When I was giving my keynote speech at California Society of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery (CalDerm) Symposium last week, everything went wrong: I’d forgotten my charger, so I couldn’t rehearse my talk the night before; the AV equipment didn’t work; and there were awkward pauses when the slides wouldn’t move forward. Yet, even standing on stage in front of esteemed medical colleagues, I felt curiously at peace. Why was that?
It was because I was simply being myself, and central to that is exercising compassion. It’s how I want to run my business, practice medicine, and engage with my family and the world around me. And not least, with myself. On that stage, I was practicing self-compassion, which is a helpful exercise for entrepreneurs. Because there’ll always be moments like this, where you’ve rehearsed everything a dozen times, then things go sideways, and you have to let go of perfectionism and just wing it.
Appropriately, my talk was all about the importance of leaning in to authenticity at work and how it eventually led me to entrepreneurship. I’d like to share the main points from that presentation with you here.
The road from doctor to entrepreneur
One thing about me is I don’t like to be in pain and I really don’t like seeing others in pain. You know how kids run from needles? That was me. I later became the medical resident who loathed biopsying kids, and eventually the doctor who “chats too much” with patients. It was impossible for me to ignore the pain and trauma from needles, especially when I saw it in my one-month-old daughter’s eyes during a routine immunization. She looked at me with such betrayal and fear that I felt like I’d failed as both a parent and a physician. From that moment forward, it was clear to me that things needed to change.
I realized there needed to be a compassionate solution for those living with needle pain and stress, because otherwise they can’t get the vaccines, blood draws, and medications they need to stay healthy.1 Without needle anxiety, we could have increased COVID-19 vaccinations by 10%2—that’s about 300,000 lives that could have been saved here in the United States. I wanted to develop a solution that would not only alleviate needle pain and anxiety, but would encourage better health outcomes all around and ultimately improve public health.
In doing my research, I found the most effective solution for needle fear is treating the pain,3 whether it’s physical, emotional, or psychological. But how was it possible to do that? I noticed there were no products marketed to patients to counter the pain of needles, leaving them feeling helpless. Most products required a prescription, and the most popular solution was EMLA numbing cream, which can leave a real mess even when applied correctly. I wanted to develop a solution that was accessible, affordable, and safe—and that’s why I founded my own company, Thimble™.
Now, you may ask: wasn’t it difficult going from practicing medicine to becoming an entrepreneur, developing a product, and running a business? It wasn’t easy. It felt like the only way to do it was taking one step at a time. It often felt overwhelming, but when I just focused on the task I needed to tackle at the moment, it became more manageable.
During this process, I found the most important thing is to be authentic to yourself and grounded in your purpose at all times. That will get you through all the self-doubt and fear that comes with starting your own business. If you’re considering entrepreneurship, use your lived experience, be creative, and dream big, but also do your research. You’ll want to network (and remember, people want to help you!), experiment, and then take measures to protect your idea. Amidst all this, it’s important to trust yourself and take care of yourself. And be fearless. People may have similar ideas as you, but there is nobody who’ll accomplish your vision as well as you can.
I know it’s often uncomfortable to be your authentic self in a professional environment, especially in an industry that imposes strict standards. I never felt I could bring my whole self to work during my training in dermatology. And I sometimes felt “less than” as a doctor who spent more time getting to know patients than what was expected. But when I began to just show up as myself and realized what I perceived as weakness—that softheartedness and compassion—could also be my strength, I was surprised at how people responded. They opened up and things began to happen.
From entrepreneur to the main stage
One afternoon, I volunteered to talk with a dermatologist who was interested in learning about how to develop a product. I simply shared my experience launching our introductory Thimble product, the Recover patch, and offered to speak to her residents anytime. A few months later, my jaw literally dropped when I received an email from her and two other well-respected dermatologists. They invited me to be the keynote speaker at the CalDerm Symposium, a conference put on by the venerable California Society of Dermatology & Dermatologic Surgery.
I was completely shocked but so grateful. The lesson I learned was when you act according to your values, unexpected doors tend to open. For me, it was enough to simply help a fellow physician—I wasn’t expecting anything, but the return went beyond my wildest expectations.
Not only was it an honor to deliver the keynote at the conference, but I had the opportunity to meet someone I greatly admire: Dr. Katie Rodan. This dermatologist and entrepreneur is the co-creator of Proactiv and also a great example of leading with authenticity and personal integrity. Her company, Rodan + Fields, was purchased by Estée Lauder 20 years ago, but when Rodan saw the brand struggling in a changing market, she and her business partner bought it back. Rodan believed in her product enough to take that kind of risk and rebuild it her way, and as a result, it’s become one of the most popular skincare brands of all time (source).
If Dr. Rodan hadn’t gone with her instincts, we might never have heard about her company. Likewise, being true to yourself as an entrepreneur helps you make decisions that feel right and build genuine connections. And those connections sometimes open doors that you didn’t even know existed. You never know whom you’ll meet, or where you’ll go, if you just lean in to who you are. So, go for it.
1 Haelle, T. (2017, December 28). Fear of needles may chip away at vaccination rates. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/12/28/571928692/fear-of-needles-may-chip-away-at-vaccination-rates
2 Freeman, D., Lambe, S., Yu, L., Freeman, J., Chadwick, A., Vaccari, C., . . . Loe, B. (2021). Injection fears and COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy. Psychological Medicine, 1-11. doi:10.1017/S0033291721002609
3 Taddio, A. et al. Reducing the pain of childhood vaccination: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline (summary). CMAJ. 2010 Dec 14;182(18):1989-95.