What I learned from 30+ physicians about Identity

A couple of weeks ago I was photographing physicians in their work environments. As I moved from office to O.R. to board room shooting over 30 physicians over the course of two days I was struck by the demeanor and the attitude that they all seemed to possess. Man, woman, old, young, black, white, experienced, inexperienced... it didn't matter. Not a single one of them was concerned about whether every hair was in place or whether their makeup was perfect or whether their clothes were wrinkled.

We only had a few minutes with each physician, sometimes squeezed into their schedule between patients. Several stepped in front of my camera just minutes after a surgery or just minutes before scrubbing in. And while it would be a challenge for me to come out of a surgery, wash my hands and smile in front of a camera, each doctor handled it with such grace and warmth.

I put on the mask and gloves — I'm basically a surgeon right?

I put on the mask and gloves — I'm basically a surgeon right?

After shooting a handful of frames, I would offer to show them the display on the back of my camera to make sure they were satisfied with the outcome. While several responded with a confident, "I'm sure they're just fine," those who took me up on the offer simply commented, "they look great to me" before changing back into their scrubs to continue serving their patients.


Out of the hundreds of portraits I've taken over the years, I can think of only a few who reacted the way those physicians did. Typically people are overly critical of their portraits, asking to reshoot until every detail is painstakingly perfected and even then, few seem satisfied.

Here's the message I received through their actions and their attitude:

There are things I value more than whether or not I look like a model.

Lives were literally in their hands every day of the week. And when they began operating in a way that prioritized this level of value, the trivial things that used to matter fell away. Did they still have to take a picture? Sure. Did they spend their time and energy worrying about it? Nope.

We'll have to deal with trite issues that pop up here and there — that's life. But if we're living in such a way that prioritizes greater things, those small issues will feel inconsequential. And rather than spend our energy worrying about them, we'll see them as just another little thing to get out of the way before we can focus on the things that consume our attention.

If we can imagine that our attention, our brainpower, our energy and our resources are spread along a 20% range on a "things that matter" scale, let's try to shift our focus toward the 80-100% range rather than the 0-20% range.

Honestly, this entire conversation is rooted in identity. Where do you get yours from? Is it from a bunch of likes or comments on your profile picture? Or is it from knowing that you're using the talents that you've been blessed with to make a difference in other people's lives? Because if you're operating in that zone, it's amazing how little the likes and comments matter.