Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are You Trying Hard Enough?

I have had many mentors over the years.  I learned from countless teachers: family, friends, and colleagues.  But there has been one influence that has trumped all others.

I remember high school.  When my mother remarried, we moved to a new district.  My first day of classes, I knew no one.  Shy by nature, I spent weeks in the lunch room eating by myself.  Everyday I went to the gym and played basketball.  It was on the court that I began to make my first friends. 

I always loved basketball.  I tried out for the team in middle school, but was never good enough to make the cut.  The summer before freshman year, I hit the court every single day.  I practiced my shots, dribbling, and overall endurance.  I vowed that I would make the team. 

As the summer months passed and I actually started school, I realized that this could be the key to making friends.  If only I was successful, I would have an instant group to belong to. 

It seemed like hundreds of kids showed up on the first day.  The coaches put us through drills and then we scrimmaged.  By the end of the first tryout, I thought I was doing pretty well.  But as the days passed, I became anxious about the consequences.  In every sense of the word, I choked.  My jump shot fell short, my passes were off, and my dribbling was awkward.

I wasn't surprised, on the final practice, when the coach sat a few of us down to talk.  I was cut on the last day.  I was devastated.

Strangely, it is moments like these that I now look on with the most pride.  I was beaten that day.  I failed.  It was one of a series of failures that plagued my childhood: academically, physically, and emotionally.  It seemed that success was a distant shore that I could never quite swim to.

The funny thing about failure, however, is that it can either sink you or lift you up.  It wasn't that my lack of success created a raging fire in my belly, it was quite opposite.  I was so used to falling short, that the possibility no longer hindered me from trying.  I started to think:

Why not give it a try?  The worst that can happen is that I can fail.  I've been there before and it's no big deal!

I never did play on the high school basketball team.  But it was those early failures that provided the greatest opportunity to learn about myself and my abilities.  As an adult, I now find success to be the norm. And the skills I learned as a child, are enormously helpful as a physician.

While disease and illness do not neatly lend themselves to such terms as success and failure, it is in those times when outcomes are most poor that I dig in and investigate even more thoroughly.  Every mistake, incorrect calculation, or unexpected turn becomes a data point to improve on.  There is no time to bury ones head in the sand, quality improvement must be continuous and real time.

If you want to know what makes a great physician, it is someone who learns from each and every misstep.

Have you failed at anything recently?

If not, maybe you're not trying hard enough.

1 comment:

Diane said...

And those same qualities are important in a patient as well. We can improve our outcomes, but we too must be willing to chance failure. We cannot put all of the responsibility of success or failure on the shoulders of our Drs, no matter how terrific they may be.

As I get older, I have to admit, I almost look forward to my failures- it encourages me to creative problem solve .

Great post- it fits all walks of life.