This past winter, I submitted my success story at a women’s business conference: How Women Work. It was selected for publication in a charitable book this fall. All proceeds will go to pay for coaching for women who cannot afford it with “the aim to empower them towards a better future for themselves and their families”. This is my second story selected for a charitable publication. You can find the first story here and purchase it here. Here is my success story, graciously edited by the women at How Women Work:
From passion, to freedom to empowering others
If you look at the words on paper: female doctor turned entrepreneur, loving wife, mother of two, and friend to many, then yes, I am successful in the traditional sense.
At the young age of five, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. If I had to define success while growing up, it was finding something I am passionate about in life, learning how to do it and doing it well. It is the “doing it well” that matters the most to me even now. Success is also overcoming obstacles that come my way. I grew up as a first generation Serbian American in Cleveland, Ohio. I first learned to speak Serbian. My parents exposed me to English, so that I could be fluent by the time I started school. For the first two years, I attended an inner city public school. I was so happy at school but sad when we moved as I was a good student. I was in the lead in a reading contest when we left three quarters of the way through my first grade year. However, my parents knew the importance of getting us out of the inner city. Long after we had moved, one of the neighbor boys was shot and killed in the alley behind our former inner city home.
At my new suburban public school, I was shocked when I couldn’t even test into the lowest reading group. I was devastated by the whispers of putting me into the remedial reading group. That reading group carries a label, a label that I felt would have been damaging for me. Fortunately amongst the hushed whispers was also the astonishment at to how high I had scored in math. One teacher had the wherewithal to question why things did not add up. Subsequently, I was placed in the lowest reading group; I remember crying all the way home that day, I was 6 years old. By the time I entered third grade, I had moved up to the highest level.
My parents never discouraged me and their support was invaluable. But unfortunately, they did not know much about the American university system. School guidance counselors and teachers were not much help either. One teacher told me not to apply for Ivy League colleges as I wouldn’t “fit in” as a Midwestern middle class suburban girl – this despite my having the scores to get in. Thankfully “sans” Ivy League education, I got to where I needed to be.
After medical school and family practice residency, I chose to live in Seattle, my beloved rainy city. I fell in love, married, moved away, had a baby, moved abroad, and then had another baby. It was my time in Seattle where I felt at the top of my game (career wise) and truly enjoyed what I did best as a doctor. I delivered babies and took care of the whole family unit. It was a mutually respectful and rewarding relationship. I recall during this time watching an Oprah show about predictors of life happiness. Many of the predictors were about how fulfilled you were by your career. I was fortunate to feel very fulfilled and to have found my passion early in life.
But as you can imagine, when you add two children and multiple moves to the picture, it can become very difficult to sustain the level of practice that was once so fulfilling: delivering babies, taking phone calls in the middle of the night, and getting home late because of that 5 o’clock emergency. This is when my definition of success expanded. I wanted the freedom (of location), the flexibility (to work when it was convenient for me) and better balance. I was weary of the insurance companies dictating the best “care” for my patients, weary of standing behind corporate principles that I didn’t uphold and weary of caring for everyone else’s family but my own. I didn’t want to be the hairdresser who never had time to do her own hair, the mechanic who never had time to maintain her own car or the dentist with the terrible teeth. I wanted to be the family physician who had time for my own and my family’s health and wellbeing.
These were the thoughts that prevailed in March of 2007 when I took one full year off with my son. It was a magical year. For the year, I was a full-time mum to my son Liam. During this time, I also felt successful. Liam and I talked endlessly. I answered questions about the world and told him the most creative fairy tales at night.
Then a friend commented after reading my yearly “Girl’s Health and Beauty Newsletter”, “You write well. You should start your own blog.” The difference words can make. The idea was born to launch my own website and become virtual. I could combine all my passions by providing up to date information as well as provide reassurance for patients anywhere in the world by giving free advice. Many of the patients that I had cared for in Seattle relayed that they had not found a doctor that they trusted in my absence (of 6 years) and many of my expatriate patients would call on me for a second opinion.
I have long been inspired to start my own business. The inspiration comes from having the first practice I joined “fold” and almost go bankrupt after 30 years of being open. We were not taught how to run a business in medical school. Therefore, I spent months researching an internet business and in September of 2010 my website www.expatdoctormom.com was launched. To me this was an even bigger success than becoming a doctor. It took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to learn a new skill. My next success will be to make my website world renowned.
If I had to define success today, I would define it as finding your passion, doing it well and doing it with the freedom and balance that you desire in life. To this I hope to soon add that the ultimate success will be to empower other women to do the same. But, as with my first definition and even now, I expect my definition of success will continue to evolve as I do. Success was not only about finding my passion but has been created by all of my defining moments: becoming a doctor, a wife, a mother and a friend to many. These are equally if not more important to me as career success. In each of these roles, I am imperfectly perfect. And as I learn through my imperfections, I improve. And as far as measuring success goes, growing up it was measured by the achievements along with the dollars at the end of the achievements. I have learned it is not just the dollars or the achievements but so much more which defines and creates success.
Your turn. How do you define success?