Your career can take turns outside of your control, and when that happens, you have a choice between taking charge of the situation or allowing yourself to get knocked down. In this episode of Career Relaunch, Anne Lipton a former neurologist & dementia specialist turned writer & speaker discusses doing what you love, not just what you know and embracing the idea of stepping off the beaten path in your career. I also share some thoughts on how allowing your career to evolve can open up exciting, meaningful new doors in your professional life.
Key Career Insights
- When life throws you an unexpected twist in your career, you always have a choice about how to make the most of the situation and embrace the change.
- You are braver than you may imagine. Career obstacles are a way of testing our limits, and you may be surprised how much you can accomplish if you rise to the challenge.
- Don’t just stick with what you know. Pursue what you love in order to create the most fulfilling story for your career.
Tweetables to Share
- Anne mentioned National Novel Writing Month if you’re looking for a good writing online & offline meet-up community.
- Anne shared the concept of being a Plotter vs. Pantser or as George R. R. Martin explains a Gardener vs. Architect.
About Anne Lipton, Writer & Speaker
Anne Lipton is an MD/PhD Neurologist and dementia specialist who has transitioned from clinical practice and research to writing (fiction and non-fiction). She serves on the medical advisory board for Cariloop, a health-care start-up specializing in helping people make advance and current care plans and find the best in-home and long-term care solutions for elderly loved ones.
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Episode Interview Transcript
Teaser (first ~15s): Going a little bit off the beaten path or just letting something grow and blossom that maybe you didn’t plan along the way, sometimes, that’s where you’ll get your most joy and your most reward.
Joseph: Hello, Anne. Thanks so much for joining us on Career Relaunch. I’m super excited to hear about your work and your life.
Anne: Thank you for having me, Joseph. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Joseph: Just to kick off, can you give us a brief overview of the work that you currently do as a writer and speaker?
Anne: I am mainly working as a writer, and I write mainly fiction at this point in time, a variety of different genres. In the past, I’ve written and published a number of nonfiction, mainly academic books. I do do, occasionally, some academic writing now as well.
I also am a speaker, specifically on the topic of dementia. I also am a member of a medical advisory board for healthcare provider and assistants organization called Cariloop, which helps people who have family members who are needing some sort of in-home or long-term care.
Joseph: Wow, you got a wide range of different experiences and roles right now. Out of curiosity with the fiction writing, can you give us an example of the type of fiction that you write?
Anne: It really runs the gamut from picture books to what’s called adult fiction, which would be something like a mystery writing.
Joseph: I know you weren’t always a writer, and you weren’t always a speaker. You started your career in clinical medicine. I was wondering if you could just go back in time before your days as a writer and a speaker and just tell us a little bit more about your work and what your life was like as a neurologist.
Anne: I was in clinical practice, but I also mainly started my career in academia. I’ve actually had two career transitions. I started out in academic medicine, which would include not only clinical practice but research and teaching. Then later, I was in private practice. My specialty in neurology is dementia and behavioral neurology, so I kind of straddle the worlds of neurology and psychiatry, working not just with patients but also with families, particularly as the disease progressed.
Joseph: You’re the first physician we’ve had on this podcast. You’re also the first neurologist we’ve had. What’s the typical career trajectory for someone in neurology?
Anne: The major two paths are academic, which would be working at medical school or other large medical center, and then private practice in which someone might set up their own clinic or join a group practice.
Joseph: You ultimately decided to walk away from your private practice. I was just wondering if you could take me through what drove that decision for you.
Anne: In a way, my hand was forced a bit, in that we moved from the United States to Ireland. Going abroad, I could not medically practice. I was working on a couple of books at the time and chapters, and I continued to write. It was very unfortunate because I actually had a position that would be privately paid, and so I was simply waiting for certification. At this time, my husband then had accepted a job in Canada. We were in Ireland for almost two years, and I wasn’t able to practice as a physician.
Joseph: What was that like for you to no longer be able to practice the craft that you’d spent so many years training for?
Anne: It was disappointing, especially when I knew that people were waiting so long to see a doctor. I really enjoy helping patients and families and getting to know their stories. I think that’s one thing that led me into writing: I love stories and every patient tells a story. I like to listen to it. By working with people who have dementia and their families, I get to know the person very well. I would usually work with them until the end of their life, and that was just really a special honor and privilege, and I miss helping patients and their families through a difficult diagnosis and adapting to that and trying to maximize and optimize their quality of life and just give them the best life and journey that they could have. As one of my friends said, there’s a lot of green tape, so it’s unfortunate.
Joseph: Then what happened next? Did you think about returning to clinical medicine full time and reopening up a practice when you moved over to Canada?
Anne: I couldn’t practice independently because in Canada, although there is a shortage of specialists, if you’re coming from another country, you have to practice under supervision for two years. The situation as it would’ve been set up would not really have worked very well with my specialty of dementia because I would’ve just been reimbursed for each patient that I saw, and I would’ve had to do a lot of extra work, filling out papers for research. Frankly, a lot of other tasks that I wouldn’t have necessarily been reimbursed for doing.
By that time, I had written my first novel. I really enjoyed writing, and so I would’ve liked to go back to helping patients and families. I don’t want to be working for free. If I’m going to be working for free, then choose what I wanted to do. I really have enjoyed the writing, and I’ve really found the passion for it. I love doing it. Also the speaking and working on the medical advisory board has really helped me reach a lot of people and help a lot of people. Working in the clinic, I can only see one patient, one family at a time.
Joseph: It sounds like the circumstances didn’t really allow you to return to clinical medicine in the way that was going to work for you, so you switched over to an alternative plan, which was the writing and the speaking. How did you start doing that? Because I know a lot of people who they want to get involved in writing, either in a full-time basis or as a way to either express some of their side interest or just because it’s a passion of theirs. How did you start with that?
Anne: I’ve always done some writing, particularly even in medicine. My reports are quite detailed narratives because of the nature of seeing patients with dementia. It’s what we call a clinical diagnosis, and much of the diagnosis is made through the history. I got to hear many, many people’s stories, and I would document these stories. That was part of my medical report. I always enjoyed doing that, and I did other fiction writing as well.
When we moved to Ireland, as I said, I was writing several books. These were dementia-based books and chapters. Being in Dublin, it’s a very inspiring, historic city. Of course, many novelists have come out of Dublin, Ireland, and what else is there to do on a rainy day in Dublin but to write?
There are a number of great online resources. I found a wonderful writing community on Twitter, also some Facebook groups. I’ve actually met some of my critic partners. Critic partners are other writers who write in your genre and they critic your work and they critic theirs. I’ve met a number of them. They live all over the world. Some of them, I’ve actually gone one and met in person, but you don’t necessarily have to to find a compatible critic partner and to find someone likeminded.
I think it’s a bit of inspiration that got me on the path, but it was also where I was, and that was inspiring, what I was experiencing, and then what I made of it. Do what you can with what you have and where you are.
Joseph: What do you think was the toughest part of making this transition from clinical medicine into writing?
Anne: One is just in terms of the schedule. When you’re a busy physician, you’re seeing patients all day, writing prescriptions, doing paperwork, and then it seems like the days sometimes don’t end. You go home, you get paid, and you do more paperwork. Very long hours, very busy, but you have a very structured day. As a writer, you have to be a self-starter, self-motivated, and set your own schedule.
I will tell you, having done both jobs, I often work equally long and equally as hard as a writer, but I don’t have a schedule necessarily like I would patients or someone saying, “Dr. Lipton, your next patient’s here.” It’s up to me to be that self-starter and to be that writer.
Also in terms of going out and getting resources, while there are a number of resources on the internet, in books available locally and writing groups, one has to really reach out for those. It’s a nice background as a doctor and a researcher. I’m very used to researching different topics, so I have a good basis for that, but if someone is starting out and they don’t have that basis of research, that’s a skill you have to learn as a writer as well – how to research.
Joseph: The other thing I was thinking about, as I’m listening to your story here, is at least on the surface, it would seem to me that being a neurologist is very different than being a writer. Has there been anything in particular that has been surprising to you about transitioning into being a writer, having been a neurologist?
Anne: One thing that I guess was surprising is, not too surprising given my personality and what I like, but just how the solitary nature of it would affect me. What I actually found was local writer groups, or there’s a program called NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month, which is actually international, but it’s something that occurs each Novembers. There’s an online community as well as local meet-ups and also just local critic groups and also, as I mentioned, the Twitter community of writers, different writing contests.
I actually joined Twitter so I could participate in some of the different writing contests. It turned out to be very surprising. I joined it to enter writing contests, and I ended up with it becoming so much of a community of fellow writers and friends. I’ve learned so much. It’s been so instructive, but it’s also been very supportive. The bottom line, the answer to the most surprising thing, is how much the social media can teach you and connect you really.
Joseph: It sounds like the writing is working out quite well for you. I just got to ask you this question because it’s been at the tip of my tongue. I know that you mentioned that you really enjoyed your work as a neurologist also. How much do you think about or do you ever think about returning to being a clinical neurologist?
Anne: I do think about it some, in that I really enjoy working with the patients and families, but it’s actually interesting how many people I’ve been able to help through my books, through this healthcare startup, Cariloop, and through my speaking. I’ve been able to reach a lot of people that way without necessarily having to deal with the headaches and hassles of the administrative sorts of tasks, which you can tell from this interview that I don’t enjoy those things.
Joseph: Weren’t your favorite things, right.
Anne: My favorite thing is helping the patients and the families, and it’s actually quite enjoyable to have found a way to channel that goal of helping people and connecting with people and doing that through my writing and my speaking and serving on the medical advisory board.
Joseph: When you look back on you career change, what’s something that you wished you had known that you now know?
Anne: I wish I knew that you’re braver than you think. I was talking with one of my friends, and you can imagine, as a neurologist, I don’t tend to do high-risk activities like motorcycle riding or horseback riding or downhill skiing. Certainly, if I did any of those things, I would wear a helmet. I had mentioned to one of my friends, I said, ‘I’m a risk-adverse person,’ and this is someone who’s known me for many years. She said, ‘Are you kidding?’ She’s like, ‘I think you’re very brave. You went off and you moved.’ I had been to Ireland before we moved there.
Making the choice not to practice as a physician, although I’d been in school for it many years and I’d trained for it for many years, that did require a lot of courage. Some people may still question my decision, but I enjoy what I do. I tell people now to write your passion. Some people say write what you know. I say write what you love because if you love it, then you’re going to really enjoy it, and others, your readers, will get that from your story, that sense of enjoyment. If you enjoy it, you won’t mind researching it. If we all only wrote what we knew, stories would be rather boring. We need to write what we love and what we can imagine, and the rest will follow.
I guess the thing that I would tell my former self is get yourself out there. Be brave. You’re braver than you think you are to try new experiences.
Joseph: Was there any advice along the way that you received that was especially helpful in keeping you on track with this change?
Anne: Some of the best advices, basically to do what’s right for you, and you can’t concern yourself with necessarily the opinions of others or the expectations of others or society or even your own preordained expectations.
Joseph: Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers out there?
Anne: Self-doubt can be part of any creative process. What I would say is you have to embrace that doubt. You have to take it and make it your own and say, ‘How can this doubt make me better in my creative endeavor or whatever it is that I’ve set out to do?’
In writing, we talk about plotters and pantsers or George R. R. Martin who wrote the Game of Thrones series, he talks about gardeners and architects. Gardeners can plant a seed and tend it. They don’t really know what’s going to come out of the ground. Architects might plan things out, but then they have to work with whatever soil that they’re given. No matter how much you plan, sometimes, you run into things unexpectedly.
As writer, one thing that’s really good to learn is, no matter how much you plan something out, let yourself go where the character takes you, where the story takes you, because sometimes, it’s following them down that rabbit hole that will lead you to the most important breakthroughs in your story.
I would give that advice to any aspiring writer or person: to go off that beaten path. Plan what you can and tend your garden, but sometimes, the reward for going a little bit off the beaten path or just letting something, an idea or an action, grow and blossom that maybe you didn’t plan along the way, sometimes, that’s where you’ll get your most joy and your most reward.
Joseph: Just to wrap up, let’s talk about what you’re doing right now. I understand you’re on the medical advisory board for the healthcare startup that you mentioned earlier. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Anne: Cariloop is a healthcare startup that is devoted to helping family members find care for their loved ones, especially elderly loved ones, who may have needs for care in the home, which might actually help to keep them at home or have needs for long-term care or even to move out of their home to receive care. The idea of Cariloop is to provide people with a care coach who can help them with all different features of care, whether that’s joining a support group for an illness, finding care in the home.
A lot of people aren’t aware of the resources that are out there, so Cariloop is really to try to help people with accessing the resources easily and saving them a lot of time and hassle and headache. It’s also for people who just want to plan care for the future. That’s something that a lot of us don’t think about. It’s rolling out and based in Dallas, but the hope is that it will spread beyond Dallas. Many people have used it who live beyond the environs of Dallas as well.
It’s very exciting to me because, again, it gets back to the idea of helping people, helping them live the best life that they can and trying to reduce stresses and burdens, especially on caregivers.
Joseph: Speaking of resources and speaking of caregivers, I know that you’ve written quite a few books on dementia and Alzheimer’s, including The Common Sense Guide to Dementia for Clinicians and Caregivers, which I saw. I was looking at the Amazon reviews. I know one geriatric care manager called it, ‘By far the best and most useful book for caregivers on dementia.’ We’ll capture that in the show notes also.
Thanks so much, Anne, for sharing your career change journey from medicine to writing, giving us a glimpse into your transitions, and also just reminding us of the importance of allowing yourself to go off the beaten path. Thanks so much for your time today.
Anne: Thank you, Joseph.