Physicians: Stop Complaining and Start Leading

Solve a Problem Like an Entrepreneur and Make Medicine Better

I’m intrigued by the number of articles written about the frustrations of medical practice. It makes for good reading, because it resonates with many physicians. From bloggers writing about maintainance of certification and regulations that are destroying medicine, to articles on KevinMD about burnout, physicians are not shy about complaining. But maybe it’s time to stop complaining and start leading.

If you stop in any hospital doctor’s lounge, you will certainly hear a lot more complaining. We complain about electronic medical records, complicated billing requirements, regulations, lawsuits, the difficulties of running a medical practice or working for a large institution.

stop complaining and start leading whiner

Much of the complaining is warranted. But complaining without taking action is the characteristic of a victim. What we need in healthcare is leadership, not victimhood. And true leaders jump into action and skip the whining part completely.

Complaining Is Not Leading

What does complaining accomplish? For years, I’ve read surveys showing that physicians are unhappy. They’re planning to retire early. Physician numbers should be declining. They won’t recommend a career in medicine to their students or family. Fewer students will choose the medical profession.

But, I don’t see increasing numbers of physicians quitting. Retirement rates have not gone up. The number of medical schools has grown. So has the number of students applying to medical schools.

I’ll admit that physicians are unhappy. If you ask any physician what they don’t like, you’ll get a list of 10 or 20 things that are wrong with “medicine.”

My question is this: What are we going to do about it?

I recently listened to a podcast in which Tim Ferris interviewed Blake Mycoskie. Mycoskie is one of the founders of TOMS, the shoe manufacturer. TOMS is known for donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for each pair that it sells. It has reportedly donated over 75 million pairs since the company was started about eleven years ago.

During the interview, Ferris and Mycoskie discussed their definition of an entrepreneur. Their assessment: A true entrepreneur cannot be made. An entrepreneur is born when she is consumed by a burning desire to solve a problem. All of the entrepreneurial studies courses at ivy league business schools won’t create an entrepreneur without a problem begging to be solved.

 

Physicians Who Identified a Problem and Solved It

The same can be said for physicians and leadership. There is no shortage of possible problems for physician leaders to solve. And rather than complaining, we should step up and fix the problems that are plaguing us. Nothing could be more motivating to an emerging physician leader.

stop complaining and start leading quote

There are many examples of physicians who have done just that:

  • Pamela Wible, a family physician, has taken on the issue of physician depression and suicide. She couldn’t stand by and watch as physician suicides grew to double the rate in non-physicians.
  • Atul Gawande, a surgeon, has taken on the issue of patient safety. As a public health journalist and author, having witnessed all of the preventable medical errors around him, he was inspired to speak and write about the issue.
  • Serafino Garella, a nephrologist, founded the largest free medical clinic in the U.S. He was compelled to address the intense need for care of the poor in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Robert Wachter, an internist, started the hospitalist movement in the United States. He recognized the negative effects of trying to balance an outpatient practice with the increasingly complex care of hospitalized patients and created a solution.
  • Howard Maron, a former Seattle SuperSonics team physician, founded a clinic that introduced what became known as concierge medicine. He was responding to the overwhelming paperwork, lack of control, rushed visits, and unhappy patients he and his colleagues were encountering.

stop complaining and start leading

All of these innovations resulted from physicians identifying a problem, becoming obsessed with solving it, and creating a solution. It took leadership.

Four Reasons to Stop Complaining and Start Leading

I can think of four good reasons why physicians should stop complaining and start leading today:

  1. Eliminate negative self-talk. Complaining is a form of negative self-talk. It only leads to deeper frustration and despair. We think of complaining as the result of unhappy circumstances. But the field of positive psychology has demonstrated that negative self talk increases unhappiness, poor health and anxiety. By eliminating complaining and replacing it with positive self talk and taking action, our optimism and vitality improve.
  2. Improve physician engagement. Physician engagement is at an all time low in many institutions. Stepping up to solve problems will help improve engagement and ultimately the lives of our colleagues and our profession.
  3. Elevate our teams. Taking action will improve our standing, and our work environment. The nurses, radiology technicians, pharmacists and other team members will be inspired by our efforts. Then hospital and medical group executives will welcome our input into solving problems, rather than seeing us as whiners.
  4. Promote healthy communities. Developing a meaningful calling, and devoting ourselves to servant leadership, will improve the health of our communities. How many free medical clinics have been started by courageous physicians taking a leadership role?

Think about the problems that can be overcome if we devote ourselves to addressing them.

The next time you hear yourself complaining to your colleagues, step back for a moment and reflect. Make a commitment to address the issues you’re complaining about. Begin a journey to take control of the situation. Stop complaining and start leading.

Question: What causes would you be excited about? Answer in the Comments below.


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Until next time.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Neville Sarkari

    Agree on all points. Sometimes the “peer pressure” is difficult to overcome in the Dr.’s lounge and it’s too easy to fall into the negative mindset. And of course, in some medical cultures, those who try to lead or make changes can end up ostracized by their colleagues. Hopefully this happens less than it used to…

    • johnjurica@aol.com

      You’re correct, Neville. But as leaders, even if we get sucked into the whining, we can quickly regroup and follow-up with a plan to find a solution to address the issue if we can!

    • John Jurica

      Thanks, Neville. I appreciate your comment. It is difficult to be “a profit in your home town,” and the same applies to being a new leader.

      • An. Onymous

        *Prophet

      • mike

        Hey, John. You need to wake that brain up and do some CRITICAL THINKING my boy.

  • Jess

    I don’t think it necessary to call out colleagues for writing about problems they see. It spurs discussion and recognition that can lead to change. The assumption that they are just “complaining” when trying to bring attention to issues is inherently negative and hypocritical.

  • Melissa Phillips

    Dr. Jurica, In my experience, there are many passionate and positive physicians taking the lead in improving the field of medicine. In FACT, Dr. Meg Edison has been heavily involved in organized medicine for over 5 years as a delegate to the Michigan State Medical Society, including serving as a chair of Health Policy committee. She has written 6 MOC related resolutions and 1 Direct Primary Care resolution that have been adopted and are official policy. The DPC resolution is now state law. She attended the AMA HOD and defended 2 of MOC resolutions, one referred to the board and one was adopted without any changes. Her work has CHANGED AMA POLICY on MOC. Countless days away from the office to travel to our capitol to testify on behalf of the medical society. If this is not demonstrative of excellent physician leadership, then please by all means, share the initiatives you are working on, on a state and national level to elevate the field of medicine.

    • Bernadette Jose

      Thank you very much for your defense of our colleague and physician leader, Meg Edison. I don’t understand how “naming and shaming” the very physicians who are trying to maintain the integrity in our field as “complainers” is making any move towards positive change. I respect the people mentioned in the article as physicians leaders who are willing to stake their professional reputation on mainitaining our calling. Kusdos to them.

  • An. Onymous

    Seriously? Because someone calls out a problem, they aren’t taking steps to solve it? The first order of business when attempting to solve a problem is to accurately identify the problem. If one person sees a problem, it would seem imperative to compel discussion to discuss and accurately assess what the problem actually is. Perhaps the problem isn’t as pervasive as initially thought. Maybe there is a more deep-rooted problem that must be ferreted out. Without honest and open discussion, it would be foolhardy to proceed in attempts to single-handedly “solve” a perceived problem. I think it is perfectly acceptable to openly discuss these problems. I’m not sure why you feel they shouldn’t. I’m not sure why I couldn’t post using my name, but I’m happy to share that–It’s Julia Rygaard.

  • Dawn Linn

    Apparently your idea of complaining = not doing. Maybe you’re too disillusioned by medicine to really see the problems that we, as physicians, face regularly. I guess going up against large insurers and state legislatures doesn’t fit into your idea of “start leading.” I certainly didn’t see you visiting multiple state medical societies and making giant steps in changing AMA and state policies on MOC. It’s just easier for YOU to complain about doctors “complaining.” I’m still trying to figure how your so-called solutions are less than a generalized self-help book. Maybe you should realize that the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” exists because people saw a problem and sought an actual solution. I guess you aren’t fond of people finding problems but would rather we just stick our heads in the sand. Perhaps you define your little piece as “self-reflection” but it’s just another way to whine (A.K.A. complain) about what others are doing and you are not. Where is your action that you are calling for others to take? Oh yeah, it’s in a whiny article. Tearing down others in our profession does not make you look better, but is actually one of the reasons physicians have a difficult time coming together on issues. Follow your own advice and try promoting a healthy community instead of showing your pettiness by calling our colleagues complainers.

  • VG

    Thank you for you insight and leadership. I do agree with Jess in that I feel it is unnecessary to criticize those who “are not shy about complaining” and characterizing them as “victims”. Problem solving begins with recognition of the problem. We are all on the same team here, and possess different skill sets. A great leader recognizes the different talents of the team members, and empowers and motivates them to take action. Thank you, Meg Edison, Matthew Hahn and Maiysha Clairborne for having the courage to identify these significant issues. Many physicians are encouraged by your writing and have taken action to solve these issues. Kudos to Pamela Wible, Atul Gawande, Serafino Garella, Robert Wachter, Howard Maron, and many others not mentioned here for your inspiring actions. We have the power and the talent to improve the medical culture. Let’s do it by encouraging each other.

  • Patricia Laurent

    Did it ever occur to you that physicians who have “complained” are actually the ones voicing out their opinions and as someone had mentioned in other comments – these physicians you have called out have done important things about what they are passionate about… and guess what they are still practicing physicians…

    Dr Jurica – you sound a like a “guru” of how our doctors should be acting – are you even still engaged in the practice of medicine or just an administrator who directs what should and what should not be done in your world view?

    Physicians you have decided to call out are actual physicians who are still working in clinical practice… maybe take a dose of your own medicine and elevate doctors who use their voice to make other physicians aware of the problem instead of critiquing them.

  • Meg Edison

    Dr.Jurica, I sure wish you would have called me and discussed what is happening with MOC nationally because of physician LEADERS, before calling me out by name as a “complainer”.

    Nationally, we now have 28 states with MOC legislation pending or passed. This is because of incredible physician leaders who have taken countless hours from their busy patient schedules, many in private practice, to lead on this issue. ABMS MOC is harming physicians and patients, it is worth sounding the alarm over…which I did. Clearly I hit a nerve. That original letter the ABP (thanks for posting the link, BTW) has over 100,000 views, which sparked over 6,000 pediatricians to sign a petition at peds4mocreform.org which then sparked over half of the states to present MOC legislation.

    We are changing ABMS MOC via state legislation. Like many physicians realizing how much organized medicine has failed us, we are now delegates in our state medical societies. We are changing medicine from within. We are also changing policy at the AMA. I was proud to testify at the AMA HOD a few weeks ago on two of MY resolutions, 318 (Oppose Direct to Consumer Advertising of the ABMS MOC product) which was referred to the board for study and 319 (Public Access to Initial Board Certification Status of Time-Limited ABMS Diplomates) which passed without changes and is now official AMA policy.

    How about picking up the phone next time, before writing an article that is harmful to my reputation? One thing that continues to break my heart is how our fellow physicians are often the ones hurting us the most.

    • John Jurica

      I seem to have really hit a nerve here. My intention was to point out that physicians, in general, do not take action. Whether at the level of organized medicine or in the medical staff lounges, I hear a lot of complaining by physicians sounding like victims.

      And it is a fact that the need for physician leaders far outstrips the number willing to step up.

      My point in quoting you (Meg Edison), Matthew Hahn and Maiysha Clairborne was not to put any of you down. I actually appreciate and respect the work that all of you do. I was commenting on the popularity of those particular messages to physicians who identify themselves as victims. In fact, I said, “It makes for good reading, because it resonates with many physicians.”

      I was NOT being facetious.

      Attend almost any state medical society meeting, and you will hear the majority of physicians complaining about how bad we have it and how miserable our lives are.

      I personally chose to enter an adminstrative career in part to make a difference for my employed colleagues and medical staff. If you were to speak with the physicians working for our hospital system, they would tell you that they appreciated my efforts to bring some fairness (specifically working to pay them more fairly).

      I am now working clinically again, so I understand many of the challenges of clinical medicine.

      In closing, let me apologize, Meg, if I somehow seemed critical of your efforts. I don’t like MOC, personally, and appreciate your efforts to get it eliminated or changed in a way that is fair to physicians and better for improving pateint care.

      • CHUCK CUTLER

        Dr Jurica,
        Your apology to Meg Edison is noted. Sadly, you add the qualifier “if.” Even a casual reader can see that your original post was an unnecessary slap at a colleague who has put countless hours into an effort to improve patient care. If you haven’t already done so, you would do well to read Wes Fisher’s blogs (http://drwes.blogspot.com) over the last several years. Study the ABIM’s behavior as well as that of some of the other ABMS Boards. Then write about it. You would clearly begin to make amends for a cruel attack that, in my view, you have not undone.

        • mike

          You are correct Sir. Excellent point.

      • Jus Nikki

        This isn’t an apology at all. It’s actually a very snide response to Dr. Edison’s comment. Why name her and the others if it wasn’t your intent to put anyone down? Why include a photo of a baby crying if you weren’t out to ridicule your colleagues?
        I also find it hard to believe that you are still a practicing physician having this much contempt for practicing physicians giving their own time and finances to fight for other practicing physicians and patients. Displays like this from senior physicians are a part of the problem, not the solution. – Dr. Nicole Johnson

        • mike

          You are correct.

      • mike

        John, I think your FIRST step could be to submit a retraction of your statement regarding colleagues.

        Moving to specifics.

        1. Yes, physicians are faced with an impenetrable web of ORGANIZED MEDICINE – INSURANCE INDUSTRY – PHARMACEUTICAL – GOVERNMENT REGULATORY COLLUSION of which I have not found a ‘physician (provider) leader’ capable to addressing effectively. This might explain WHY you hear a lot of complaining.

        2. Sure, the demand for physician leaders PROBABLY does outstrip those willing
        to step up to the plate. Several issues here. Politics. Organizational acceptance.
        Experience. Additional degrees. In most cases however the ‘provider leader’ will need to be a YES PERSON to administrative objectives. My experience has confirmed that the majority of ‘provider leaders’ are simply rubber stamps for administrative agendas with a gift for gab.

        3. If you actually respect the work that these physician LEADERS are doing, like Meg,
        submit a RETRACTION.

        4. Maybe you did bring fairness to physicians on your staff – maybe you did not. Would you elaborate on what kind of compensation formulas you proposed and explain why you considered them fair. I am more concerned with how you treated physicians – providers who DISAGREED with you.

        5. If you don’t like MOC personally, why don’t you sign up with Meg and the rest of us TRYING TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE and end this fiasco?

        Chao.

      • Allison N Williams

        Hmm.

      • Just Some MD

        You say that “I don’t like MOC, personally, and appreciate your efforts to get it eliminated or changed in a way that is fair to physicians and better for improving pateint care.”

        What have you done about it?

    • Allison N Williams

      Meg. Complaints are the grassroots of change. One day all of us, including the author of this article will one day benefit from the efforts that you and those of us who choose to fight for what is right are making today. Let’s keep “complaining”.

  • Marion Mass

    Please do your research before you attack true physician leaders. Your cookbook of leadership would have physicians identify a problem and get involved to solve it. Dr. Edison has done just that. She correctly identified that MOC is robbing physicians of time spent on quality MOC and bravely put herself on the line in front of her state medical society and the AMA to do so. Dr Claiborne recovered from burnout and recognized that many physicians suffer. She now delivers workshops on burnout prevention and creating the ideal career for medical students and residents for the Atlanta Medical Center, Emory University, and Morehouse School of Medicine residency programs. In addition, she has authored two books and co-hosts the radio show “The Wellness Blueprint” inspired by her book. Dr. Hahn is a small practice owner, author and writer of a well researched blog. How are these three NOT leaders? They might not fit into the mold of the typical organized medicine leadership, but the field of, medicine has not flourished under this leadership. Perhaps leaders like Meg, Maiysha and Matthew are just what medicine needs

  • Cary Sidlett Gunther

    This article is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black. Dr Edison has been a physician activist for years but it was easier for you to slander her name and add a paragraph to your article than to make the kinds of changes she has made yourself.
    You have a great point to make: physicians historically have not adequately advocated for our profession or our patients at the state and national level. We can do better and many of us are starting to. My personal preference is to lobby at the state level.
    But please, slandering other docs helps no one.

  • Erin Kern

    I wonder what comments Pamela Wible would have for calling out other physicians by name as “complainers” rather than “leaders”. It is time we pull each other up and not down. A true leader can get their point across without belittling others. For this reason, I read your article and believed it to be without credibility. I get the message you are trying to send to readers; however, it was poorly articulated.

    • PamelaWibleMD

      I rarely call docs out by name (other than Thomas Nasca CEO ACGME here: http://www.idealmedicalcare.org/blog/sleep-deprived-docs-disclose-hospital-horrors/). Instead I like to hold up a megaphone to those with complaints so that the truth can be disseminated. We are a highly intelligent group of basically very compassionate people and I am certain we can solve our own problems if we unite. Public shaming/blaming (especially of victims of occupationally-induced despair) is not the best way to engage each other is collaborative action. We are brothers and sisters in medicine. Let’s uplift one another so that we can reach our full potential and renew our beloved profession.

      • Erin Kern

        Very well said!!! I appreciate what you do for the medical community… Thank you!!!

      • Mark Lopatin

        Thank you for all that you do. You have been a communicator, an advocate, publicist ( publicizer? ) and an educator. A true leader in every sense of the word!

      • Marion Mass

        Amen, Pamela Wible! So many physicians waking up and taking action because we are realizing we have not had adequate representation, and we cannot simply hope someone else will do it. We need to amplify each other’s efforts to solve the physician suicide crisis, to confront the MOC issue, to push back against the imbalance of power with insurers and executives now controlling our profession.

  • NikkiJMD

    I agree that complaining amongst ourselves is ineffective, but complaining out loud to the people and organizations who can help make changes is effective. The people you listed as strictly complainers are getting the attentions of those who can make change. I’m willing to bet that Drs. Wible and Guwande spent some time in the physician’s lounge complaining before they began leading the change. I’m not sure what this article does other than pit physicians against one another. You could have written it without listing and labeling your colleagues as complainers and it would have served its purpose educating on how to be an effective leader. Shame on you for slandering other physicians to make a name for yourself.

  • Dr. Jurica –

    Conflicts of interests abound with the corporate quality assurance industry of which Robert Wachter, MD has been instrumental at forwarding, both as a “creator” of the hospitalist movement and ABIM Foundation board director. Recall that Dr. Wachter had a blog once (that he has since brought down because the company he worked for (in tandem with his employer, UCSF), The Hospitalist Company, was found guilty of Medicare false claims abuses and had to pay a $60 million fine to the Department of Justice (see: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/healthcare-service-provider-pay-60-million-settle-medicare-and-medicaid-false-claims-act). Meg Edison, MD also hasn’t played Elton John at Mandalay casino in the name of “love”of our profession, either (http://drwes.blogspot.com/2016/01/love-ethics-and-quality-assessment.html ).

    Until you do your homework, please be very careful before throwing stones at credible, hardworking physicians who are trying their best to counter the myriad of third party intrusions that distract from patient care.

    • John Jurica

      See my reply to Med Edison. John

  • mike

    Meg, John is one of the ORGANIZED MEDICINE CRUSADERS. His article is simply a carefully disguised critique of anyone who IDENTIFIES A PROBLEM yet is hindered by the ORGANIZED MEDICINE (AAFP)- INSURANCE – PHARMACEUTICAL – GOVERNMENT COLLUSION. John needs to wake up and learn to engage in CRITICAL THINKING. SAD.

  • Arvind Cavale

    It is unfortunate that Dr. Jurica exposes his own inability to accept actions by some individuals while acknowledging others with whom he probably agrees. Dr. Edison and others in the nationwide movement to end MOC and the financial and regulatory capture it represents, have indeed acted way beyond just complaining. Some of the “complaining” has resulted in legislative efforts to make it illegal for MOC to determine hospital/insurance credentialing, several state medical societies passing resolutions calling for end to MOC, and the creation of the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons.

    It behooves Dr. Jurica to publish an addendum to this post calling for an end to MOC being a sole cause for restriction of trade in the medical profession. Since he prides himself to be a problem-solver, this is one problem for him to solve now. Otherwise, he is worse than the “complainers” he calls out so explicitly.

  • Mark Lopatin

    Dr Jurica, I agree wholeheartedly with you on the idea that water cooler politics does not accomplish much. As you note, doctors who complain to each other in their office or in the lounge and then go about their day without taking any other action do not help the situation. Having said that, I have zero idea how you can lump Meg Edison in that category. She is speaking out nationally, travelling all over the country, educating physicians and encouraging change of a system that being generous, we will say is ” flawed” . She is absolutely to be lauded and so is anyone else who speaks out publicly regarding the issues we face. The only way we can effect change is to communicate, advocate, publicize and educate. Meg has done all of these, I do not know Meg personally, but I know her reputation. She is a true leader in the MOC movement. Her one fault. She is simply unable to defeat a corporate giant with one swing of her sword, (although that giant is faltering at least in part due to Meg’s and others’ actions). That does not make her a “complainer” ( what a judgmental word) or any less of a leader. She is in fact, “taking action” and calling on others to join her. If you truly appreciate her efforts as you state in your rejoinder, you have a funny way of showing it. Just to help you out here, leaders promote a common goal, they build up rather than break down and praise their colleagues in public and criticize only in private. Given your column, I am not sure what qualifies you to be judging the leadership skills of the Meg Edison’s of the world. I just do not understand what were you hoping to accomplish by writing this column? You will not convince the water cooler politicians to all of a sudden become active and you have clearly angered those who are.

    • John Jurica

      See my response to Meg Edison’s comment. At no time did I state that Meg Edison, Matthew Hahn or Maiysha Clairborne are complainers. I was commenting on the popularity of those posts, and others like it, with physicians with whom those concerns resonate. Apparently, I need to formulate my thoughts more clearly in the future. Your honest feedback is truly appreciated and will be taken to heart.

      • Mark Lopatin

        With all due respect, you stated, “From Meg Edison complaining about Maintenance of Certification on Rebel.MD, to Matthew Hahn lamenting that regulations are destroying medical practice, to Maiysha Clairborne writing about physician burnout on Kevin MD, physicians are not shy about complaining. But maybe it’s time to stop complaining and start leading”
        You may not have directly stated it, but the implication and unspoken message are very clear i. e that they should stop complaining and start leading. I appreciate your willingness to take the feedback to heart. We are all playing for the same team and must support each other. If we cannot all pull together, how can we ever hope to effect meaningful change?

      • Hans Vandenberg

        You are digging your hole deeper and deeper with each post. Just apologize and retract. You inappropriately named three physician colleagues as “complainers” and implied “whiners”.
        Just own your mistake. That is exactly what a LEADER would do.

  • Niran Al-Agba

    Robert Wachter, MD = Role Model. That is the funniest thing I have ever read. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d28c8287eced5582e557f65d45c8d89141203d9243148a82fec0449abeee0fc9.png

  • sue hilda

    Oh sure, let’s venerate up Atul Gawande “Mr. Checklist” and Robert Wachter “IPC Hospitalists and fraud” https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/healthcare-service-provider-pay-60-million-settle-medicare-and-medicaid-false-claims-act.
    NOT!!!!!
    Dr. Jurica with all due respect, you’re not informed and don’t deserve this platform to express your emotional platitudes. Doctors are completely exhausted, poisoned, and cynical, when our own leaders collude with government and crony capitalism to get out as fast as they can so they can retire from the grind of patient care, hospitals, lawsuits, and preauthorizations. These docs care not one whit about the patient. Increasing insurance company/government intrusion and 2 hours Ehr for every hour of patient have made this career choice unabiding hell. Starting your piece off with ad hominen attacks and then not owning up to it?? Shameful.

  • John Jurica

    I decided to go ahead and make a change to this post. When some of the comments were critical of my writing, I was pretty defensive. I felt like I was being attacked for including harmless examples of articles that were focused on issues that irritate physicians.

    But after thinking about it for a couple of days, it occured to me that I could make the same point, WITHOUT linking to specific physicians or their writings.

    This might not satisfy those physicians who are generally offended by being called whiners. But I hope it helps the authors to whom I linked understand that I did not intend to be critical of their efforts. In fact, I follow them because they are thought leaders in their fields.

    And some may say that this is too little too late. But the reality is that this post will probably be seen by many more readers in the years to come than have read it to date.

    It has been instructive to see how easy it is to be so focused on a message, yet have it come across very different from the way I thought it would.