We spend a lot of time trying to fit in. From an early age, we find out that anything that makes us different from someone else could make us a target for teasing or being left out of the conversation. This can cause us to forgo our unique differences and blend in with everyone else.
A lot of dietitians feel pressure to look or act a certain type of way. An idea has formed about how an RD is “supposed” to be. And because of this, many shy away from what makes them unique which could hinder their ability to give the best nutrition care possible.
Our differences are what make us unique
Each person has a set of characteristics that makes us special. No one is going to have the same experiences that you do. These differences, however, can be the same things that unite and connect us to others.
Something you’re trying to hide might be what connects you to someone else
When I was first diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I wanted to keep it a secret. I was ashamed and I did not want my diagnosis to define me. I did not want to alter the way people interacted with me.
However, after letting a few people know about my situation, I realized that so many people had similar experiences to mine. It seemed like everyone I knew, knew someone who had thyroid cancer.
Sharing made me feel less alone
After telling a handful of people and hearing that so many others had experienced the same thing, I did not feel so alone. I was relieved to know that more people than I thought were diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Before sharing my story, I felt isolated and scared because I had never met anyone who had gone through what I was about to.
I realized I didn’t need to hide it
I came to the realization that my cancer diagnosis was not something that I needed to hide or be ashamed of. I could use it to not only raise awareness but also connect with others and help them come to terms with their diagnosis as well.
I found that sharing my story allowed me to see that each of us has a unique story that not only can change our perspective but has the potential to connect to someone else.
Now that I have my voice, how do I use it?
Once I found out that I could use my story to help others, I needed to figure out how I could actually use it. I started off small by posting on social media, letting others know about ways they could spot thyroid cancer or why the thyroid is such an important glad. From there, I learned about ways I could use my nutrition degree to become involved with oncology and nutrition in relation to cancer.
Find your voice
Think about a time where you felt different than those around you. This could be from as young as when you were in elementary school, throughout college, or even on the bus coming home from work. Something might have happened which made you feel less than, different, or that others were watching you.
Situations like these can make us feel ashamed, embarrassed and cause us to hide these experiences away. However, more people may have felt the same way as you. By opening up about what happened to you, you might realize that this is a different perspective that you bring to the table.
As RDs, we all bring something different to the table. I am challenging you to take that feeling and use it to better connect with someone. Sharing a unique experience can create a conversation about a nutrition topic or area of health that has not been discussed before. You might realize that no one is talking about the challenges you have faced and that now there is dialogue surrounding it. By opening up, you might have started an entire movement.
Your voice doesn’t have to be a medical condition
Just because I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, doesn’t mean that everyone has or knows someone who has. This is my personal experience with something that I thought I needed to hide or shy away from.
You might have felt ostracized at your school or place of work because of the way you look, or your political viewpoints or religious beliefs.
Opening up to others about your differences can make a huge difference in connecting with others. From the outside, no one will be able to know your story and they will only know if you let them in. On the surface, you may have a great relationship with a client. However, confiding in them about something personal may open doors to deepen your relationship with them. Having a deeper relationship with a client allows them to feel more comfortable with you which can allow them to divulge more information about why they have sought out your help in the first place.
From the outside, no one knows your story
By looking at me, it would be hard to know about my cancer diagnosis. The same thing goes for being teased about your food choices, language, religion, or anything someone has made you feel less than for.
However, opening up about what has caused you pain can lead you to have lasting connections with others. As dietitians, many of us struggle with perfectionism and work to offer the perfect version of ourselves on social media. What you think has hindered you, might actually be the thing that has allowed you to gain a lot of inner strength. Sharing that with others can not only be empowering for you but empowering for others: it lets people get to know the real you.
Use your voice to make a difference
With whatever you think makes you different, use it to your advantage. Find a way to use it to connect you to your clients, your friends, even strangers. Find advocacy groups that align with what you believe in and change the narrative behind it. Find ways to integrate it into your career and daily life. More people have had similar experiences than you think.
We do not need to shy away from what makes us different. Our differences can be tools in our toolboxes. Once you find what makes you unique, you can let it help you shine and guide you to a path you didn’t know was there.
Until I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, oncology was a field that never crossed my mind. Now that I have a personal connection with cancer, I have a strong, personal interest in it.
Something that caused me pain changed my life for the better
When you are going through a difficult time, perspective is not normally there. After time passes, you gain a new perspective that can propel you into success or a life you never thought you wanted or could dream of. Use what has caused you pain, made you feel different, to offer your unique voice to the world. Maybe you have used a specific food or cooking to connect with family members and offering this to a client can help you relate better to them. Maybe you felt different at school or work by bringing your cultural foods in at lunch? Share that experience with a client if you think it will help them. Taking instances from your life that you may have hidden away can make you a better practitioner. This can help you offer your unique perspective to others.
Guest post by Alyssa Smolen
Alyssa just graduated with a degree in Nutrition and Food Science with a concentration in dietetics and minor in journalism. She is currently obtaining her MS and will be applying for the dietetic internship next year. In her free time she enjoys long distance running and sharing her recipes on her instagram @arugalyssa. Her favorite animals are corgis and she absolutely hates red peppers.