Even when the world isn’t upside down, transition is hard. A novice expat will quickly realize what they thought would be an Instagram-filtered, pure glam experience abroad isn’t as advertised.
Heck, even if you’re a prestigious surgeon like our special guest this week, to the locals, you’re just not a big deal. You may think the residents will roll out the red carpet for you when really, they want you to watch and learn how THEY do things first.
So you take a backseat until you’ve proven you’re capable, dedicated, and that you’ll stick around. And this can become a real battle between your eagerness versus your ego.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Dr. Rachel Pope. She’s an OBGYN in the Department of Urology with an appointment in the Department of Reproductive Biology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
An expat most of her adult life, Rachel’s resume is jaw-dropping and includes fellowship-training in global women’s health, specifically obstetric fistula and other childbirth injuries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Rachel’s immensely grateful and intensely aware of how fortunate she is to mesh the profession she loves with her passion for social justice. It sure wasn’t easy, but it absolutely was intentional. Today, she joins us to share the powerful story of her challenges, triumphs, and transformation abroad.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Being called to a cause
- The star behind the star
- Doing the hard work for someone else’s dream
- Scheduling quality time with your spouse
- Why transition impact is underrated
Listen to the Full Episode
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 7:30 am in New York, 1:30 pm in Johannesburg, and 6:30 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
Now raise your hand if you’ve ever asked yourself “What’s my purpose?”
You go to sleep at night wondering if you are ever going to find your purpose. Or if it’ll ever find you.
If you have been part of my community for a while, you will know that I put a stop to all talk of “finding” purpose, and instead ask people to listen instead for IMPACT. It all starts by asking where do you feel called to make an impact in your own life, in the lives of others, or for a cause that lights you up?
I do believe purpose should NOT be like finding a needle in a haystack. And I also know it’s not like the purpose fairy is going to drop by one day and tap you on the shoulder. We have to live toward our purpose. And that might be even when you don’t have a clue, what that would look like, I get that.
This week is the second part of a month-long focus on purpose. I want to focus on it all month because it’s so dang important.
You know from my other episodes, lack of purpose is life-threatening. It is important for you if you’re feeling that hunger for purpose to pay attention
Last episode 242 Loving & Leaving Well, we learned from Amel Derragui how she is able to live on purpose, even in the hardest of transitions.
So this is important and I am dedicating an entire 5-Day Purpose Challenge inside my FREE private Facebook community just so we can hunker down and do more together and I’ll say more at the end of the episode, but check it out in the show notes and sign up. Because I want you to be part of it. That’s all starting mid-september.
Okay, now it’s time for us to dive deeper with purpose, and I can’t think of a better person to have us join today than Dr. Rachel Pope. This is a woman who can give some truth behind what it really takes to live toward your purpose. Dr. Rachel Pope is an obstetrician/gynecologist in the Department of Urology with an appointment in the Department of Reproductive Biology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. She is fellowship trained in global women’s health, specifically in childbirth injuries, including obstetric fistula in Sub-Saharan Africa. She has additional training in vulvar and vaginal disorders and sexual dysfunction but everything is centered around female sexual health.
What is amazing about Dr. Rachel is she goes way beyond her technical academic training and surgical skills. What is amazing about Rachel is that she is able to share transparently, humbly and courageously on what it really takes to live on purpose. Find out yourself in this interview.
Sundae: So welcome to Expat Happy Hour, Rachel. It’s a pleasure for you to join us today.
Rachel: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
You’re the head of a division and you’ve been doing deep work in global health. That’s when you and I first met. How did you get to where you are today?
Rachel: Yeah, I mean, it was certainly not by following any traditional trajectory. What I do is not something that I saw anybody doing when I was a medical student. It’s not even its own really established division or subfield in and of itself. I kind of do a combination of things. But I I love childbirth. I knew I wanted to help women give birth and that’s what brought me to women’s health. And when I started studying and going in medical school, I became really interested in women’s issues from a feminist perspective. And so that started branching not only from childbirth, but also other gynecological issues and reproductive health issues.
So I knew as I was in my, basically, when I was in medical school that I wanted to do gynecology and obstetrics. So I went into training for obstetrics and gynecology. And I had found out about this issue of obstetric fistula, which mostly affects women living in Sub-Saharan Africa, some parts of the Middle East and Asia too. But basically, it’s the poorest of the poor women who really need a cesarean section or need some sort of intervention because during labor, their baby is literally stuck. And because they don’t get that help they end up with these severe pelvic floor injuries.
Yea, injury to the bladder, injury to the vagina. Just a mess. So I knew I wanted to dedicate my career towards learning how to fix those, learning how to prevent them, and have a kind of a social justice orientation of my gynecological surgery. So that’s what led my career for pretty much until now. So I got the training to learn how to do that by doing a fellowship in Malawi. And because it just doesn’t happen to the same extent in the US as it does in these other countries where women are not getting access to care. So I had to go to one of those countries and learn how to fix those injuries. So that was in Malawi. I spent two years there learning and training and then I spent two additional years continuing that work.
Sundae: I’m gonna pause you there for a second. Had you ever lived abroad before that or done any practice in other areas?
Rachel: Yeah. So when I was in high school, I was desperate to live abroad by– my sisters are about a decade older than me. I have three older sisters, 10, 9, and 8 years older and they were traveling the world doing their college time abroad. And all these different trips were happening when I was significantly younger. So I was eager to go see the world myself. So, when I was in high school, I was set upon doing a study abroad program, but I didn’t realize how expensive they were. So, I eventually found an exchange program that was government-sponsored to kind of continue, friendly relationships between Germany and the US. So I went to Germany for my senior year of high school.
And then I came back and went to college and then I spent the summer in Ghana. From that point I try to use as many chunks of time, whether it was a summer vacation or a research project in college, I went to Brazil. I tried to travel.
Sundae: Okay. That puts it in perspective because I thought, are you kidding me? You just left for the first time and landed in Malawi. Oh, okay. So you got to Malawi and you’re doing your thing. How did you feel when you got there and you’re actually doing the thing?
Rachel: It took a while. It took a while of sitting in the backseat and proving myself because time after time I would find a surgeon who is experienced in fixing these fistulas, or these injuries and they’re wondering, well, what do I from the US — what do I have in this? What, why do I want to be here? I’m just going to go back to the US. I’m not going to — it’s really hard to find people who really are going to spend a significant portion of their life coming back to Sub-Saharan Africa and taking care of these women. So it’s challenging to find someone who wants to invest in training you.
Sundae: So I’m gonna interrupt you here for a second. And I think that’s really important for people to hear especially when we’re talking about purpose, right? You had this goal. You went through medical school, which is no small matter. You found a way to get to Malawi and practice and work. And you being a doctor are now already taking a backseat. I think this is what people understand, all they see is now and how successful you are and the shiny things but they don’t see what’s going on behind the scenes. Tell me how that felt to have to do that when you’re really clear on your purpose, who you want to help and how you want to do it, but it wasn’t flowing. It wasn’t happening automatically.
Rachel: Well, of course there’s some natural frustration where I felt like, “Hey, why? I don’t need to sit in the back and watch? I could be helpful. I could at least assist or put me in there,” kind of feeling. “Put me in there, Coach. Let me get my hands on.” But, I also respected the fact that everywhere I went a local surgeon should take priority because you never know what might happen in my life and that local surgeon, that’s their home. And so they have the skills no matter what they’re going to use them more than I potentially will. So even if it’s like that potential, I just knew even just culturally that I had to take a backseat.
And then I found that if I was kind of willing to observe and came to this as a humble surgeon and not as an egotistical surgeon, that then people were willing to let me get involved more. And it was that persistence, I guess that rewarded me and commitment. It’s more commitment than anything, just kind of showing, “No, this is something that I feel passionate about. I’m willing to put in the time. I’ve already put in this amount of time,” and that kind of built my credentials as I went along.
Sundae: So, what I’m hearing is willingness to invest the time, the energy and there’s a level of patience and humility here that I’m hearing in the story. Right? What have you learned about purpose as you’ve been living it?
Rachel: Oh, that’s a big question. I think it’s actually helped me as I’ve become more senior in this field and I’m still not necessarily senior, but I’m coming along, my career. I get approached by a lot of students, a lot of other trainees, a lot of them other medical students and residents and they are really really passionate, really eager, want to do something to make this world better. And I think my experience has helped me work with them and guide them. And also ask the right questions not to put them on the spot or to make them feel badly, but just to kind of probe and help them figure out what their purpose is because I think we all get fired up about certain things but also recognizing where our skills are and what’s realistic for us.
And looking at the larger picture of social justice in this world and medicine in this world, we’re not all meant to do the same thing. And figuring out my purpose and reflecting on my past has helped me a lot, I think with new trainees, and younger surgeons, that approached me and helped me guide them.
Sundae: So the bigger picture seems really important, especially when things are hard, right? When you want to I give up.
Rachel: Yes, exactly.
Sundae: So we met back in 2017. I’m really curious. What was it that led you to reach out at that time?
Rachel: Yeah. Okay, so I had been a trainee, taking the backseat, right? For two years in Malawi and all of a sudden, I finished my program. I had proved myself so to speak and I was being offered the position as medical director of the hospital where I was repairing fistulas where I had been training. And I recognized, this was a huge jump.
And a lot of it was about opportunity. A lot of it was the right time and the right place and I wanted to grab that. There was no way I was going to turn down that opportunity. But I also realized as a foreign young woman who had been seen as a trainee to all the employees, whether it was a co-surgeon or a nurse or the cleaning person. They all knew I was a visitor and a trainee and now I’m going to be kind of a boss. And so I was intimidated about that transition. I knew there were so many cultural issues too, some that I probably wasn’t even aware of or really thinking about because I was American in Malawi, and I knew I needed help to be intentional about it and to make that transition smooth. So, I reached out to a life coach that I had worked with previously and she’s like, “You know what, you need to talk to Sundae.” *laughter* So that’s when I found you.
Sundae: That’s so cool. So we started to work together, that was through Year of Transformation.
Sundae: What did you think was gonna happen in our work together?
Rachel: Gosh, I don’t know. I probably thought of it more as, like therapy. This is gonna be like me venting all the issues and someone kindly listening to me. I didn’t realize how productive it would be, and how task-oriented. And even having things that were tangible, tangible deliverables really. I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting kind of someone to help like hold my hand psychologically through the process.
Sundae: And what were some of the deliverables that came out?
Rachel: Oh my gosh, so many. I had Ideas of what I wanted to accomplish in that year through a mentorship program I was starting at the hospital, through research programs that I was continuing there. But having it all mapped out, I think in our very first session, that’s what you had me do, was this just kind of dump out everything I wanted for that year and then prioritize it and schedule it.
And that was a huge exercise for me that I had never done before. I’ve always been a list person. Don’t get me wrong. I have lists all over my house. But this was like a very intentional master list. And so the coolest thing about it — then you had me break it down into schedules and the months and we would look back and see how it was checking off the boxes. That was so freaking cool. So seeing, “Oh, yeah. This was a project I was working at. Oh hey, it’s published now.”
Sundae: That’s so good.
Rachel: Or like, “Oh hey, this is somebody I’m trying to mentor a little bit. Look what they’re doing now.” Just seeing tangible results was not what I expected at all. That was exciting.
Rachel: And that’s why I’ve never been able to leave you. *laughter*
Sundae: I always tell people I’m like Hotel California, once you enter, you can never leave. *laughter* But like in a really good way.
Rachel: In a really good way.
Sundae: So what have you learned about yourself in this process?
Rachel: Hmm. Okay, so I’ve realized that I’m obsessed with work, right? And that my career is out of my identity because I would get into sessions with you and be like, “So, what’s going on?” And it would just be all about my work. And I was like, “Oh yeah, Sundae does know that I’m married. She knows that I have kids.” *laughter* But the places where I needed the most help and the most guidance and direction was in work. And so I feel like that was one thing that I noticed, but you were also really helpful in helping me be intentional about my time and making sure that I wasn’t getting too off balance. And that’s still a big part of my sessions with you too. I think it is like being healthy and well balanced. But yeah, that became apparent to me. I don’t consider myself a workaholic but it definitely occupies a lot of my brain.
Sundae: But it makes sense. Doesn’t it? Because it’s so connected to your purpose.
Rachel: Yes. Exactly.
Sundae: And what I’ve watched is, I have watched you, even though it might have helped you be more effective in reaching your goals, the positive ripple effect has had other positive ripple effects in your health and family and all of those things. So, what do you think? So far, it sounds like this is pretty easy. Right? Like, you just, you call me and then we can do these things and then you get deliverables, but we know, we know that transformation and really living a life on purpose isn’t always easy breezy.
Rachel: No, not at all.
Sundae: Right. So what do people need to know that you’ve learned in terms of what to expect?
Rachel: You’ve got to invest the time. It’s not just about showing up for the hour session with you. It’s about setting time aside to actually work on the things that we just told you we want to see happen. Right? It just doesn’t it just not enough to show up. And I think that’s fantastic. That’s if someone is hiring you or working with you on these things, it’s because they want to achieve certain goals. But yeah, you do have to put in the work to achieve them. And I don’t know. I feel like you never gave us crazy assignments or a crazy amount of homework. It’s just about actually keeping yourself accountable and there’s adjustments. I feel like there’s bumps in the roads and there’s things that come up that change priorities. But it does require, still quite a bit of effort on your own side, if you want to see the results.
Sundae: Hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s, that’s one of the things, before we hopped on and recorded, I mentioned to you. I think it’s really important for people to see who are living on purpose and are successful. That there’s work behind that and like you said, commitment behind that accountability, support. When was it hard?
Rachel: Oh my gosh, the transitions that were not expected. Going through difficulties with my employer, trying to figure out things where certain relationships seem to be steady and then took a turn in different directions I didn’t expect. That’s when things were hard, just the unpredictable things. But I feel like you equipped me with so many tools. I don’t know, it was hard but manageable. And then there’s times when all the things, all of the work that is the tools that you have helped me to learn. They required time. You have to set aside time to schedule. *laughter*
Rachel: And I remember having calls with you and being like, “Yeah, I didn’t do this. I didn’t do that.” And I’m like, “Oh, I can just hear it.” Hear your voice in my head. “If you don’t schedule it, it’s not gonna happen.”
Rachel: Just realizing how true that was, that life was busy and I had to schedule it and I had to put quality time with my husband in the calendar and on his calendar too, in our shared calendar. And I have to put in time to schedule the next week or the next month in my calendar because otherwise life is just so busy and it will swamp you or swamp me, speak for myself. So that’s when things are hard. When it’s unpredictable and you feel like there’s just no time.
Sundae: Yeah, and you said the word intentional twice?
Sundae: About being intentional instead of just letting things fly forward.
Sundae: Right. And this is the thing. I try to talk to people about that. I believe we live in this kind of overnight success culture. Fast results. And I’m not having it. No. It’s so easy to eat lettuce for three days in a row, right? But to become the person who craves healthy food is something else.
Rachel: Totally different.
Sundae: And people do, and people want it easy and I’m just like, “That’s not how this works.” But you can also enjoy it. We have fun.
Rachel: Totally, totally. Yes.
Sundae: And you can enjoy the process. That’s all that. But I also think it’s really important. That’s why I wanted to talk to you about it today because I think it’s important to pull the curtain back on what it really means to live your life on purpose. What it really means to — what it takes to get there.
Rachel: Right? Yeah. What’s coming up for me as you say this is, I wanted to say, I’m so lucky that I love what I do and that this is easy, because I want to spend time with it. But then it’s not because I’m lucky. We should all be doing what we love to do. Right? And if you’re not doing what you love to do, then you need to do something else because if the work that it requires to put in to be successful in what you’re doing is painful or really too much, like too painful or or too hard, then you probably are not loving what you’re doing, right? And not everybody is career oriented. I can see that so maybe it’s not applicable or maybe it’s not fair for me to say that, but I feel like it’s not even about being lucky. If you are doing the right thing that’s meant for you in this life, then the work that goes into being successful at it should not be painful.
Sundae: Because here’s the thing, doing another thing is also hard work.
Sundae: So you could be doing something else, that’s completely off purpose for someone else’s purpose, and you’re going to have to invest the time.
Sundae: This is why I always tell people when they’re in the transformation phase and we’re doing the dreaming and scheming. You better be careful what you’re dreaming for and that it’s really aligned with who you are because otherwise, you’re going to have to do the hard work and it’s someone else’s dream. You know what I mean?
Rachel: Right. I feel like I’m somebody who just can’t fake it. I can’t do something that I’m not interested in. It just doesn’t sit well with me. And maybe there are people who can, or they are not as in tune with their own with even just who they are. And so, then I would say, “Okay, take it back a step and work on defining who you are, and what you want.”
Sundae: Right? Exactly. Because it’s worth it.
Sundae: Because it’ll change the trajectory of everything you do from now on.
Sundae: Was there ever a moment where you really doubted yourself?
Rachel: Oh, for sure. Every day. For sure. I’ll share with your listeners. The mantra that you gave me was, “I’m a grown-ass woman.”
Right? I had to tell myself every day for a while, I’m a grown-ass woman, because in medicine we are trainees forever, and the hierarchy is so strong that I was in my 30s and feeling like I’m still a kid. I have to ask permission. And, “Is this okay? Can I do it like this? Oh sorry. Sorry.” I feel like having to internalize that and see myself from the outside perspective. Yeah, it was necessary but also a little bit embarrassing. But yeah. But necessary. I needed to do that and I’m sure there’s a lot of other grown-ass women out there who still need to do that.
Sundae: Completely, right? How could we not, how could we not grow up with our patriarchal tendencies and structures and not have to work through that. It’s part of the course. I love that expression. That was actually by the way, that was you who came to that. I just noticed it and we took it over.
That’s funny. I get so much credit, but it’s actually, you were the one really doing the work. *laughter* So that is so interesting. So I’m curious. So we’re talking about purpose, I shared with you when I asked you if you would mind joining me to share your journey. I shared with you why it’s important to me. And this is something I didn’t know if you knew already but —
Rachel: Not necessarily.
Sundae: Yeah, so I’ll say it for the listeners because they don’t know. But one of the — and I might have said this on other forums before, but even though I am public like a podcaster, I actually don’t want to be the star out front. I want to be the one behind the star, right? And so for me, in my purpose, the way I’m designed, every single personality assessment, every single quiz that you can do that’s actually reputable from psychology. All of it says that I built to co-create with others for purpose and transformation. And it is really interesting and I felt like I stumbled upon it. But actually I think it’s just, I realized now it’s who I am. And so when, especially when you, I remember the moment when you emailed me, I’m almost getting a little bit emotional when I think about it.
Because when I saw what you did, when I knew that you were supporting underserved women, who were already underserved and then in this, this very, very critical phase of life. And I knew that by working with you, you would amplify how you are showing up in the world. I was like, “Yes.” Because I can’t do that. I can’t perform surgery, right? I can’t be in all of these areas. And that is why I do what I do.
Rachel: That’s awesome.
Sundae: Mmm. So that’s and I don’t know if you, if you realize that. Or —
Rachel: No. I guess I could have stopped and thought about it for a while, but not really because yeah, we talked too much about me on our calls.
Sundae: *laughter* Well, that’s what we should be doing. But I think that’s —
Rachel: No but I’m so grateful to hear that, it helps, I don’t know. That makes me feel great. I feel all the feels and it’s wonderful.
Sundae: Yeah. I’m just curious how that impacts people when they realize, this is by partnering with people like you and and it doesn’t have to be someone like you who’s making this massive impact, it can also be a woman who feels stuck and just wants to have more joy in her life, right? Doesn’t have to be something even that they outside society would deem anything, that really lights me up. And that’s why I bring the energy that I do, because it’s a match.
All right, so, because we could talk about this forever and I’m just going to start getting all verklempt. Any last words that you have for people who may be for the people who feel like, “I don’t know. Can I have purpose? Can I live on purpose? Is it worth it?” What advice do you have for people who are questioning?
Rachel: I think for sure, if you’re questioning, if you can have purpose, the answer is: Yes. If you’re questioning, what is your purpose, or are you serving the right purpose. Do you need to re-evaluate then start working on this internal reflection. And I don’t know if the Year of Transformation is for everyone or what exactly — I know Sundae, you offer so many different things. But I think you need some internal reflection to figure out what it is that you want to leave behind in this world and what you want to spend your time doing.
And regardless of what that is, it’s worth being intentional about that. That’s the word that keeps coming up. Living a life with intention regardless of what you do is going to be so much deeper and richer and more fulfilling than just kind of going along with life and letting life happen to you.
Rachel: And spend the time, invest in that because it’s really an investment in yourself and the world around you.
Sundae: Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. So, intention is coming up.
Sundae: Reflection is coming up. Whether or not you need support. Some people can do this on their own and they’ve got it. Other people do it better or differently, richer, when they’ve got support by their side.
Rachel: Yeah, and don’t be ashamed of that. I found that I need that. And it has been so helpful for me to have someone like you, Sundae, through every transition and we were joking about this earlier. I just have a lot of transitions in my life.
Rachel: I feel like my whole life is a transition.
Sundae: How many countries have we spoken from? *laughter*
Rachel: But transitions are hard. This is one of the things that we do learn in medicine is to ask our patients, “In the last year, have you relocated? Have you lost a family member or a close friend? Have you started a new job or lost a job?” These sort of large life transitions impact people. And any of those things, all of us have just been through and are still going through. One of those plus a pandemic, right?
Sundae: Or all of those.
Rachel: Or all of them together. Yes. Yeah, it’s true. And we I think we have to realize that requires work and requires time to process through and if you can process through on your own, that’s great, but I love processing through this with Sundae. Just having an objective person I think is really helpful.
Sundae: Absolutely. I do the same thing.
People who are really excelling, people who are high performers have support, especially like you said, during tough times, during transitions. Those are the important pivot points.
Sundae: Okay, Rachel. So for those who are really interested in your perspective on female sexual health, and this slant, with social justice, and all of the things that you do, where can they best follow you?
Rachel: Probably, Twitter is the easiest way, and my handle is @drrpope. No punctuation there. So, that’s probably the easiest way. You can also check out our Hospital website University Hospitals Urology Institute, and the Female Sexual Health is the division that I’m the chief of.
Sundae: Wonderful. We’ll make sure that we put in the show notes so people can keep abreast on all of the important things that you are talking about.
Rachel: Thank you.
All right, so how amazing is Rachel? It’s been such a gift to have her really share what it takes to live toward your purpose. That sort of diligence, courage, humility, intention. All of it. It was important to me to have Dr. Rachel Pope on today because sometimes when we see someone who’s successful, we think it’s because they’re lucky or because I don’t know they’re just super smart and different from us and but what we don’t see is that they did the work.
They started with a hope to make an impact on their own lives and the lives of others. And then they took the first step, getting curious. Like, “What could that be? And then, what would be the first step in terms of actually doing the work? And what kind of support do I need? And what do I do when I want to give up?” All of those things are part of the journey.
And again, I mentioned at the top of our episode, but if you’re hungry to add more purpose and meaning in your life, then definitely check out our 5-Day Purpose Challenge going on in September 2021 inside Expats on Purpose. The link is in the show notes.
The other thing you might have noticed during this episode is you’ve heard how Year of Transformation shifted a lot for Rachel, right? So just for you as a listener of Expat Happy Hour, I want to let you know that you’re right now, the first to hear that the doors are opening for Year of Transformation applications. I only guarantee 10 spots a year because I give my all to my clients in a very high-touch coaching program all year long to help you really get clear on what would that look like living on purpose. What would the transformation look like for you? If you got to ask for everything? So that’s what we do together. Check out the show notes and apply and we can see if this is the right fit for you so you can be celebrating your Year of Transformation this time next year.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with the words of Jillian Michaels: “Transformation isn’t a future event. It’s a present day activity.”
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