learnings to their best purpose. Just as positive experiences can provide value to one’s life, our darkest moments shape us and help us learn and grow. It is not without reason that negative experiences stay with us so easily; it’s an evolutionary trait to prevent them from happening again. However, what began as a survival instinct can easily swallow us with guilt and misery, making it vital to understand, learn, and rise from dark times.

To achieve this, I’d like to share a four-step process that will help you understand and push through those dark moments in your life:

  1. Identify the dark event. Think of the moments, the days, the experiences that have been incredibly difficult for you. Something that has stayed with you or haunts you. As we go through this process, I will use the example of being sued for malpractice.
  2. Ask yourself: What did I learn?  When you think back, see if you can find one thing that you learned during that difficult time in your life. In the malpractice example, what you learned might be that litigation is incredibly time-consuming, intensive, exhausting, consuming, and painful.
  3. Connect what you learned and how the experience shaped who you are today. Think about how the most difficult moments in your life changed who you have become. How it changed how you interact with people, treat patients, and value friendships. Big pivots and growth in our lives emerge from the darkest of moments where things didn’t turn out the way we hoped, and we get a chance to reflect on what we learned.
  4. Name what you did to pull through. Once you have thought about your dark moment and what you learned from it, connect it with a trait, a characteristic, or a resource that helped you get through it. Continuing with the malpractice example, perhaps the thing that helped you get through the lawsuit was the support of your partner, and appreciating how important they are to you. Maybe it was reaching out to a counselor or therapist to get help, and learning it is okay to not be okay and raise your hand for support.

You may have noticed that I said “opportunity” when referring to experiencing hard times. These moments will be life-changing, challenging, and possibly heartbreaking. But, in those moments, you must keep in mind that it is ultimately an opportunity to grow, learn, and become a better version of yourself. The hope is to keep yourself from sinking into despair and instead look up and see the strength that will come from the moment you’re in.

When you’re in dark times, how do you respond? Let us know in the comments below or on Linkedin or Twitter. 

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