The magic of patterns

The thing about patterns is that once we notice them, we can’t pretend they don’t exist. When the same things keep happening over and over again, it’s impossible to un-see them. Our brains are wired this way.

For instance, I know that when I have important, yet boring work to do, I’m easily distracted and procrastinate by cleaning my house and surfing the Internet. I also have a restless leg problem: it’s always worse if I don’t get enough physical activity during the day. And if I don’t regularly spend time doing creative work I feel depressed and irritable.

As a nurse, I’ve learned to see patterns in other people –  like risk factors, signs and symptoms of disease and adverse reactions to medications – and act on them. For a while, seeing these patterns and managing them was exciting work.

But of course that changed in 2016, when I became a mom and started recognizing patterns about myself and my work that were too painful to ignore.

For years, I worked diligently to become an autonomous, full-time primary care nurse practitioner, but soon after the job of my dreams became my reality, I started to notice things I didn’t like:

  • Most of my appointments didn’t have to be done in-person.
  • A lot of my clinical work could be done by a registered or practical nurse with medical directives –  or artificial intelligence (instead of me).
  • I was spending 10 hours charting from home every week.
  • People were waiting 4 or 5 weeks to get an appointment to see me.
  • People were suffering from mostly preventable health problems.
  • Many people went to the emergency department for non-life-threatening problems that I could have dealt with.
  • Being around many different people day after day was draining.
  • I couldn’t remember everything I needed to know and apply it consistently.
  • I was constantly stressed and terrified to speak up about what I was seeing and how I was feeling.

The worst pattern, the one that hit home, was when I realized that I really didn’t enjoy my work. I dreaded getting up in the morning and longed for weekends, holidays and snow days. That pattern was a hard one to swallow, considering I believed for so long that this was the work I thought I was meant to do.

Here’s the thing: It’s never a good time or the right time to notice patterns about ourselves and our work. Most of us never do it.

And yet, over and over again we see that people who are successful and satisfied by their work are able to let go of expectations of who they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do and embrace who they are and change what they can.

If what you’re doing isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to be honest about what you’re seeing, feeling and hearing – and do something about it.

Noticing patterns is difficult, perhaps the most difficult thing you’ll ever do. But worth it.