You can do this. We use these words to find the courage to face overwhelming tasks – those things that fill us with doubt and fear. We use these words to strengthen each other, affirming our faith in the abilities and capacity we can see in our peers. And these are the words I spoke to my daughter, as I tried to reach through the phone to comfort and encourage her, so she could give herself a shot of epinephrine for the first time on her own.
She knew what to do. She was well prepared. She had practiced with her auto-injector trainer countless times. She knew she had to do it. Her throat was closing and she was struggling to breathe. But still, she was afraid. She feared the pain, but perhaps more significantly she feared the thought that she might fail. The importance of the task threatened her ability to act, as a visceral level of self-doubt bubbled into her mind. She began to question whether she was making the right choice, and if she would be successful. She worried she might hesitate or miss. She was scared of the unknown as well as the known sequelae.
My teenaged daughter needed support from me on that day. When she called, I quickly concluded my data analysis team meeting, tossed my laptop into my shoulder bag, and spoke to her with all the coolness I could muster as I silently panicked inside. I put my phone on speaker mode, driving to meet her while talking her through her fear. The ambulance would beat me to her. She would be fine. But she needed me – she needed to hear that I had confidence in her knowledge, her judgment, and her skill.
We all encounter tasks that feel so big, so important, that we can hardly move. We become skilled in avoidance strategies, or unconsciously convert our fear into edginess or anger. We may cry. And occasionally we reach out to others for support. We do not expect anyone to do the task for us, or coach us, or give us advice. We just need someone to say You can do this. You've got this. I believe in you.
Through experiences like this one with my daughter, I’ve realized the power of these words. And I’ve found that in our professional lives, too, we frequently need this level of support, even though the many daunting tasks we face are usually not life threatening. We may have all the knowledge, tools and abilities necessary to tackle a project, but we need that voice from somewhere to say You can do this. In fact, we should practice saying these four words to ourselves often enough that we can begin to believe them. We should remind ourselves that we have trained for these tasks. We are prepared in everything we require to accomplish our goals.
A challenge of equal importance is for us to say these four words to each other. Find the colleague who, despite her great ideas, is paralyzed by fear or overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Find the colleague who may appear strong and accomplished, but inwardly wrestles with self-doubt. Each of us needs to do our part to help our fellow women reach our potential and exceed our self-imposed limitations. I know you can. You've got this.
Dr. Megan Peters is an Assistant Professor at OUHSC College of Medicine in the department of Pediatrics and serves as the Training Director for the Oklahoma Interdisciplinary Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and related Disabilities (OKLEND) program. Prior to her faculty appointment at OUHSC, Dr. Peters provided physical therapy services for children with disabilities in Putnam City schools, chaired the PT/OT department and coordinated assistive technology for the district. She is the proud mother of three children.