Today we’re going to talk about a concept known as the “celery test.” But here, we are not talking about the celery test in relation to our finances. We are talking about the celery test in terms of our medical career.
To start, I’ll provide two brief examples to explain what exactly the celery test is.
The “Celery Test” Concept
I’m not sure if this is where the idea originated, but I first learned about the celery test in the book, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. This is a fantastic book about why certain businesses succeed where others fail. I highly recommend it.
In the book, Sinek talks about the celery test as it applies to businesses. And maybe the best definition comes from paraphrasing the example he uses.
The business example:
Imagine you are starting a health food store. So, you go to three successful businesspeople for advice. The first one tells you the most important thing to offer in your store is peanut butter. The second tells you to sell chocolate. And the third tells you to sell celery.
Which advice should you follow? They are all successful businesspeople whose advice is sought by the masses.
In this example, the answer is obvious. You listen to businessperson number three. Why? Because celery is a healthy food and matches with the goal, with the why, of your planned business: a health food store.
However, in real life the decisions are usually more nuanced and the answer often much less clear. So, it becomes really important to consider whether what you are doing as a business matches with your why.
But I like another example even better…
The grocery store example:
Imagine you want to start eating healthier, and you are at the grocery store, checking out. You are placing all your grocery items on the conveyor belt. Someone else walks by and looks at your purchases. Ask yourself: would that person know I am trying to eat healthier?
Well, if your belt is filled with candy, processed foods, and ice cream, then no, that stranger would not guess you are focusing on eating healthier. If the belt is filled with fruits and vegetables — like celery — then they would guess you are a healthy eater.
So, the celery test is all about aligning your actions (what you buy at the grocery store) with your goals (wanting to eat healthier).
That’s a powerful mindset tool!
Of course, this is way easier said than done. I know because I have failed the celery test, especially when it comes to my goal of eating healthier, many times. But that should not stop us from using it!
We can use it exactly the same way to apply to our work as doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.
The first step is understanding what we really want out of our medical career. If you followed my advice on how to find your perfect job, then you can revisit those notes. And you are probably more likely to pass the celery test.
If not, however, you need to sit and write down what you actually want in your career. Be grand. Pretend it’s an ideal world. Don’t get bogged down by what’s feasible or realistic.
Compare these notes to your current medical career.
Are the decisions you are making lining up with what you want? Are you seeing the kinds of patients you want? Do your hours match with what you want? Are you in a position that makes you happy?
And if not, are you taking the right steps to make things better?
Start taking steps to make things better!
I know that advice may seem patronizing. Or just exceedingly daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. So don’t make it into something bigger than it is.
In some cases, a physician may do this exercise and realize they really want to be out of medicine. Or they need a new job within medicine. And that is great — the whole point of the celery test is to expose these contradictions in life and help you work toward living your best life.
But things are rarely that dramatic. In the majority of cases there will be small steps you can take or small habits to build that will bring you closer and closer to passing the celery test with flying colors.
Maybe you just need to renegotiate your contract to bring your compensation up to your value. Or maybe you want to dedicate more time to resident education, as that brings you fulfillment. Perhaps you need to market yourself to attract more of the kinds of patients you want to be treating.
Without the celery test, your goals and desires may go unrecognized for too long.
Why Does This Matter?
Being introspective about our career — both its current place and its trajectory — can be difficult because we’ve worked hard to get where we are and often feel a stubborn need to maintain the status quo. Plus, making changes to our career feels daunting so we avoid it and tell ourselves it’s all good.
But introspection does matter because we want to be happy in our career in medicine. As physicians, many of us want to continue practicing. But it’s hard to maintain that desire if we are not actively optimizing our medical career.
There are always things in medicine that we cannot control — insurance companies, administrators, and so on. But there are other things that we can control and we should be paying attention to those.
And lastly, enjoying a long productive medical career makes the simple path and formula to financial freedom that much easier!
I love my medical career. I feel right where I want to be. But it took active work. And still does. The celery test helps me stay on the right track!
Jordan Frey, MD, is a plastic surgeon at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York, and founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon.
Looking to improve your financial well-being? Check out Frey’s online course, Graduating to Success, a comprehensive and interactive 12-module course that helps doctors achieve personal, professional, and financial success during and after their transition from trainee to attending. Or read his best-selling book, Money Matters in Medicine.