Career advancement & family life: perspectives from a Medical Officer of Health, with Lawrence Loh

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We launched the Career Advancement and Family Life series in the last episode with our guest Lathika Laguwaran. We are big believers here at PH SPOT of learning from those who have done something before us and using their lessons and experiences to craft our own path. We want to share the stories of public health professionals at various phases of their lives and careers to get a glimpse into their way of life and thinking. We hope you will reach out to us and share your perspectives and experiences with the public health community.

Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with Lawrence Loh. You may recognize his name from two very popular posts on the PH SPOT blog: Start with Yes and Choosing impact over location: the myth of the “global health gamble”.

When we talk about career advancement and family life, TIME is an important topic. Our relationship with time changes as we progress through our careers and when we begin to build a family. This is exactly how our conversation with Lawrence begins: how time has changed for him during his career, and how this has influenced the opportunities and choices he has made.

We also get to hear about the decisions Lawrence has had to make with discontinuing clinical work, and reprioritizing where and how he uses his time. With two young daughters that mean everything to him, Lawrence is very particular with how he spends his time, and we were so grateful he said yes to sit down with us to share his perspective on career advancement and family life.

You’ll Learn

  • “Time” as it relates to building your career
  • How “time” has changed for Lawrence over the course of his career and when children came into the picture
  • How and why he decided to conduct an inventory of his activities to reprioritize his time and consolidate various activities when he was expecting his second child (for example, he decided to stop practicing clinical medicine – we talk about how that made him feel)
  • The way Lawrence sees one’s life and early career – divided by the following 5 standard phases:
    • Inquiry/questioning phase
    • Generative phase
    • Consolidation phase
    • Second generative phase
    • Second inquiry phase
  • How once he got to the consolidation phase he rediscovered his love for fictional writing (he’s even got the manuscripts written!)
  • What a typical day looks like at work and at home
  • How he set up his parental leave
  • Though it is not his lived experience, we discuss starting a family in the “inquiry phase”, rather than later on in one’s career (as was the case for Lawrence) 
  • Five career tips he wraps up the conversation with:
    • Nothing is irreversible
    • The past decisions you make often shape your future decisions (sometimes you need to walk through one door to get to the other door)
    • You’ll get something out of everything you do (every opportunity has a certain value/experience)
    • Every job has its negative aspect (every opportunity has a downside)
    • For younger millennials, don’t trust a snake oil salesman for career advice

Today’s Guest

Lawrence Loh

Dr. Lawrence Loh, MD, MPH, CCFP, FRCPC, FACPM is an Associate Medical Officer of Health at Peel Public Health and Adjunct Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.

In his role at Peel Public Health, he provides strategic leadership to the Health Protection division (consisting of Environmental Health and Immunization Records), the Healthy Built Environment portfolio, and also leads the department’s digital strategy and strategic priority on advancing health equity. His work as faculty at Dalla Lana has included research into global health training experiences and teaching with the public health and preventive medicine residency program.

He completed undergraduate training and medical school at the University of Western Ontario and residency at the University of Toronto, during which he also earned a Master of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. He holds certifications in family medicine in Canada and in public health and preventive medicine in both Canada and the United States.


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Episode Transcript

Lawrence 0:00
I’ll first start by saying, anyone’s day, the days that we are given. It’s up to you how you want to prioritize your time. Flexibility in being able and how you manage your time is probably one of the most essential components to happiness.

Sujani 0:18
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, what’s up everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health, to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Today we’re continuing the conversation from last week around career advancement and family life. I told you last week that this has been a topic that I have received questions about from you guys, and a topic that I think deserves more than just one episode. So I’m committing to bringing you different perspectives on this podcast from our peers in public health. I’m a big believer in learning from others. Even though my life situation may be different. I always find myself walking away with the lessons that individuals have had from their experiences and then using that to craft what works for me and my unique situation. And so in this week’s episode, I’m sitting down with Lawrence Loh. You may recognize his name because he has written two very popular articles for PH SPOT, “Start with Yes”, and “Choosing impact over location: the myth of the Global Health gamble'” and we’ll include the links to those blog posts in the show notes page. So be sure to check that out if you have never read Lawrence’s articles. Dr. Lawrence Loh is an associate medical officer of health at Peel public health, a local health unit in Canada. And he’s also an adjunct professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. Lawrence’s role at Peel public health is to provide strategic leadership to the Health Protection Division, which consists of environmental health and immunization records, as well as the healthy built environment portfolio and he also leads the department’s digital strategy and strategic priority on advancing health equity. And his work as faculty at the Dalla Lana has included research into global health training experiences and teaching with the public health and preventative medicine residency program. Lawrence’s undergrad training and medical school were in Ontario at the University of Western and his residency was at the University of Toronto, during which he also earned a Master’s of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University. Lawrence holds certifications in family medicine in Canada, and in public health and preventative medicine in both Canada and the US. It may sound like he’s doing a lot of stuff, but you’re going to hear in our conversation about the decisions that Lawrence has had to make with discontinuing clinical work and how he reprioritize where and how he was using his time. He walks me through the different phases that one goes through with their life and career. And it was very eye opening for me on a personal level as someone who’s still early on in their career with two young daughters that mean everything to him. Lawrence is very particular with how he spends his time. And so I was extremely grateful when he said yes to sit down with us and share his perspective on career advancement and family life. And without further ado, here’s our conversation.

It seems to me that you’re that you really care about the young professionals in public health, and you’ve written for PH SPOT a few times, and I thought they were very thoughtful guidance for young professionals. And one of your posts is actually one of our most read articles. I don’t know if you knew that.

Lawrence 4:04
Oh, wow.

Sujani 4:05
Yeah, it’s the one called “Start with Yes”. And I was personally inspired reading that post. So I was not surprised at all that it was popular amongst other public health professionals. So thank you for that guidance that you provided not only with that polls, but other articles that you’ve written for PH SPOT.

Lawrence 4:22
I’m really happy to happy to help out and certainly really, really excited to hear that that- that that post has gone as well as it has, I think it I know you wanted to talk a little bit about career and family and changes and all this stuff. So the funny thing is, in my recent times, I’ve been meaning to attend another post at some point that really explores the phases of the life where you- where you move from the “Starting with Yes” point to- to sort of changing things, but I’m happy to talk about that more as we get into it.

Sujani 4:54
Oh, wonderful. Yeah, I think in the in the beginning of that sort of article you you say in reflecting your career to date, the most important word for anyone starting out is to say yes. And then you kind of go on to highlight that, you’ll never have as much time as you have in your early career to really try things out and see how it all fits. And so what I want to talk about today is time as it relates to building one’s career, and then how time has changed for you perhaps as you built your career, because you have a family, a wife, and children, I’m assuming here that the family came into the picture between you being a student and your current role as a medical officer of health that appeal public health. So this topic of career advancement with public health, from the perspective of both men and women is a topic that’s brought up by many members of the PH SPOT community. And I’m hoping I do justice by showcasing different perspectives. But when we do talk about career advancement, and family life, time is a big topic. And so, back to that initial question, how has time changed for you during your career, and how has that influenced perhaps the opportunities or the choices that you’ve had to make?

Unknown Speaker 6:09
So time is, is pretty much our most valuable asset on Earth. And it’s one of those interesting things. It’s, you don’t- no one knows how much of time you have, you can’t really buy more of it. And you actually, all you can really do is try to free up as much of it as you can. And so going back to what I started with the “Starting with Yes”, a blog post, even to now, I’d say, you know, time certainly gets more and more short once you have a family. And I think with really good points. And with really good reasons. My daughters are pretty much together with my wife and my family are in pretty much the most important thing in my life. And, and so every moment that I do get to spend with them is is precious, certainly something that I treasure. And so it actually leads you into a different phase of your life where you where you really need to sort of start to look at the various things that you’ve committed to, and, and really start to prioritize things just based on the amount of time that you do have. And so I’d say the big lesson that I’ve learned, at least in the recent times, that I’ve been there is that while while we oftentimes start with yes, the next part or phase of our life is often to learn how and learn when to start saying no, right? And, and so to some extent, once you’ve- when you’re sort of young and early on in your trading career, you’ll spend a lot of time developing a lot of different threats. And if you choose to have a family, and if you’re fortunate enough to have a family, you will, you will need to do a bit of what I call a consolidation or restructuring and take a look at things. Usually by the time it happens, or even if you don’t have a family, and you’ve just kind of let things run on through your early to mid career. And what you usually want to start trying to do is look and see, well, what is the track record that I’ve developed or built for myself now? What are the things that I have worked on that maybe I’ve demonstrated some facility and that I now have a bit of a track record in that I should keep? What are the things that are, you know, maybe I’m passionate about and really interested in but haven’t panned out the way that I intended to? And maybe I need to change or tweak them? And then what are the things that just really aren’t working out? Even if- even if I said yes, initially, but it’s just not really how things are meant to be turning out? And and how do you actually gracefully exit from those. And so, I recently went through that sort of inventory myself, just over the last few years, in large part due to, in large part due to my the, you know, the addition of my- of my two little daughters that definitely, but- but also to some extent because it was also the right time, just having seen how things had unfolded in various threads over the course of over the course of my early career.

Sujani 9:03
Do you sort of recall any specific examples where you thought, you know, I have to reprioritize this? Or kind of like, I have to restructure my commitment here. Are you able to speak to some of those with examples?

Lawrence 9:19
So I would say there’s a few things, right? So as a- as a public health physician, I I basically work. my full time job as an associate medical officer of health but my interest and passion for the longest time used to be in global health and development, which is why I did a lot of work, research work volunteering, you know, both with the nonprofit in Brooklyn, as well as, you know, with a number of international tables like the World Medical Association, etc. The other piece of course, is I used to practice clinically too, and I used to be sort of working in family medicine and actually still seeing patients As well trying to balance all the other pieces and, and also still teaching at the university and with kids. So basically had all these different. And so I think the biggest thing that really drove home for me was when I decided at the end of 2016, to stop doing clinical medicine, it was not an easy decision, I had always believed that I was going to, in some form or another still see patients throughout my career, but I think there was sort of a bit of a shift in 16, you know, my wife was pregnant with our second. And I was also in the midst of, you know, just navigating, you know, my first two was at the time, you know, two and a bit. And just realizing that for a number of time, a number of things, you actually really, you actually really need to consolidate, to do things well. And I’m, I think I was honest enough with myself that I was just like, you know, I’m only really doing one or two Urgent Care shifts a month, I’m not seeing that many patients, my clinical skills are not what they used to be, I’m not doing it well. And also, by doing these chips, the month it’s taking time away from the family. You know, it’s not necessarily making me all that much more money, because I’m working so slowly. I’m not- And that’s not necessarily the most important piece. And it is a bit of a liability. I mean, like, it’s just like, if I were to get sued, in my clinical practice, it wouldn’t just be family doctor gets sued, it’d be, you know, associate medical officer of health appeal gets sued, right? So I think there were, for many reasons, I took a look at that and said, “Well, is this really turned- has this really turned out the way that I have intended it to.” And I think the negatives outweigh the positives, though, there’s a real recognition that just by virtue of circumstance, and how everything had turned out that you know, all of the preconceived notions that I had, that you have to practice clinically, to be a doctor, and you have to be able to stick to it, I was just like, you just didn’t, those are nice things to have in your mind. But the reality is, in terms of doctors that don’t practice, clinically, they’re still making a difference. And, and to a large part, I actually almost said, “Well, I’m more committed to trying to keep people healthy by creating healthy contexts rather than treating them after their health has failed them.” And so for all those reasons, for my change in my paradigm for more time with my kids for, you know, not being able to necessarily do it as well, as I liked, I made a concerted effort to transition out of clinical practice. I did the same thing with many of the other pieces. In general, it’s always a decision, a decision point around, is this something that I’m doing? Is it something that I’m doing well, does it still bring, you know, the benefits that I had signed up for whether it’s additional remuneration or happiness, or, you know, fulfillment, or whatever the case is? If it isn’t, and if it isn’t, then what usually happens is that something that you may have committed to is actually detracting from your time, which as I mentioned, is your most valuable resource, while not necessarily adding a whole lot of value to your life, and so I think, just by virtue of circumstance, you will see as you progress, and as one progresses in their career, one starts to identify the things that maybe aren’t necessarily working as well as they could be.

Sujani 13:24
Absolutely. And, you know, when you reflect on it, in hindsight, it it all sort of comes together nicely. And it when I’m listening to you, I’m like, wow, like you really knew what you were doing. You probably made this decision overnight. But I know that’s not the case. How long did it take you to kind of convince yourself and talk yourself into just realizing exactly what it was that that was a path you wanted to take and sort of be okay with letting go of these things?

Lawrence 13:55
It’s, it’s like any of the stages of grief, I think, you know, denial, you’re just kind of like, no, no, I can still practice clinically. And then there’s the anger and then the bargaining, and then eventually, the certain acceptance. But I would say that what I went through, you know, in general, is what I’ve identified, and this is going to be in my eventual, once I actually get this blog post written, basically, is the idea that everyone goes through about four, I would say, four or five standard phases, throughout their, their life and early career, early to mid career. I think there’s the first phase where you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s really sort of like the inquiry slash questioning phase. That’s where you’re trying out a lot of different things. You know, working on vastly different, totally different projects and profiles. Really just try to find your niche right. Once you’ve started to identify what you like and what you don’t like. The next part is really the what I call the generative phase, right? So the generative phase is where you start to identify. Yeah, you know, I’m actually good. I like maternal child health, I’m not a big fan of global surgery, whatever the case might be. And then you basically pursue opportunities and going back to the “Start with Yes”, then you start to say yes to all the various opportunities in your chosen field as well as the nearby fields that may have some linkages, right? But then eventually, because you know, life and time and energy are finite resources. Eventually, everyone gets to a point where you begin what I call the consolidation phase, right? So the consolidation phase is essentially the situation that I was describing, where you’ve now given everything enough time, you’ve given it a certain amount of time, and you’ve seen, yeah, well, that research project didn’t really pan out into anything, or I’m really good at, you know, doing data and some sort of like, you know, subgroup analyses for like, really complex epidemiologic studies or something like that. And so once you get to that, that phase, usually, I think it’s usually probably about like five to 10 years out from the start of the generative phase, I feel like everything works in decades and half decades. The, the consolidation phase is where you basically rationalize your projects and just say, “Okay, well, these haven’t work, I need to cut them loose, this needs to change become smaller, this needs to this is where I need to take my finite energy and concentration or focus, and start drilling down into.” And once you start doing that, the thing that I discovered in consolidating, so for example, getting rid of clinical work, transitioning out of a lot of the global health and development work, doing, the stuff that’s left over, you have so much more energy and so much more ability to really go deep with with some of them if you choose and actually start to see some real games from that careers perspective. So that goes to what I call the second generative phase, which is essentially, now you’re not just building a whole bunch of stuff, with flies, but you’re actually drilling down into establishing yourself depthwise. The nice thing about that as well is that it also opens the final phase of everyone’s life, which, which basically becomes a cycle where you do move into a second inquiry inquiry phase. And basically, you start to see, well, now that I’ve actually got a little more free time, I’ve become a bit more expert, what I’m doing, let me see what else I’m doing. And what I can tell you is that ever since I transitioned out of my clinical work, and my, my global health and research work, I actually have gone back to one of my initial loves from when I was a student and I started writing fiction. And so over the summer, I just finished a 109,000 word manuscript for a book that I still need to edit. But- But all that to say, I don’t necessarily know if I would have had the time or the or the ability to do that if I was still trying to balance everything else. So really, just to recap, very quickly, I think life is full of basically, you start with your inquiry phase, you move into a generative phase where you build up all sorts of different projects and see where they lead by saying, yes, you then basically come to a point where you need to start rationalizing all of them, because they’ve all grown in some way, and you need to figure out what’s worked and what hasn’t. And then you actually move into a second generative phase where you can then build more on the stuff that’s working that you’re doing well, while also pursuing additional inquiries into things that you maybe hadn’t considered before or had left behind, in your first in the first part of your general phase. And I think that phase just kind of continues throughout most of our lives as our- as our careers progress.

Sujani 18:37
That’s fascinating. And I think you’ve just cleared up a few questions I’ve had personally for my career. So I have a ton of questions with these phases. But I think I might just hold on until you write the post, and then we can talk more about them. Awesome. So it sounds like you know, you’re moved from this like very busy phase of your life. And then you’ve transitioned into a phase where you feel like you’ve consolidated a lot of your activities, and you’ve got a beautiful family. And so how does your day or your week kind of look like at Peel public health? And how does that kind of integrate with your family life? Are you able to speak to that a little bit?

Unknown Speaker 19:18
Absolutely. And I’ll first start by saying anyone’s day, the days that we are given, it’s up to you how you want to prioritize your time. I would say one of the hardest thing especially for young professionals that are just starting out is really setting boundaries and limits around what how there’s how that time was used, respected all that other pieces, but to the extent that you can have an understanding boss, you know, flexibility in being able to in how you manage your time is probably one of the most essential components to happiness. Just just sort of like a preface there. So I’m very fortunate to work at a great health department. I have a great team that I work with everyone, everyone here is really focused on on trying to promote work life balance. So I’m always really grateful for- for a lot of the sort of the work philosophy that we have here at the region. My days are typically structured where I actually do a run commute to work. So I basically run from my house, five kilometers to Yorkville mall, and I take a go bus out to Mississauga. And I’m fortunate as well that our office has showers. So I basically, you know, just shower and get ready for the day here. What this does is it actually gives me more time in the morning with my girls, they tend to be early risers, I do breakfast with them, I don’t need to worry about getting ready at home. And it also allows me to get some exercise in both on the commute as well as commute back. Which, which means I don’t necessarily need to find, you know, leisure time to go for a run or, or go to the gym, because it’s kind of it’s all sort of fit into my day, at least as part of my commute. And then during my- my typical day to day, it’s basically meetings and desk work trying to catch up with emails, all those stuff. But the beauty of working in public health, as I’m sure many of you know, there for many roles, is there tends to be a bit of flexibility and where you do the work. So I will leave the office the same time every single day, usually at 4:15, 4:30. And reverse my run commute, I’ll catch up on stuff on the bus. And then when I get home, I basically throw my phone away and is family dinner and time with the girls till they’re asleep at bed. And once they’re asleep in bed, I will either write my book or write random stuff or a tip on the work that I need to catch up on. And so that’s kind of how I’ve structured my usual days. I mean, in terms of the actual work stuff, I mean, certainly there’s meetings where there’s lots of external presentations, you’re working with partners, all that other stuff that- that happens as well. But I think just being able to at least include exercise in my commute, as well as really committing to the idea that when I’m home, and my girls are awake, it’s about family has really has really helped me structure my days in the way that they are right now. And also, you know, made me more satisfied as well with the work that I do. And sort of the uninterrupted time that I get at night, as well as on the bus to just sort of type away and think and do all those other pieces. So yeah, so I mean, the big piece of advice I would say is, if you can set boundaries, organize some sort of flexibility in your time, that’s important. If you can build exercise into your commute, that saves you a lot in terms of having to, you know, try to find time to do it elsewhere. And honestly, one of the best things you can do for your productivity is to just stop driving, if that’s an option. So even if even if a bus might take a little bit longer than the car ride, I- it’s you know, 60 minutes on a bus versus 45 minutes or clutching a steering wheel, I believe you can, you can go along with the time on the bus and you can when you’re driving or driving your car. And so, so yeah, those are just some of the hacks that I use. And how am i- How my day typically turn to.

Sujani 23:03
How old are your girls now?

Lawrence 23:06
Jessica’s five, and she’s in senior kindergarten, she’s, she’s the she loves chatting with people all the time. Our two year old is definitely the- the- the strong, observant, one in the family, she’ll sit there and stare at you. But she is- Yeah, so Jessica is five and we have two and they are definitely the two of the brightest lights in my life for sure.

Sujani 23:32
So I guess, sort of the initial phase of parenthood is still vividly sort of in your, in your mind, are you able to speak about sort of parental leave and maybe how you and your wife may have, you know, worked around that.

Lawrence 23:49
So I’m very fortunate to work in a position in a role in a region where, you know, both men and women are afforded what is called a top up for parental leave. So, a lot of times everyone’s eligible for parental leave, but in terms of the salary that’s associated with it, some companies and organizations will offer a top up, which is basically like the offer and additional amount of your salary while you’re on leave up to a certain percentage. So I’m very fortunate that that was an option here at Peel. I, the way we organize it is you know, especially for some of the earlier months, obviously children are still breastfeeding children are still highly depend on those roles. So it tended to be that my wife would take on those roles, at least for the first six to nine months. But with my top up I was given roughly about three months worth of top up so I would take the full three months and- and usually tack it on just after my wife. My wife finished her term either six to nine months and then- and then- sort of move forward that way. I think many couples do what works for them. There’s some some folks who I guess, you know, the husband gets a longer period of top up and the wife might not get any help at all than the husband takes a longer period of time, or whatever the case might be. I think it’s a matter it’s both I would say it’s both a financial and a timing decision as to what works for you and the time that you can take to be with your kids. But if the finances in time workout, I highly recommend it to anybody it is on and I honestly the three months that I took off, not took off, it’s not really taking off. Because the three months I spent with my, my kids last summer, were probably three of the best times of my life. It was definitely, definitely a great summer in 2018. The summer this year was incredibly short as I think many people know. I say that 20, summer 2018 was way better than summer 2019.

Sujani 25:53
So I had interviewed a friend of mine, and she had sort of talked about her experiences taking parental leave. And we chatted about how when she transitioned back into work, she had to go back and sort of exactly what you said, set some clear boundaries, have open communication with her team members as to you know, I will no longer be just sticking around the office and be available after I get home because, you know, like you said, throw the phone away and all the time that you have is for your kids, did you kind of put in any- any sort of, I guess, boundaries when you went back, like that transition period? How did that work out for you?

Lawrence 26:33
Well, so I’m very fortunate to have, you know, a supervisor that is actually just very, very understanding about this stuff. And so I think that’s actually most of the flexibility. And most of the battle there, if you have a boss or supervisor who, who understands, you know, parental demands, flexibility, focusing on on that sort of piece, then that’s, that’s most of the battle right there. In the event that you don’t, I think a lot of it really has to do with just making sure that you make very clear why the boundaries exist. You know, usually, it usually identifies a bit of empathy, or taps into a bit of empathy, if you basically explain, you know, this is the situation and all those other pieces. I think also just to some extent, understanding that organizations and companies have operational requirements as well. And they may be juggling that as well means that you may not necessarily get all the flexibility that you’re looking for. But, but I think to the extent that you can make it more about, you know, I want to be I sort of want to be happy and fulfilled in the workplace, but also make sure that I’m, you know, happy and fulfilled at home, in meeting my responsibilities and demands there and seeing if the trend to bring on your boss and your- your workplace as a partner in that as opposed to being like, well, this, I’m entitled to like, you know, guns blazing kind of stuff.

Sujani 28:03

Lawrence 28:04
I think the former approach tends to hopefully, win over a few more people that have done the latter.

Sujani 28:11
Yeah, absolutely. And I wonder if sort of even opportunities that are presented to you are the ones that you seek out, do you feel like you’ve been assessing them in a different light now that you have two children, or even when you had your first daughter, when you went back? I would assume that you couldn’t just sort of decide on traveling right away, you sort of had to go back, plan your schedules? Are there things like that, that you sort of had to not adjust with, but you know, just consider it a bit more?

Lawrence 28:45
I’ve gotten really good at saying no.

Sujani 28:47

Lawrence 28:49
I think it’s funny, because the funny thing is that I think everyone eventually goes through that consolidation. Right?

Sujani 28:56

Lawrence 28:56
And, and so I think once you’ve gone through the consolidation, and found what you’re good at, and what you’re passionate at, and what you want to prioritize, in my case, it was you know, I want to prioritize my work with your public health, I want to prioritize my work with my family, I want to prioritize my writing. I want to prioritize my teaching. Like those are my priorities, I’m going to stick to those. So there’s a lot of other stuff. I mean, I’ll still get requests here and there, you know, oh, come and give a talk on volunteering, et cetera, et cetera. Unless there’s a really compelling reason for me to do it. Like I’m a person that knows that, which is a rare circumstance, by the way, a lot of people, a lot of people think I’m the only person thing I could do this disabusing yourself of that notion is probably the first step to success and happiness in any field. So I’m just kind of like, you know, there’s lots of other good people that I know I’m more than happy to pass on opportunity. Pass on them, meaning I pass on them but also passing them on to, to other people to consider I’ll be like, you know, I’m not necessarily working in this space anymore, but I’ve got a great friend who is, maybe you can chat with them. They might be interested in So I think, I think, you know, to your to your point, when you finally figure it out, and you’ve had the chance to finish through your sort of initial generative phase, and you know what matters to you, it really does help you structure your time. And you get very good at saying, you know, thank you so much for thinking about me. It’s not something I’m necessarily pursuing the time, but I might know someone else that I’m happy to put you in touch with. And you know, and wishing you well, it’s an important topic kind of thing. But I think it’s a recognition that you can’t do it all. And it doesn’t always have to be you. Those are those are sort of two of the two of the big pieces that I would encourage anyone who is transitioning from the early to mid career, there’s a lot a lot of people out there doing a lot of good work.

So that- that sort of probes another question for me, and I don’t know if you’re able to answer it. So you can let me know that this is probably not something you can answer. But how about folks that are in that first phase? So that inquiry phase, and they’re kind of starting out a family while they’re in that phase of their career? How do you think they can handle the opportunities that come their way? Or how do they go about saying yes to everything?

Yeah, that’s a- that’s a great question. It’s tough for me to know, because this is different from my from this is slightly different from my lived experience. But I would imagine, if you are still sort of finding your way out from a career perspective, while starting a family, it will. So I mean, I don’t necessarily want to, I don’t necessarily want to lean on stereotypes, but there may be a tendency for people to try to seek out opportunities, or consider opportunities, maybe maybe the easiest thing, the easiest thing to say is, I imagine being a parent and starting a family while you’re in an increased phase, provides a certain lens by which you view those opportunities, right? So so you would now be starting to view those opportunities with the idea that I’ve got a you know, 12 month old or I’ve got a three year old and an 18 month old at home, right? I think by its very by its very nature, the result would be that the opportunities that do end up getting pursued are pursued for a specific reason with that lens in mind right now, probably lots of other different lenses that are there. So actually, I can offer some pretty reasonable advice. Now that I’m thinking about it, I think the first piece of advice that I would offer is, certainly use that as a lens, because that I mean, that’s a critical lens for anybody, if you’re in the midst of an inquiry phase, while you’re, you know, while- while your children are while families are in the picture, but understand that that’s not the only lens, right? The big thing I would also share is understand that, you know, children get older, so there should be other lenses that you’re using around, you know, do you know, is this something that maybe build something that I can then pursue later once my children are older, right? And all those other pieces, I think the other pieces that I would encourage people to really think about when they’re in that phase, is to think about what is this sort of tolerance for- what is all of their risk tolerance, or their tolerance for instability in a role like that, because some people are totally fine with taking on all kinds of, you know, wonderful opportunities that are contract, you know, somewhere else in the world and pursuing that even with kids, whereas other people might be like, well, because now I’ve got kids, I want a bit more stability. So I’m not I’m going to pass on the, you know, on the, on the crazy adventures, and you know, the added complexity of bringing kids along with that, and try to focus on something that’s more, you know, straightforward, or a better word. So I think understanding one’s tolerance for risk and adventure, as it were, would also be, would also be an important thing to consider. So yeah, so I’d say, the three big things are, you know, definitely apply the family lens, but understand it’s not the only lens you should apply, particularly as children will continue to get older. Also, you know, decide on your risk tolerance and sort of how you want to raise your kids. That’s part of it, too. You know, what’s, what’s important to you there in assessing any of the opportunities that you can come one’s way.

Sujani 34:23
I guess when you describe the four phases, you said it was a cyclical process. So I wonder if individuals who start a family at the beginning of that phase if they kind of fast forward through one cycle much more quickly and get to that consolidation phase quicker than someone who’s not thinking about starting a family? So that’d be an interesting conversation to have with, perhaps I can find someone who has had lived experience sort of starting out a career in public health, and also a family sort of at the same time and how they progressed through.

Lawrence 34:58
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I- To some extent, I, you know, my interest, especially I mentioned that I’ve, I’ve been trying to write this fiction and write this book, I can- I can share sort of the experience of being like, well, you know, I’m totally new to the field of publishing and being a fiction author. It is very interesting. Like, there’s a lot of stuff that sort of sits in the back of your mind saying, “Well, this is a great field. But there’s so much I don’t know.” The time is limited in terms of when you actually do get to pursue stuff. Because the rest of the time you’re, you’re busy building your family, as opposed to be able to fully dedicate to the general phases. So I think there is still some generation that goes on, you’re correct. To say that there- there is also the risk that people may consolidate and just kind of settle for what they think is, you know, what they think works for the time being, because they’re so focused on the, on applying that family lens to their situation, without necessarily thinking about some of the other considerations further down the line when their kids get older.

Sujani 36:02
Absolutely. Right. And I want to ask you this before I forget, when does your book come out?

Lawrence 36:08
Oh, please. The manuscript is finished. I’m gonna move to the editing phase shortly. And then- and then I guess, I’m going to try to find an agent who might, who might take me but it’ll- it’ll be an interesting, interesting phase and process for sure.

Sujani 36:23
Is self publishing an option?

Lawrence 36:26
It is, but for some reason, I- yeah, I think I’ll try the traditional reverse that, if not, I’ll stick it up on Amazon or something.

Sujani 36:34
Wonderful. You’ll have to let us know. And we’ll certainly share that around the PH SPOT community.

Lawrence 36:40
Thanks so much for that.

Sujani 36:41
Yeah. So I guess a few words of wisdom or tips, couple of tips that you can offer, as we wrap up our- our conversation today. And of course, like I mentioned earlier, we definitely want to have you back to talk about the different phases that you’re sort of reflecting on. But just to end things off, for those of us in public health, who are, you know, either thinking about starting a family or working to our careers, what are some tips that you can end off with?

Lawrence 37:11
So I’ll give you five quick, quick little sound bites. So with any opportunity that you’re given, you know, there’s a few things that I encourage, right, so I think I’ve written in PH SPOT before that nothing is irreversible. The first thing is, I often tell everyone, so it doesn’t matter what I have been saved for death. You know, if you- if you see an option, you know, and you’re willing to take it, and you’re getting the generative phase, go ahead and say yes, see where it takes you. And, and then eventually, you know, consolidation comes eventually for everything. But, you know, it’s tough to judge things on a first glance, right? You never really, you never really know, unless you try something. So being willing to jump into stuff and know that you can reverse things or exit things gracefully, if they don’t work out. That’s usually something that nudges me towards at least saying yes, or at least considering things even now in my in my consolidated phase. And the second thing that I would say is, you know, your, you know, past, your past decisions that you make, often shape your future decisions, right. And I liken this to the idea that many of us oftentimes are sitting at a certain point in our life, where we’re trying to decide which door you want to go through. The reality is that you sometimes have to walk through a door to actually get to more doors, right? So there’s some extent to decisions you’ve made in the past have led to whatever future decisions you’re making now. And those future- these decisions that you’re making now will influence the future decisions that are coming down the line. So don’t feel like you have to sit there and be, you know, paralyzed by decisions and understand that you, you know, sometimes you have to make a decision and walk through the corridors, see what doors lie behind that. I’d say that every opportunity, the reality, you know, whether it’s a job or volunteer position, or whatever the case may be, it actually has something to teach you, everything has something to teach you, it may not be the best experience, but you’ll still learn something. And I think- I think, you know, when you think about any sort of opportunity, you know, pursuing that, with the recognition that you’re going to get something out of it, regardless of what happens is always a good experience, whether it’s, you know, prospective, or whatever the case might be. So I think every option has certain value. The other thing I would also add is that every job has its negative aspects, right? So every opportunity has a downside, every opportunity saying no to something else, I think saying no indirectly to something else. So I think to some extent, you want to decide how much are you willing to- how much you know, for lack of a better word, how much fecal material are you willing to accept in your job, and what kind and recognize that every opportunity is going to have its downsides? And the last thing that I would say is, please, please, please, because I and this is really important because I know many of the readers, many of your PH SPOT community, folks, I am an older millennial. I’m like an X- Gen X millennial customer. And so I know that many of you folks are younger millennial, and there are a lot of these Instagram influencers and people that are living these awesome lives and have these great careers, they’ll always give you talks and be like, I created this organization, I’m saving the world, all this other stuff. The reality is, is that that is that is like the tip of the iceberg, right. And a lot of these folks that are out there portraying themselves as incredibly successful or wildly successful in their careers, either are, you know, basically, they’re basically just making it on the inside. Or it’s part of their role. I mean, the reality is that if you’re going to create a random nonprofit, you have to make it look amazing, you have to make it look like something that people want to buy into reality might be your a three person operation. It’s tough, right? So I would say don’t trust, I wrote down in my notebook here ahead of our undergrad wrote, don’t trust snake oil salesmen for career advice, right? Because there is that these people will be out there and be like, I created this organization. This is how my career work, it’s amazing. The reality is that every decision and every choice you make, there’s hard work and trade offs and all of it. So going back to what I said earlier, think of every opportunity, as you know, in terms of its pros and cons, and then just walk through some doors and see where they lead you. But don’t- Don’t ever believe anyone who says that it’s easy, because it really isn’t. When a family is in the picture, even they- the folks that that make it look easy on Instagram, chances are they they have plenty of downsides and trade offs that they’re navigating as well.

Sujani 41:49
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Lawrence because I sure did. I can’t wait for his article on the different phases of life to come out. And when he does publish it on PH SPOT will be shared to share it out to you guys. I think what became a bit clearer for me is when I should start saying no, I was previously in this inquiry phase where I took every opportunity that came by and I certainly learned a lot from doing that. And I think having labels for each of these phases, makes it so that I can reflect better on my time and my experiences. Another thing that stood out for me was when he said nothing is irreversible. It really puts things into perspective and makes me feel less fearful about making a decision, so that I’m not stuck in that analysis paralysis phase. So I would love to hear from you and about what you took away from this conversation. You could either email me or take the conversation onto social media and tag us at PH SPOT. And as I mentioned in last week’s episode with the launch of these two conversations with Lathika and Lawrence, I hope more of you will reach out and share your perspective with us and the rest of the public health community. And if this is of interest to you, you can head over to And use a form to submit your interest. And if you’re looking for any of the information or links that we mentioned in today’s episode, you can access that on the same page at And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight, and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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