Fill the Gap

I am an optimist. I like to see the good in situations and typically see the glass half full. A positive outlook on both life and people is how I choose to live.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have failure, doubt, discouragement, and disappointment at times. Quite the opposite. I am a goal-oriented risk-taker, and I often fail, miss the mark, and disappoint others.

It’s hard for me to accept, even at my age, that not everyone wants to see me succeed. Not everyone is on “Team Sasha.” In fact, there are people who actually like to see others fail. There are those that find joy in other’s struggles and revel in the other person’s weaknesses, chink in her armor, or lack of abilities.

My sons play competitive soccer. I have watched them play hundreds of soccer games. Soccer is a fast-paced, and intense team sport, and I love it. However, at every game I find myself thinking one thing, “Thank goodness my son is not the goalie.”

The goalie’s job is a to keep 11 other players from taking the ball past the last standing defender and into the net.  The goalie has an 8 x 24foot rectangular white net she must protect, as someone is running directly at her. At all costs, she must protect the goal. She dives, punches, jumps, slides, catches, kicks, or uses whatever she can to grab that ball or deflect it from crossing the goal line.

Sometimes the goalie has to come “out of the box” to challenge an offensive player running directly at her. As she charges out to stop the ball, her teammates run to the goal that has now been left unprotected.

Guess what the players don’t do? They don’t stand in their respective positions and say “Well, looks like the goalie missed that one. I’m a mid-fielder, so I am just going to stay here.” You don’t see the forwards standing in place, pointing fingers at the goalie saying “Well, that’s not my job. You messed up.”

Every player, whether offensive or defensive, starts running toward the goal to protect it.

Defensive wings, midfielders, and center backs run into the goal and face the opposition head on. They stand in the gap for the goalie, who is most likely is on the ground, having dove to protect the goal.

They can’t pick the ball up. They aren’t the goalie. But they can use their chest, back, legs or feet to deflect the ball, and often they do.

I have watched this on countless occasions. I have watched dramatic saves and crushing failures. And each time, I think of times in life I have been the goalie.

Someone, or something, is running at me full speed on an offensive strike. Someone got past the last line of defense and is coming straight at me. And I have to make a split decision to leave the net wide open. I come flying out and land on the ground, in a losing position, having done all I can do defend the strike.

I am blessed with teammates who don’t stand and judge, but run into the goal I left open to defend. They don’t ask questions, they run in to save me, covering my position. Friends. Family. Close colleagues at work.

Last summer I went through something difficult in my professional life. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it was to have a team of women physician colleagues who rallied around me and dove into the goal. I didn’t even ask them to. They just did it. They were amazing teammates. They didn’t let one shot come near the goal.

I'm guessing you, like me, have encountered some tough offensive strikes in the game of life. Maybe it’s a professional failure. Maybe it’s a personal demon that you can’t seem to shake. Maybe it’s an opposing team filled with such powerful and continuous offensive strikes that feel like they are wailing on you and you can’t stay on your feet.

Healthcare, like soccer, is a team-sport. So is life, relationships, and friendships. We have multiple positions and everyone knows their role. But sometimes, when things are moving quickly, players get out of position in attempts to do what is right and the goal is left at risk. Remember to move in and fill the gap. Protect the goal, whatever that may be: a patient’s life, a relationship, or a loved one.

We can always rewind the tape later and study what we could do different next time. Let’s be teammates who stand in the gap, who act first and help others at all costs.

Everyone is a defender. Everyone is a striker.

It’s all about protecting the goal.