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I looked at my life through the lens of an outsider: It looked pretty good. Funding. Presentations. Publications. Great job, and a great family. Check, check, check.

I looked at my life through my own lens, an insider: A mess. Exhaustion. Absent from my closest relationships. Chronically feeling like I was dropping the ball, because I was. Unhealthy. Not enough sleep, or exercise, or joy. Apathy.

This was me, four years ago, before burnout was really something I understood or knew about.

It took me a year of hard work, of establishing boundaries, of saying no, of rearranging my life to get back to my health and my professional joy.

It took me a year of figuring out my new normal, and realizing that part of that was understanding that I needed friends, and other women to support me – and frankly: encouragement.

So I started a group, a small group, with other women like me, to encourage one another.

That group grew. It’s 8,000 strong now…and very, very, powerful.

The funny thing is, this group has immense power. It helps women back on their feet, empowers them to negotiate, helps them navigate parenthood and working in medicine, and gives them an opportunity to amplify their research and work.

And it gets criticism, daily.

I hear “Your group is so flowery and nice”. Or “I hear your group is so positive, it must be fake.”

Or my favorite, as I was discussing with a leader in medicine last week, who told me “Well of course your group is encouraging, encouragement is easy.”

Wait, excuse me?

Encouraging people, truly stepping outside of your own skin and lifting someone else up, regardless of how you feel…is far from easy.

Finding the positive even amidst the negative, is far from easy.

Encouraging someone to be honest with himself or herself, is not easy.

Encouraging someone even though you may not feel encouraged, is not easy.

Encouraging someone to face his or her fears and failures is not easy.

Encouraging someone to try for the promotion, even though the odds are stacked against them, is not easy.

Encouraging someone by giving them tools, things you have learned from your past failures, is not easy.

Encouraging others in the midst of a negative world view, where it is more popular to be critical and tear others down, is, well, not easy.

I am really proud to be part of a group of 8,000 women who do what is hard. Who encourage each other – every day.

Who listen and support, who despite what is going on in their own lives, or despite having the hardest day, stop and offer words to uplift, instruct, and encourage.

It’s far from easy.

But it is the right thing to do.

So the perception of the encouragement is not what matters; what matters is the power that exists when we encourage one another.

And as such, we continue.