I can’t believe I just said that … Activating the autocringe loop

Sometimes, I experience an internal conflict between the clinician/researcher in me, and the administrator in me.  Indeed, because of this split existence, there are some phrases that make me cringe even when I use them myself.  Taking a clue from the term in biology that means “self-activation,” one could call this an “autocringe loop.”  For me, an autocringe loop tends to occur most often when the clinician/researcher in me is listening to the administrator in me talking.  For example, I feel a very robust autocringe loop get activated when I hear myself say “no money, no mission.”

My cringe response to this statement is something I learned early in my career.   I, like many young faculty, would roll my eyes whenever an administrator mentioned a lack of resources as a reason for not supporting a request.  I saw great value in the work I was doing, and what seemed to me to be essentially unlimited resources all around me.  My goal was simple – to convince those who controlled the purse strings to understand the importance of my mission.  If they really understood, the money would flow and I could get on with my work.  Those who did not support my efforts were clearly misguided, and just didn’t appreciate the importance of what I was aiming to accomplish.  I still feel the same way at times, such as when seeking research grant funding from the federal government or advocating with my institution to provide more staff in our cancer clinic.

On the other hand, I now understand there are limits to resources at each and every level that can impact availability of support for even the most important and valuable proposals.   In my role as a cancer center director and on national committees, I participate in choosing how limited support should be distributed among many superbly designed proposals that address various aspects of our joint effort to reduce the burden of cancer.

As a clinician and researcher, looking for funding to support cancer care or cancer research often seems like wasted time when there are so many more important issues at the center of our mission.  As an administrator, I know that without the money, we can not address this mission.

So … I don’t think that I will be able to break my autocringe response to “no money, no mission” any time soon.  I still cringe when I hear that a very important effort can not be supported because of a lack of resources, while I also highlight the vital need for funding when talking to others about why a very admirable proposal can’t be supported.

There is an escape valve that sometimes helps me when I am caught in this autocringe loop.  After I say “No money – no mission,” I follow it up with “but … money is not the mission.”    Sometimes I listen and understand.  Other times, I just roll my eyes.