Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Little fish, big pond: I’m in over my head at a new job. I’m 28 and started about a month ago in my first managerial role. I’ve worked in health care before, on the “care” side. Now I’m dealing with the complex worlds of business and IT as they pertain to getting a new care program started at a large hospital system. I’m doing a lot of things I’ve never done before, and I’ve already made a few embarrassing mistakes.
Many of the people I am expected to collaborate with on this project have jobs I’ve never even heard of before! A lot of the discussion is like a foreign language to me, and while I ask a lot of questions, I can tell people are catching on to my being out of my league. What’s worse is the person who interviewed me and promised to support me in the new role left their job my first week here.
This is the best-paying job I’ve ever had, and I believe I can get the program up and running like I was hired to do—I just think it’s going to be a messy learning process. What’s the best way to proceed with my colleagues to avoid further humiliation when I’m not up to their speed? Is it worth sticking out this job (it’s a three-year program) in hopes that I’ll learn and do better in the next?
A: I feel like your options here are 1) ask questions and reveal that you’re in over your head, or 2) make mistakes and stay permanently confused and unable to carry out your work functions, thereby revealing that you’re in over your head. I vote for Option 1! After all, you’re still new enough that you can get away with a lot of this.
Can you find one person, either at your workplace or in a similar role somewhere else, who can be a sounding board for all of your most embarrassing questions? How about setting up a meeting with the goal of getting a good overview of how things work and who does what, and filling in some big gaps in your knowledge? This, combined with Google, should set you up pretty well to avoid needing to ask questions of everyone you interact with. But when you do have to ask some questions, remind yourself that you’re new and that the person who was supposed to support you left, so this isn’t your fault. At the end of the day, no one will care as long as you gather enough information to eventually get the job done.
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Q. Pleasant patient: How does a doctor decide whether they call a patient “pleasant” in their reports? I suffered a major injury a few years ago, and have needed a few reconstructive surgeries. I will likely need more in the future. I’ve found a surgeon who I think is excellent, aside from one thing.
Every other doctor who has treated me so far describes me in their reports as “pleasant.” My surgeon does not, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. I’m on time, friendly, polite, I defer to his expertise instead of coming armed with my own ideas of what might be wrong, and I follow his treatment plans. He seems warm and friendly; he doesn’t seem to dislike me, yet I don’t warrant a “pleasant”!
It took my last foot surgeon one year, two months, and three days after he performed surgery to describe me as “pleasant,” so maybe I have to wait? I think about this every hour of every day. What can I do? Should I ask him? Do you have any doctor readers who may be able to offer input?
A: Maybe doctors reading this will weigh in, but I quickly poked around and was told that the use of “pleasant” to describe patients is a habit of older doctors—sometimes done just for the benefit of patients who will read their notes. So if yours is younger, he might be of the more modern belief that this kind of subjective description is useless or inappropriate.
But we really don’t know! I’m concerned that you’re fixated on this and that it’s so troubling to you. After all, if your surgeon found you unpleasant, so what? He did an excellent job on your surgeries, even if he hated you. All is well. The fact that this is taking such a toll on you is, to me, enough to justify seeing a therapist to explore the patterns of thinking that are behind your obsession with something that ultimately hasn’t harmed you at all. You definitely don’t deserve to be suffering like this over something that a virtual stranger didn’t choose to write in his notes, for whatever reason.
Q. Stuck in the suburbs: My husband is a good man and I love him. He loves me unconditionally, he supports my goals, and he’s always compassionate to others. But he’s neurodiverse and that makes things difficult for me. When we first got together, he masked so well I had no idea until we left our hometown. I realized his neurodiversity impacted his ability to function. I thought once we got married, he’d be on my insurance and go to the doctor. He’s had issues with every health professional so far. He self-medicates, which helps some, but it’s not enough. I feel like I’m the only adult in the relationship. It’s hard to talk to him about these things because then he feels ashamed. I’ve noticed that all of his neurodiverse quirks tend to be my pet peeves. I feel like I’m obligated to help him because he left our hometown to follow my career. He can’t go back because it’s not a legalized state. I work full-time and am a graduate student. He’s a homemaker but his neurodiversity prevents him from keeping up with the home. I feel like my life is a mess. I don’t enjoy things anymore. I feel like I’m taking care of a child. I also feel like a bad person for feeling this way. I’m doing my best but it’s all getting to me. I don’t know what to do anymore.
A: I don’t want to scold or shame you, but I think you made a classic mistake: marrying someone with the hope or expectation that they would change. Beyond that, your letter leaves some big, important questions unanswered: How does your husband feel about being neurodiverse? What is his relationship to his quirks? Does he have a problem with them, or is he comfortable and happy the way he is? Does he have an issue with the way traditional medications make him feel? Basically: Does he want to change, or is the desire for change mostly coming from you?
If you’re the only one who’s really bothered and wants him to behave differently—or even if you simply care a lot more than he does—you might have to face the fact that you married someone whose behavior you really don’t like. This will likely lead to the end of the marriage and require you to support him as he gets on his feet. If he wants to get help—either because his quirks bother him a lot, too, or because he feels neutral about them and wants to stay happily married to you—you should let him know how urgent it is that he commit to working with a health professional and dedicate himself to his treatment.
Q. Pool rules: I have a set of 16-year-old boy-girl twins who love swimming, are on their school swim team, and enjoy our backyard pool. My daughter has taken to swimming topless in our pool. The pool is secluded on our property and nobody from the outside can see, so that’s not an issue. She says she does it because it’s “comfortable” and doesn’t think it’s a big deal. She swims topless even when her brother joins her, and my niece, who sometimes comes over, has joined her in this.
I’ve tried talking to the girls about swimming topless with the opposite sex, but they say it isn’t a big deal because “He’s my brother/cousin.” When I talk to my son about it, he says the same thing. When they have other friends over, the girls wear tops, but when it’s just my son, daughter, and their cousin, the girls go topless. I know in some parts of the world this isn’t a big deal, but it is here. I’m not sure how I should handle this. Please help.
A: I love your open-mindedness but these aren’t foreign exchange students from some other part of the world—they’re your children, who were raised in your home! So you don’t have to consider international cultural norms when you make your decision—you only have to decide what’s comfortable for you and safe for your kids. If you truly feel uncomfortable with this, for whatever reasons, it’s fair as a parent to implement a “We wear swimsuits in the pool” house rule. But it sounds like you are kind of on the fence and not adamantly against it. So I’d let them do what they want. I’m encouraged by the fact that they’ve let you know that they’ve thought about it and enforced a clear boundary: nudity only around family. All the kids involved are comfortable. It’s obviously not sexual or weird to them. There’s no indication that anyone is being abused or objectified. It’s unusual, but I think you can let it go.
Q. Re: Little fish, big pond: I’ve been there! The IT people, at least, are not judging you nearly as much as you fear—they’re very, very used to working with nontech people, or at least, they should be. I’m successful in my position and career now, but when I started, I was completely over my head.
Write down terms you don’t recognize and Google them later, when you can. Identify who you work with who answers questions “well”—in terms you understand, or are good at making things make sense. Ask them for clarification on things privately, instead of taking up meeting time with it (MANY people will appreciate this!). Try not to get too bogged down in the details; you don’t need a ground-level understanding of technical specs, just a medium-level one to know who to go to for which questions when things arise.
If you stay friendly and polite, people won’t mind helping you learn as you go. Just make sure you spread it around (i.e., if you know IT Guy A is slammed with something, wait a few days and ask things all at once, or if Business Guy B has already spent an hour or two with you that week, hold off before going to them again, etc.).
You’ll get there, everyone has to start somewhere!
—Liberal Arts Major With a Surprise Career in Tech
A: I especially like the idea of identifying one person who explains things well, and asking them in private. And the advice to be conscious of how much of their time the letter writer is taking up is really good. Since this designated question answerer will be doing a bit of extra work, make sure to express gratitude and see how you can support them in return. Or at least throw in a Starbucks card!
Q. Re: Little fish, big pond: Talk to your manager. Tell them you need orientation and training, and get both outside of meetings with the people you’re trying to serve.
The person who was supposed to train you left—someone needs to pick up that task. Asking questions is great but you should ask your manager or whoever is supposed to train you. And they should have given enough background so as to not be completely lost in these meetings. They dropped the ball, but you’ve got to let them know so they can fix it.
A: This is a very good idea, and something I wish I’d thought of in my original response. It really is not the letter writer’s fault that they’re lost, and their manager or whoever is in charge should want them to be prepared to do a good job. Letter writer, I imagine you’re worried that you should know some of these things without training, but you were hired based on your qualifications, so unless you lied or stretched the truth about your background, you have nothing to be ashamed of and deserve to learn the ropes.
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Q. Re: Pleasant patient: Doctor reader here. Please, please do not take this personally. This is so petty that I cannot tell you how insignificant it is. It’s like hoping that a biography author will describe your hero as “nice” and then getting upset that that specific adjective wasn’t used. In medicine, “pleasant” is a filler word and means pretty much nothing (and definitely nothing of clinical significance); it’s the medical equivalent of a store clerk asking someone “How are you?” Think of it as your current surgeon dispensing with the pleasantries (if you will) and just getting down to business in their notes.
A: “Dispensing with the pleasantries” is a perfect way of putting it. Thanks!
Q. Re: Pleasant patient: M.D. here. Please don’t give this another moment’s thought. I think this has more to do with the personal writing style of your doctor than with either your behavior or his feelings towards you. I don’t generally describe patients as “pleasant” no matter how much I like them, unless their behavior is relevant to my clinical assessment (it’s not their job to make my life pleasant!). I do, however, start my letters with “I had the pleasure of evaluating Mr./Ms. X,” no matter how the appointment went—it’s just the way I set up my letter template long ago.
A: I like your style!
Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’re out of time. Thanks for the help and insight—especially from our doctor friends—and I’ll talk to all of you next week.
From How to Do It
I’m a man who just turned 33. When I was younger, my tastes generally trended older—I dated someone for many years who was more than a decade older than me, and I would regularly date people in their 30s when I was in my 20s. As I enter my 30s, however, I’ve noticed that I surprisingly have developed an interest in people who are much younger. I’m dating someone on an open basis around my age, but when it comes to conquests I have found myself seeking out people in their early 20s, and I recently have had a regular thing with someone who just turned 19. Some of my friends are skeeved out by this, and I am also a little surprised by the way my tastes are changing, but I feel it is what it is. (For what it’s worth, I’m still attracted to people older than me, but they’re no longer my primary interest.) Is there some reason to be worried? What should I say to people who seem to judge? I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, but other people seem really sensitive about it.