Some Rambling Existential Thoughts

Pritpal S Tamber

March 17, 2018

On how things are going well and not going well, scribbled on the way back from a week in the US

Economy class. Virgin Atlantic. London calling. Kendrick Lamar, All the Starz. Tune.

I’m exhausted. It’s been a good week, in hindsight, but it was punishing as I went through it. The London to (US) west coast trip is plain brutal on the body. You arrive exhausted and spend the week trying to function knowing full well that all cylinders are not firing. I’m hoping the cylinders will shut down for the flight back. I hate red eyes. I’ve had some whisky in the airport in the hope that it sends me off.

It’s an odd time. As we set to release our 2018 report it’s clear to me that our work is getting more recognition. But in the background there remains the existential angst of not knowing how to fund it. Do I chase consulting gigs knowing full well that what we’d be asked to do is not quite what we want to do? Or do we suck it up on the basis that it’s the thin edge of the wedge, the way in to something more aligned with what we want to do? I don’t know. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

I met the US’ Surgeon General, Dr Jerome Adams. What a nice chap. He was genuinely interested in our work and asked for the new report. I’m well aware that it’s his job is to be nice and that his interest is unlikely to be of material importance but still, it’s nice to be momentarily recognised by those tasked with finding solutions for the huge challenges facing the future of health.

I think the one thing that I enjoyed about this trip was finding a new edge to our narrative. Pushing the message that more authentic community engagement is actually the way to find a new approach to health is satisfying. It took me a while to work that into the slides that I presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Community Health Improvment (ACHI). My co-founder worked it into the 2018 report with ease (she’s more clear on these things than I am) so finding a way to get to it in the slides felt good. And it seemed to resonate with the audience.

I have to say that I’m seriously impressed with Julia and Ashley of ACHI. The two of them seem to do everything, and always with smiles on their faces. Serious talent. It’s so good to work with talented people. It makes you feel that more is possible, that we actually can make the proverbial dent. It feels good to engage with people like that.

I can’t help feeling a fraud, though, when I present my work. It’s not because I don’t believe in what I’m doing. It’s more that I know that I may need to stop tomorrow. C’est la vie for start ups, of course, but I feel there’s something disingenuous about the bloke on stage presenting certainty and encouraging action while being (not so) secretly mired in doubt and paralysis. I guess I should get over it. Our Art Director, Richard, worked hard on the report on the basis that it might be the catalysis to the next phase of work. Let’s see if he’s right. Again, it’s good to be surrounded by talent.

The one thing that’s stayed with me, though, is chatting with Erin of the Fake Equity blog. I’ve been toying with the idea of developing executive education from my work. The idea is that health care’s c-suite are the ones with the power so the more we can shift them, the better. Erin was quick to point out that me selling to them was just another closed circle of privilege, especially as what I’d be selling is based on what people without privilege have shared with me. I’d be yet another extractive force in a world already brimming with inequitable, extractive forces.

It’s interesting how easy it is to be the douche you’re trying so hard not to be.

Amid all my self-doubt is the ongoing realisation of how utterly amazing it is to be doing the one thing you want to do. Sure, I’m tired of earning so little and having to adjust my lifestyle accordingly, but every now and then I look in the mirror and say, “Really? You’re doing this, you’re actually doing this”. Today, after the keynote I actually looked in the mirror and said, “Well done”. I do that rarely, but I should do it more. I’ve done well. It’s ok to say that out loud.

I don’t know where all this is going and how I’ll sustain it. But, for now, it’s the weekend. The whisky is settling in. We’ve taken off. Tomorrow, London. Monday, Berlin for the week. Perhaps the week after that I’ll find a real job.

But I hope not.

Me chewing the fat with the US’ Surgeon General (he’s the one in the uniform) who seemed genuinely interested in our work

Pritpal S Tamber

I’m a doctor who trained as a medical editor and publisher and now researches and consults on the link between community power and health equity. My interest in community power started when I was the Physician Editor of TEDMED and is explained in My Perspective. I also work as a freelance medical editor and publisher for organisations that want to write high-quality articles and a strategy for their publishing and promotion. Find out more on my About page.

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