Michael J. Fox (Author; Always Looking Up)
“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”
Helen Keller (Author; The World I Live In)
“Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings.”
Samuel Johnson (Lexicographer; Dictionary Of The English Language)
Successful people live with confidence and purpose.
I was on a wrestling trip once in Pittsburgh, PA during a horrific ice storm. Our coach was driving us home from a tournament in one of those extra long, ridiculous looking school vans. As we started to drive down a large hill, the van hit a patch of black ice and lost control. We started to swerve left and right and eventually ended up turning around in a complete circle. Our coach did everything he could to stop the van but he was helpless against the ice. Luckily, we made it to the bottom of the hill without hitting any other cars or getting killed.
There’s nothing worse than not having control over where you’re going. It’s like trying to steer a car on ice. But this is how most people live – like they’re sliding helplessly and randomly.
There’s nothing quite like waking up every day certain about who you are and what you want. Living this way gives you a certain sense of control over your surroundings. Yet, very few people manage to pull off this lifestyle. Why?
Get Certain Or Get Run Over
I met Lindsey Surace in my college organic chemistry class. Like everyone else, we called the class Orgo. Orgo is what every pre-med student has to take their second year of college. It’s the class that weeds out the kids who really want to be a doctor from those who just like the idea of being a doctor. Lindsey sat in the front row because she was smart, hungry, and eager to learn. I sat in the front row because I had no idea what was going on.
After college, Lindsey went on to receive her M.D. from Pennsylvania State University and did her residency and fellowship at Beth Israel Medical Center, a Harvard University teaching hospital. She recently acquired a private practice position (two years ahead of schedule). Lindsey is one of the only top tier female specialists in her field of gastroenterology.
Medicine is a very competitive field. In medicine, if you’re not certain about who you are or what you want, you’ll be run over by someone who is certain – someone like Lindsey.
I’ve always been impressed with Lindsey’s focus and work ethic. She’s one of those people who knows exactly who she is and what she wants, and she does whatever it takes to get the job done. Working in medicine has made her this way. I asked Lindsey to share some of the things that medicine has taught her about success.
Chasing your dreams will take you away from important things, but you can always come back. Training to be a physician has been a tremendous challenge. I’ve spent many years away from my family, grinding out endless hours in University libraries and many different hospitals around the world. I’ve seen people die and helped people stay alive. This has taken away much of the innocence that I once maintained.
But that’s okay. Being a physician is my purpose in life. And once you know what your purpose is, there’s a certain kind of confidence that starts to take over everything you do.
I cannot separate myself from my purpose because it has completely shaped my character. My purpose is part of my identity. As a result, I wake up each day clear and certain. Sure, I still make mistakes and have moments of doubt. But I come back from these things very quickly because I know what my overall mission is.
It wasn’t easy getting to this point in my life. I had to learn a lot of things the hard way first. Here are 9 things being a physician taught me about purpose and success.
1. No one completely escapes the grind.
You can save yourself a lot of time by ignoring the one or two people in your industry who achieve a lot of success 10 or 20 years ahead of schedule. Just focus on yourself and your path. Sure, some people get lucky and climb the ranks really fast. Some people hit the lottery too. Don’t let one superstar influence your work ethic.
During my first year of college, I was only a decent student. I spent long hours studying alone at the library every weekend while “superstar” kids with better connections went to frat parties. Eventually, I caught up to or surpassed these kids. It might have taken 10 years, but I caught up. And it’s solely because I had a stronger sense of purpose.
2. Look for wings, not coattails.
You can’t fulfill your purpose all by yourself. You need to find some really good mentors. But your goal should not be to ride on the coattails of your mentors. Your goal should be to be taken under their wings. You’re not looking for a free pass, you’re looking to learn as much as possible.
From an early age, I made it a goal to develop relationships with some really strong mentors. This has made all the difference in the world to my career. A lot of people complain about not being able to connect with high-level individuals in their field. This is because most of these people are lazy. No one wants to mentor a lazy person.
The best way to find and keep a good mentor is to work hard. Hard work is all you have to offer someone above you.
3. Increase your network 10X yearly.
You need support. Whether support comes from peers, partners, mentors, parents, other family members, or members of your religious affiliation, you need to surround yourself with people who will lift you up. No one can do it all alone. And I can tell you that dying patients who have a stronger support network live longer and live better before they pass.
Sure, there are some people who will talk and talk and talk (blah blah blah) and never actually accomplish anything. And there are people who, both intentionally and unintentionally, will bring you down. The sooner you identify these people and cut them out of your life, the better.
Make it a goal each year to increase the size of your network 10 fold. If you have 10 great business contacts now, strive to have 100 close contacts next year. This is not easy to do. You have to network aggressively and take into account the negative people you’re cutting loose.
4. Credibility is the most important thing.
There’s a lot of chatter these days about picking yourself to be the greatest, and that’s all fine and well, but you have to actually accomplish something noteworthy before other people will pick you too. Pretend your dying. Do you want to see a specialist who went to a top 5 medical school ranked in U.S. News and who’s been featured as one of America’s Top Physicians, or…someone else.
In medicine, reputation is everything. For example, it’s critical that you attend the most prestigious school that accepts you. If you can’t get into a prestigious school, then you better go to conferences and talk to prestigious speakers. You can gain credibility by surrounding yourself with credible people. Either way, you must find ways to continually scale your reputation.
This principle holds true in business too. Over the past few years, every entrepreneur website under the sun has started stamping Fast Company, Huffington Post, and Entrepreneur on their homepages. Why? Credibility. Think about the last product or service you bought. Why did you buy it? Credibility. Most people think they buy based on the content of the product or service. But, under closer inspection, they’re actually buy based on credibility.
5. Take big risks.
Most medical students leave school with over $200,000 of debt. Yes, that’s a lot. But it’s not the end of the world. If you want big things, you have to take big risks. Don’t let concerns about the cost of training, medical or otherwise, hold you back from pursuing your goals. Sure, $200,000 seems like a lot when you’re living off of Top Ramen. It won’t seem like quite as much once you make your first million.
6. Be an opportunist.
When it comes to looking for opportunities, don’t leave any stone unturned. I was struggling to pay for my medical school education and almost had to dropout until I heard of a sizeable scholarship that was created by a benefactor in a small Pennsylvania town. The scholarship was specifically for Pennsylvania-born females who wanted to be physicians. It paid for all four years of my medical school education!
Amazing things don’t just fall into your lap. You have to find them and take them.
7. Improve every day.
Make it a goal to learn at least two new things every day. If you’re not learning, you’re dying.
The best way to learn more is to have more experiences. I’ve learned more moonlighting in rehabilitation units and community hospitals than I have in any academic setting.
8. Look the part.
A lot of people like to preach about how looks don’t matter. Sure, when it comes to personal matters, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But, in professional settings, the outside counts too.
Every industry and every company has a culture. Doctors wear white coats, corporate executives wear suits and polo shirts, and entrepreneurs where T-shirts and sneakers. Don’t get fooled into thinking that your dress doesn’t matter. Once you’re on top, you can wear whatever you want. But on your way to the top, dress to match the part your playing.
Over the years, unlike several of my male counterparts, I’ve often been asked by my patients to bring them warm blankets and ginger ale, and to “bring the doctor into the room when he gets a chance.” I’ve also been asked by friends and family members to take away the patient’s tray to the cafeteria. So now I always wear a white coat with a red name tag that says “Physician” and introduce myself as Doctor Surace. Dressing the part has helped my patients recognize me as a physician versus a nurse or member of the kitchen staff. Don’t underestimate what a few appearance tweaks can do.
9. Live fully, die with dignity.
Life is incredibly fragile. I have seen 20, 30, and 40 year-old patients die of heart failure, leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, traumatic injuries, colon cancer and the list goes on and on. I’ve learned to help these patients live and die with dignity. The time I’ve spent helping my patients stay alive or die with dignity has shown me how lucky we all are to have each and every day.
In the end, all you will have is your dignity. Having dignity means having respect for oneself. It also means being confident in who you are and in what you’ve accomplished. No one should die without this sense of confidence and purpose.
Make sure you’re living each day to the fullest. Don’t hold back. As Isaiah always says, it’s better to live one day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep.
Which of the above points resonates the most with you? Which point does not make sense to you?
Dr. Lindsey Surace is a gastroenterology specialist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard University teaching hospital, in Boston, MA. She is also a Cheeky Scientist consultant, mentoring medical students and hospital residents in academic to private practice transitions.