Episode 10: Nancy Snyderman Notes

Today, we talk with Dr. Nancy Snyderman- the keynote speaker for our live SpelLife Event on April 2, 2022. Get your tickets here! Dr. Snyderman started her medical career as a pediatrician for a short period of time. Then, she became a board-certified head and neck surgeon. She combined her academic medical life with a parallel career as a medical journalist. For more than 30 years, she worked for ABC and NBC, presenting on Good Morning America, 2020, Today, and NBC Nightly News. She has traveled the world, meeting and treating people close and far away, telling complicated scientific stories on television to millions of people in the early evening hours. Then, shortly after her 60th birthday, she decided to move away from medicine and redefined and re-imagined the purpose in her life--- which she calls “the third third”.

 

  • What does “the third third” mean?

    • I think life is divided into 3 big buckets

      • You grow up and have your career and your family

        • Everything is devoted to propelling your career or raising your children

      • Then the kids are launched, and you must figure out how to live with this significant other or by yourself

        • What does it mean now that the “reproductive work” is done?

      • Then, you come to a certain point in your life where you realize there is nothing else to accomplish

    • I’ve always believed that if your life isn’t interesting, the burden falls on you to change it

      • Once you’re stalled, you have to have a remedy- that’s the time I call “the third third”

        • When there’s still a significant amount of time in your biological life to have a life, but perhaps it’s something different than you’ve done before

  • Finding a new purpose

    • For Nancy, that was Montana

      • Went to Montana, drove around and found a property

      • Applied for her Montana Medical License

      • Then, COVID started

        • Became a rural health-public health doctor with surgical skills

  • So, you took something you were unconsciously competent at and you repurposed it—talk to us a little about what that looked like over COVID?

    • When my media star started to rise, people said she should just quit medicine and just be in television

      • I always knew I was going to be a doctor and the broadcasting complemented my career in surgery

    • Corresponding made me a better communicator, but being a doctor gave me the validity to have a public voice

      • That thread of medicine was important as a basis for my redefinition

  • Was buying the property in Montana off the cuff? Or had you been thinking of this for a long time?

    • I have a strength and a weakness that wraps around being “impetuous”

    • The world as I had known it—I had aged out of being a prominent head and neck surgeon

      • I always knew I would have an exit strategy for myself

      • Television ended earlier than I thought, I tumbled out of a controversy after ebola

      • Having worked for two huge “motherships”, I knew I needed a radical departure to find myself

        • I needed to extricate me from anything that was familiar to me

        • So, I moved out to Montana without knowing anyone

  • Back to being in the media, how did that start?

    • I was a chief resident at the University of Pittsburgh and was doing a tonsillectomy

      • At that time, we were very interested in whether every kid needed this procedure (which was routine)

        • We realized that we were operating on kids unnecessarily

      • A local media team came into the operating room and wanted to talk to a doctor. My chief didn’t want to talk to them, so I went.

    • I moved to the University of Arkansas for my first real job and gave my tapes to some local stations and ended up with ABC. Everything spread from there!

  • Do you ride horses? How did you get around horses?

    • I’ve always loved horses, but my dad wouldn’t let me ride

    • After medical school and residency, I bought a horse and have been riding ever since

    • I always said to my kids to keep them in the moment:

      • If at the end of the day, you haven’t recognized that you’ve seen something new and registered it, smelled something, or heard something—you probably just didn’t take any time during the day to stop

        • Visual, auditory, and olfactory senses should register something daily

        • These are my daily gifts

  • You talked about being in slump. Tell us a little bit about the positives of being in a slump and how you got out of that?

    • My identity changed as I stepped away from being a surgeon or being in the media

    • When you depart from things that give you value, you have to have the hard conversations with yourself

    • Every January 1, I write down 5 things in my calendar that I think serve as good guideposts for redefining a life

      • They have to do with spirituality, adventure, creativity, grace, and attitude

      • What can I do to make this “third third” different? Make me a better person?

  • How did these things get you ready for your future and rediscovering yourself?

    • I was a great surgeon and at the top of the heat in the media

    • You have to acknowledge your strengths if you want to tweak the things you don’t love as much

    • Television and the surgical arena was full of people with sharp elbows

      • Now, as I was extracted from these areas, my sharp elbows weren’t as fun to hang out with so I started to look at life differently

    • I went back to my 5 guiding principles and I thought—which ones have I lost?

    • I don’t think it helps any of us to dwell on the past for too long

      • Dwell, learn from them, incorporate them for the future

      • You cannot change yesterday

  • What are some things you do on a daily basis that remind you of these 4 or 5 contexts that you’re going to build your life around?

    • The visual of light when the sun rises in my front yard grounds me for the day

    • There is something so spiritual about knowing that that sun has been gracing these plains for millions of years and my job is to be a steward in my short life

      • This gives me great appreciation

      • Mother Nature gives me a great start to my day

    • Previously, when I woke up—I would first turn on the news or prep for surgery

      • The sun now gets to see me before the television sees me

    • For every woman, find something that gives you grace at the beginning of the day

      • Recognize your place in the universe, and give thanks for just being here

    • Important to continue to expand your whole life

  • For women, can you tell us the guiding principles for “the third third”?

    • The first principle: find something that makes you want to put your pants on every day

      • Your life has to give you some value

      • It’s going to be different for everyone, but each person has more thread on that spool that we give ourselves credit for

      • Having a purpose is so important in your wellness and your outlook

        • The real push for older people—surround yourself with people who are not your age!

        • Transgenerational stories connect us

    • Then decide, do you really want to jump in and do it?

    • We all want to be part of a community- as WE define it

      • It can be big or small

      • Every woman when she finds it will know, because there is an extraordinary sense of self-satisfaction

  • What do you think is significant, out of COVID, going forward that will stay with us?

    • I think the rat race of jumping on planes and having to be every place and person will change

    • In medicine, we’re watching a huge burnout 

      • It’s because this next generation wants a work-life balance in a way that hasn’t been previously defined

      • This isn’t “The Great Resignation” because people are lazy

        • People are exhausted from this dark two years

        • Upon us to find these happy moments that give us purpose

      • How do we give people the desire to want to stay in the system?

  • Where does health fit in to this?

    • It’s always easier to prevent a problem than it is to treat it

      • Health starts with raising your kids

        • Always have an avenue open for kids to come to you when times are tough

        • Give good building blocks

      • The idea of preventative health

      • Own your age

      • Have fun!

        • Risk: benefit ratio

        • When crap happens, you deal with it

    • Part of being an elder is to listen, take in new information from those who are younger and value it; and to then be a sounding board of wisdom when someone comes to you with a problem

    • There are a couple of stages in life:

      • We listen a lot when we are young students

      • We find our voice when we are young, middle-aged professionals

      • We lose the ability to listen again

        • When you listen and don’t do all the talking, you get wiser

        • There’s no reason you can’t get wiser later in your life

    • You have to know what you don’t know!

  • What kind of advice would you give Gaynell and I that might help us in our next 10-15 years? (we are past our mid-50s)

    • Are you happy in what you’re doing now?

      • If so, keep doing that!

    • Every podcast, do a post-mortum:

      • What did we like and didn’t like?

      • How can we make it better?

      • Is there a different avenue we want to pull in?

      • If none of these are true, then you are in a great steady state!

    • Have fun!!

      • There should be something every day that makes you laugh or smile.

  • If the audience could leave with one tidbit from today, what would it be?

    • Don’t overthink or overanalyze your day today:

    • But, by the time you put your head on the pillow tonight, think: Did I smell something that was wonderful? Did I hear something that gave me pause? Did I see something that was a visual treat?

      • If you didn’t see or hear or smell something that made you stop for a moment, then I would argue that you went too fast today

      • Be cognizant of your surroundings to take in these little moments, because they make up the great gifts that are given to human beings