T. Hayden Dietz, DO

I hear voices. Little voices that whisper in my ear when I’m feeling uncertain, insecure, or inadequate. “Spread your wings and fly,” let your light shine, “raise your hand,” and “sit at the table.” These are the voices of strong, intelligent women who have knowingly or unknowingly pushed me forward at a crossroads, given me strength and purpose when I felt weak or lost, and encouraged me to stand up and lead when I wanted to retreat.

Spread Your Wings and Fly

“Make sure your gas tank is always full in case you decide you want to spread your wings and fly; you can always come home,” I remember Momma telling me when I was a young girl. She didn’t know how intently I was listening and holding those words close to my heart, until the time came.

In the summer of 2009, my residency at Lehigh Valley Hospital ended. I was at a crossroads. My parents, six siblings, extended family and boyfriend were all in Pennsylvania. I had every reason to stay. The easy choice was to stay… but the voice inside of me was telling me to go. “Spread your wings and fly. You can always come home,” it would remind me.

I listened and decided to fly… but where would I land: The Golden State on the west coast, a beach town in South Carolina, or the Lone Star state capital, Austin, TX? I didn’t have friends or family in any of those locations. I had no reason to go, but the voice kept pushing me forward.

After much soul searching and deliberation, I accepted the job offer in Austin, TX.  My decision was multifactorial: Austin was warm, had great tort reform laws and physician compensation, the cost of living was reasonable, and it was full of opportunities for a young professional like me. 

On one hand, I was excited, ready to start my new journey. On the other hand, I was leaving behind the comfort of my large family and close friends and my relationship would not survive long. The realization then hit me. I was all ALONE and my safety net was 1500 miles away. “You can always go home,” I thought I would hear. But I didn’t. This time, I heard a different voice telling me, let your light shine.

Finding My Light

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. …And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I came across these powerful words on one of my visits to South Africa while reading Nelson Mandela’s Inaugural speech from 1994. The quote was not his. It was Marianne Williamson’s, author, lecturer, and Texan native.

What was my light, my niche, my passion and how could I let it shine? First, I was alone and needed to establish a community of friends to rely on—a support structure with whom to walk through adulthood’s early challenges and decisions. 

Secondly, I needed financial guidance. My income was going to quickly quadruple but I was graduating with over a quarter million dollars of debt from both undergraduate and medical school. We learned many things in our years of medical training but business and finances were not part of the curriculum. Therefore, I immediately sought out the help of a financial advisor. We clicked instantly. She was a young, bright, Harvard Business grad that shared my passion in helping other women understand finances. We recognized that women were increasingly the primary breadwinners and often the sole providers for their families but typically lacked financial literacy. A light was beginning to spark within me and Cash & Cocktails was born.

Letting it Shine

I started the group as a fun forum for young professional women who were interested in carving out a path to financial independence. At the time, most of us were single or newly married without children. We were at the beginning of our financial lives so we started with the basics: paying down high interest debt, maxing out 401Ks, setting aside an emergency fund, and setting up own-occupation disability. As our families and financial responsibilities grew, we moved on to more advanced tasks like setting up 529s for our children, creating wills and trusts, establishing guardianship, and dabbling in investments.  I had found both the things that I needed: a community and financial literacy. 

My passion, my light, empowering women and helping women empower themselves, was becoming clearer and I was letting it shine. As the months went on and our group of young women continued to meet for Cash & Cocktails, I began to derive huge satisfaction from watching us all progress in our lives and careers. Women who entered with massive debt or were living off their credit cards began to grow into financially secure women. They got married, had kids, set goals and were successfully achieving them. I finally felt the full impact of Williamson’s words: by letting my light shine I was unconsciously allowing others to do the same.

Raise Your Hand

As the years passed by and we became more confident on our path to financial independence, Cash & Cocktails gradually dissipated. I began to look for other ways to find fulfillment in my career and to meaningfully support women. This time it was the COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg’s voice that I heard, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” “No one gets to the corner office by sitting on the side, not at the table, and no one gets the promotion if they don’t think they deserve success.” 

Around that time my group, US Acute Care Solutions, expanded its Women’s Dialogue Series to the regional level. They were looking for a “Women’s Champion” for the Southwest Central region so I eagerly raised my hand.

The Dialogue Series creates a space for women in emergency medicine to have open conversations about topics that are important to them. Whether it’s stepping into leadership positions, spearheading change initiatives, or focusing on raising a family, the goal is to give women a support system. We also try to identify and remove any barriers that may keep a female from progressing forward or applying for a leadership position. Some have understandable concerns about maintaining work/home life balance; others don’t raise their hand when an opportunity presents itself because they don’t feel qualified.

Studies have shown men apply for a job when they meet 60% of the qualifications while a woman applies only if they meet 100% of them. Other statistics have shown that while women now make up half of the class in medical school and emergency medicine residency, only 20% hold leadership positions as attending physicians.

Sit at the Table

I was guilty of all of the above: hesitating due to responsibilities at home with two young children, lacking confidence, sitting quietly in the back of the room or on the sidelines. But as the voices kept nudging me to stand up, lead, and take a seat at the table, I finally listened. In November 2017, I started a business practicing concierge Aesthetic and Regenerative Medicine and most recently, when a new assistant medical director position was created at my site, I raised my hand reaching out for the opportunity to sit at the table. Despite three highly qualified, seasoned, male applicants, I was offered the position. 

What are your voices telling you? Where will they lead you?  I am eagerly listening for the next voice to guide me on my journey.  In the meantime, I will continue to spread my wings and fly, let my light shine, raise my hand, and sit at the table. I encourage you to do the same.