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Looking Back on Success

Looking back on success in medicine, I’ve realized that my own definition of success has evolved. Physicians should define their own success to decrease the stress on themselves.

Success gets a lot of hype in our culture. Parents push their kids to be successful and achieve a lot. As medical professionals we have achieved success like no other. You could be a billionaire entrepreneur but if you come across a medical professional, you’ll be humbled. It’s the nature of the game – I’m not saying we deserve the praise but it comes with the territory.

I decided to write this post after reading some written words of praise in regards to success. What is success? Thought I had the definition licked a couple of years ago but now I’m still working on its definition.

I can recognize success when I see a successful person – so, I’m not totally clueless. But it’s not money or a high net worth. I’ve met people who love what they are doing and their deeds are overall good for the world. That’s pretty close to success in my book.


Looking back on success

I’m looking back on my own success; I was considered successful when I was working full-time in medicine and living a luxurious lifestyle.

Once I started talking about being burnt out and began to cut back, I got stripped of some of those success attributes. So in the eyes of my peers and society, success was rather subjective.

Now that I consider myself uber successful, I can’t get a lot of buy-in. I mean, dude, I can climb a V6 in the gym!! Anyone? I can bake vegan pastries! No? I am able to live a sustainable lifestyle while minimizing my footprint in the world! Crickets…

I’m exaggerating a little here; a lot of my friends recognize my little achievements and they echo my success because they see that I’m happy doing what I’m doing. They also see that I’m not a parasite on society.

But looking back on success, I don’t see the medical career tract itself being the kernel of my success. Rather, the success came from what I did with that career. I achieved a certain level of independence, which then allowed me to pursue the things I love and now enjoy.


Success in medicine

Success is subjective. For one person overcoming their addiction is a massive success – that’s their entire goal and objective in life. Those of us who haven’t ever dealt with addiction find it rather pathetic.

The bar is set far higher in medicine. To be successful in medicine you have to navigate all the pitfalls of medicine. You have make it through medical school, choose the right specialty, be good at what you do, make good money, avoid burnout, balance your lifestyle with your career, and finish a long career in medicine. Oh, and if you have any addictions, you better hide that really well. Finally, after all this, you’ll be considered successful.

Because you’re a doctor, people expect a ton from you; this includes your spouse and other family. You will do the same to yourself; it’s about the next house you’ll buy, how soon you’ll upgrade your car, the next epic vacation. the kind of schools you’ll send your fetuses to.

I think many other professions are far harder than medicine. But few individuals are burdened with the same expectations as physicians. It’s not just the expectation of the patients, but it’s also the public, policymakers, medical boards, lawyers, our partners, our family, and colleagues.

In fact, our colleagues are the worst when it comes to expectations. This is why one colleague will chew out another for making a mistake. We shred the ER doctor for discharging a patients too quickly or for the pediatrician missing a UTI or the orthopedist nicking an artery. Motherfucker, please! We all make mistakes – your clinical shit is as feculent as mine. But we are so hard on ourselves that it translates to others. Not because we are evil – it’s just that the bar is set higher than what others understand.


Redefining success

My buddy B. is a mechanic – an amazing mechanic. He has a stethoscope with a solid metal diaphragm so that he can listen to the gearbox or the engine block. He can diagnose a problem by collecting 80% of the history and doing an exam.

He was my partner in my automachnic shop and I learned so much from him. He still owns the shop after I sold him my share. He races cars for fun and he loves tinkering on cars. He lives and breathes being a mechanic.

He was raised in a very wealthy family and went to private school and all that jazz. He got into street racing and fell in love with cars. So that’s what he chose to pursue. But he has always been a subtle disappointment to his family.

So on all fronts this guy is a brilliant success – except for his fucking parents. I know he loves them but man, it would be amazing if his parents had his back on his definition of success. They will probably die wishing he became a lawyer or doctor or some other generic success notch.

Each of us has a responsibility to other human beings to support their success and help them define their success. I am fucking proud of B. for being so good at what he does and pursuing it with such fervor. I hope I have done my part to support him in defining his success.


Success in life

Thank god I don’t have kids because it’s been one hell of a journey figuring out my own life. At 40, I think I finally figured it out and couldn’t be more content. I now know that I can be successful being a librarian, a carpet cleaner, a mechanic, a barista, a cabby, or a physician.

To be successful I need to love what I do. Either I can convince myself to love what I do or I can perpetually try different things until I display some sort of passion in it. And I may never find anything which I love – in that case I must at least have passion for pursuing the process.

Success is whatever you want it to be. Who gives a fuck what others think. In fact, if loved ones around you are putting salt in your game it’s perhaps because can’t look beyond their own inadequacies.

Once you achieve success, it’s okay to stop trying. This is hard for the overachievers and very tough for society, in general. It seems that the only time you are given reprieve is when your body is too old to keep going – or age 65 – somehow that’s the magic number.

I can be successful and not have two nickels to rub together. As long as I’m willing to drive a cab or drive for Uber and make money to live a happy life, that’s success. It really doesn’t take much. So, I would suggest that you ignore the haters even if they are family. And if you’re the hater parent who is pushing your kid to achieve your own definition of success, stop it.

2 replies on “Looking Back on Success”

Family can be the worst detractors which is sad when they really should be your biggest supporters.

Being from the Indian community it is almost a bragging right to say you raised a son or daughter to be a physician or at the very least a lawyer, dentist, or engineer. Anything less that that is perceived poorly on the kid or parents.

The happiest of people don’t really need to seek other people’s approval. Easier said than done.

Maybe I’m a little aspy but I never assumed that my family should/would/could have my best interest in mind. After all, they don’t know me as well as I do and once we become adults then our parents often don’t know us all too well. So I can certainly understand the sentiment of feeling that our parents or siblings should be our biggest supporters, I just don’t think it’s realistic.
If you believe in nurture rather than nature then we should blame parents for as many shitty people in the world, including white coat criminals. If you’re more of a nature rather than nurture then you should have very little interest in what your parents think or whether they are supportive.
Seeking approval means you care – that you’re likely a warm human being who wants to connect with others. I find that to be a good characteristic. Expecting that everyone will approve or connect with you might be a bit borderline. I wake up some mornings and hate everything including the sun. But on most days I love everything including a screaming baby at my favorite coffee shop.

I’ve read your recent issues with some harsh criticas on the WCI forum. Thanks for sharing that on your fantastic blog. I find the WCI forum and the bogleheads forums incredibly cold, harsh, dehumanizing, and condescending. It’s filled with bumbling idiots who live in their ego bubbles. I love getting my hands on good information but I’d rather be an ignoramus fuck than learn something from those kinds of platforms.

That said, cheers 🙂 I know there are many who can set aside the negativity on those forums and still learn a lot.

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