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“It is important to take time for yourself.” with Dr. Jessica Lubahn

From an emotional standpoint, I think it is important to take time for yourself. Although it would be great to start the day with meditation, it could be smaller moments or pauses throughout the day. For me, just 10 minutes in the morning with coffee and a newspaper before my children awaken helps me to […]

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From an emotional standpoint, I think it is important to take time for yourself. Although it would be great to start the day with meditation, it could be smaller moments or pauses throughout the day. For me, just 10 minutes in the morning with coffee and a newspaper before my children awaken helps me to be more emotionally available for them later.

Asa part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewingJessica Lubahn, MD

Jessica Lubahn, MD is a medical doctor, specializing in urology. She is a health writer and consultant. She is the founder of ONDRwear (ondrwear.com) which are luxe leak proof underwear, whose mission is to destigmatize urinary, menstrual and any other leakage through the creation of products that are both highly effective and beautiful.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Igrew up in a middle-class family in the suburbs of Los Angeles to traditional, immigrant parents. I have a sister, who is 14 months older than me, and we were often confused as “twins.” Deference to birth order meant that as the second born, it was my job to not overshadow the first born. I despised this notion and I think this gave me a chip on my shoulder from an early age. For instance, in Japanese, all members of the family were identified with the respectful postfix “-san.” The youngest was identified merely as “imoto.” I refused to respond to anything less than “imoto-san” in protest of this perceived injustice. I do believe a lot of my drive and grit comes from this desire to shatter these artificial constructs. This struggle between reconciling the “old world” and “new world” was a constant source of conflict in an otherwise happy childhood.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My path has been quite circuitous. There have been several physicians in my family. My grandfather was a pediatrician. My aunt, who is my second mom, is a retired anesthesiologist. My uncle, who is my second dad, is a retired neurosurgeon. My sister wanted to be a doctor from the time I could remember. As a result, I absolutely did not want to become a physician.

At Yale University, I thought that I would pursue finance and majored in Economics. However, in my junior year, I had an existential crisis. My uncle challenged me to think about what I would be proud of at the end of my life — — what I would want to be able to say that I had accomplished. I decided not to pursue finance because I found that I was not motivated by the idea of wealth. I recalled how my grandfather loved being a pediatrician so much that he did not retire until he was 82. I thought that in medicine, in the very least, I would be able to say that I helped some people along the way. Thus, despite all my attempts to distinguish myself from my sister, I found myself going to medical school.

Nobody enters medical school aspiring to be a urologist. I ended up in the field mostly by accident. My first research position was in the laboratory of a urologist. I found myself drawn to the humor and personalities in the field. Ultimately, I think these factors are pivotal in what kind of specialty someone pursues.

As practicing urologist, one of the conditions that I treat is urinary incontinence (or bladder leakage). Unlike diseases like cancer, this one is (mostly) a quality of life issue. However, the impact can be heartbreaking. I listened to how people would become socially isolated by shame and embarrassment. I had family members who talked to me about their depression. The interesting part was that the degree of leakage did not have to be severe. Patients would take medications with side effects, undergo surgery, botox, nerve stimulation, etc. even for mild issues. I started to listen more about what the actual pain was: the smell, feeling of losing control, and the feeling of getting old. I looked at high powered women who should be celebrated after having just given birth, instead hiding at home in embarrassment. I realized that a lot of this is stigma arises from the fact that most people are not aware of how common this issue is. I started my underwear company ONDRwear with the goal of creating absorbent underwear that is stylish and makes people feel normal again. In doing so, I hope to drive awareness and break down the shame associated with incontinence and any other kinds of leakage.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I have to give credit to my mom and my aunt (her sister). Growing up, I was always really proud of the fact that they worked, whereas most of my friends’ mothers did not. From the time I was little, they inculcated in me that I had to be independent and to be able to support myself. They truly made me believe that I could become anything. As a corollary, they also made me believe that failure stems from a lack of effort.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I met my husband at a medical school interview in Houston, TX. We could not be more different. We developed a phone friendship right off the bat. When I told my close friends that I was flying to Houston to visit him, everyone thought that I had poor judgement and gave me emergency numbers of random people they knew in the city. My parents thought I was immature to think I could start a relationship from afar. We ended up going to different medical schools, but got married in our 4th year. At the time we got married, we had never lived in the same city. Two kids later, he is still my best friend and the best mistake I have ever made. What I learned it that not all decisions must be logical.

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

I believe that success derives from hard work, but that drive has to come from within oneself. To truly be able to dedicate oneself and consistently apply the effort necessary for success, you have to believe that the ultimate goal is worthwhile. Find something that inspires you.

However, also enjoy the process. I feel that I have been too goal oriented in my life. Throughout my career, I have told myself, “it’ll get better when you get into college.” Then it becomes, “it’ll get better when I get into medical school,” etc. One day I realized that there will always be another goal. It is necessary to get fulfillment along the way as well.

The biggest lesson that I have learned from being an entrepreneur is that it is worth it to take risks. Failure is a necessary part of the process. Taking risks opens doors and opportunities that you may not have imagined possible. I realized that the biggest risk was not failure, but waking up one day realizing that I had never tried.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I recently read “Born a Crime,” which is Trevor Noah’s memoir. There is much to unpack in what he discusses, and I love that he does this through wit and humor. One of my favorite things that he does throughout is that he de-escalates situations by speaking in different dialects. I love the idea that despite appearances, finding a commonality can disarm people. I think we could use a little more unity these days. I also really liked his idea that “teaching a man to fish” is not enough for him to feed himself. You also have to “give him a fishing pole.” There are individual factors that help one success, but that is not enough. This emphasizes our role as a society.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“If it is a good idea, go ahead and do it. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission.” This is something told to me in surgical training. It puts you in a bolder mindset, and challenges you to step out of your comfort zone.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am working on a coffee table book. As a urologist, I witness a variety of life’s absurdities — ailments, nature’s designed pecularities, and human-associated situations. I believe that being able to laugh is an important coping mechanism and uniquely human.

I am also working on underwear designs for men. Breaking down barriers in incontinence for women is challenging, however, this is many times more difficult and more taboo in men. It is no less important and impactful for their quality of life.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

Each day, we have too many decisions to make and neither the attention nor energy for all of them — resulting in decision fatigue. Good habits help prevent that and allows us to keep sharp for the important things that we need to tackle in a day. More importantly, habits are sustainable.

In my healthcare world, we obviously strive to instill good habits in our patients. Eating well, exercising and rest have clear benefits. One example, is that many patients with a leaky bladder have issues with pelvic floor weakness. “Kegel exercises” are famous for being able to strengthen the pelvic floor. However, this does not happen when they are not done. I always tell my patients to make it a habit and associate this with an activity. I tell them to do a set of Kegels at every red light or every commercial break. Forming these habits increase the chance that these exercises will be done!

How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?

As a mother, physician, and entrepreneur habits are very important for keeping me organized and efficient. My morning routine is consistent so that I do not forget things like packing lunches and making sure all the teeth have been brushed. Similarly, as a physician, I have a method of reviewing notes, labs, studies to make sure I do not miss any critical information on a given patient. I even have silly habits, especially before big surgical cases — like the path I walk to the operating room, a systematic way of putting in orders, which notes I write first, etc. There is something calming about controlling all possible variables when you are going to walk into a known unpredictable or high stress situation. I have a nightly routine with my children and then taking time for myself to exercise and re-center. These habits make it all manageable.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

The best way to get anything engrained is start small. If the goal is too overwhelming, it is less likely to be started. Then it is repetition. This takes commitment, which means not letting yourself off the hook. The more you do something, the less of a burden it becomes. Then celebrate any success. Staying positive and resilient is key. Surrounding yourself with people that want to see you succeed and who can support you along the way is invaluable.

The key to stopping bad habits is to first recognize it and really decide what is motivating you to change. In order to let go of a bad habit, the reason has to be compelling to yourself. Again, start off slowly with something easy to achieve. For instance, instead of going on a major diet (cut out one thing like soda). Substitute a good habit in its place (try sparkling water). Find a way to distract from the triggers. Have grace if you fail, but persist.

Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.

To me, wellness relates to the maintenance of physical and emotional health.

As commonly suggested, diet is an important factor. In general, I am a strong believer that moderation if key. I have seen people pursue extreme diets or supplement with an inordinate amount of vitamins in a push for health, only to end up with kidney stones.

Exercise is also important. The new year always sets off a spate of resolutions. But little changes can make a big impact. For instance, making it a habit to take the stairs or park at a distance to achieve some more movement.

From an emotional standpoint, I think it is important to take time for yourself. Although it would be great to start the day with meditation, it could be smaller moments or pauses throughout the day. For me, just 10 minutes in the morning with coffee and a newspaper before my children awaken helps me to be more emotionally available for them later.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

An easy way to improve your diet, for starters, is to resist buying the foods that will tempt you later. It is hard to indulge when it is not available. Encourage those around you to do the same. It is impossible to quit smoking, for instance, if those around you continue to smoke. Get enough sleep.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.

Whether in sports or at work, performance improves with practice. The practice has to be intentional, since practicing a poor form in a sport, say, may reinforce a bad habit.

Continuous reevaluation and self- reflection are also critical. As a surgeon, I write down each step of my case in great detail. Small adjustments to which suture to use, retractors/devices, or even incision sites can make all the difference to the ergonomics or smoothness of a case. I occasionally record myself. Just like athletes, when you can watch yourself critically, you can recognize areas of improvement you might not necessarily otherwise perceive.

It is also important to continue learning. In medicine, we live in an exciting time, in which there are constantly new therapeutic options and technologies. To remain relevant, it is important to stay informed.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

It is important to develop metrics for yourself in the areas that you want to improve. By setting goals, I think it is easier to hold yourself accountable. Sometimes, this requires being your worst critic. Repetition is also important. The more you do it, the better you will get.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.

Complete one task at a time. Multitasking has been shown to be inefficient. It is hard to not check your email while working, but interruptions cause you to deviate off course.

Set a time for focusing and set a time for distraction. Just like in exercise HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), it is easier to dive deeply into a topic when you are fresh. However, that intensity is draining. I make myself stand up every 20–30 minutes. I also set a timer for my mark the end of my distraction period, and now I have almost a Pavlovian response to return my focus.

Routine is again important. I start my day by turning on a pot of coffee. This helps me center and start my work day.

Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?

In this era of working from home, I do think it is harder to focus since home life blends into work life. I think it is important to set boundaries and dedicate specific and uninterrupted time for each. Set expectations for yourself and for those around you.

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

To achieve a state a flow, I think that you cannot be scared of risks and need to continually find ways of challenging yourself to become a better version of who you are. There is a euphoria that comes with overcoming something that you did not initially think was feasible. Reflection and acknowledgement that what you have done is meaningful. I also believe that surrounding yourself with positive people that can see your value and strive to help you achieve your potential is priceless.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One day, I would love to create a “exchange program” within our country. I feel that we are all so segregated in our own echo chambers, we no longer hear our neighbors. I think that if there were more interactions, among people from different parts of the country (north and south, rural and city, different ethnicity) we would be able to see each other again beneath all the vitriol. It is easy to hate that which you do not know or understand. I wish I could change that.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I would love to meet Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. I love that she created the idea of shapewear and continues to support entrepreneurship in women. Watching interviews, she also seems like a fun person to eat lunch with.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I post regularly on my blog at my website.

You can also follow me on facebook or instagram.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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