09/26/2014 11:31 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are You Too Nice?


It came out of nowhere. One of those life lessons that I didn't know I needed to learn. Until I did. There I was, at a weekend business retreat, hobnobbing with a group of women executives. Feeling only slightly out of my element. Trying to blend in.

There was a break in the meeting. Several of us walked to the ladies' room, chatting over the communal sinks, checking our hair and lipstick.

That's when it happened. A woman I had just met looked up at me, as I was applying my lipstick. "Can I borrow your lipstick for a minute? I forgot mine." Dumbfounded at such a request, I silently handed over my lipstick to this stranger, who proceed to use it, return it to me, and make her exit. I looked down at the tarnished lipstick. Shook my head. And tossed it into the trash.

A simple thing, but it rattled me for the rest of the day. What is it about me that made that woman think it would be all right to ask such a personal favor? Does she not know I'm a doctor and a germaphobe? What if she has a cold? A sore throat? Herpes?

Then it struck me. Boundaries. I didn't have mine in place. Especially not at a function where I was trying to fit in with the crowd. I realized I needed to get front and center on my boundaries. That doing so had nothing to do with not being "nice."

As a doctor, I set my boundaries fairly well. I know which surgeries are my specialty and which I need to refer. I know how many patients I can see in a day without the wait for each patient being enormous. This hasn't come easy in the knowing. But it's maintained my buffer against burnout.

What things do you do in the name of being "nice"?

If you're at all like me, you find yourself doing the priority shuffle. When a request comes in and you already had plans to attend your niece's soccer game, do you cave and add on that work item instead? Or do you regroup and put your work assignment on your list behind your family priorities?

In a way, it all comes down to values, doesn't it? Are you morphing your values or maintaining them as you go about your day? Boundaries, priorities, values. If you lose sight of these three things along the way, in the name of not being "nice enough," you lose sight of yourself. Of the person you know you are, when you're by yourself and no one is watching. Of the person you were born to be. Every day. So, when it comes to being nice or being authentic, wonderful boundary-in-place you... pick you!

Starla Fitch, MD, is a practicing oculoplastic surgeon. Dr. Fitch is also an author, professional speaker and certified life coach. She has a passion to help those in the medical field suffering from burnout. What started as an online community at has evolved into a place for doctors, doctors-in-training, nurses, and other health professionals to connect and remember why they went into medicine in the first place. To learn more, go to You can also connect with Dr. Fitch on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.