By Arthur M. Lauretano, MD, MS, FACS
What is success? Is it that your son just received a scholarship to his first-choice college, or is that your daughter has a great job; drives a Porsche; and already has her own home? Is the exploits, endeavors, and successes of your grandchildren? Or is it your own social standing and your job?
You should be proud of accomplishments, big or small, by your loved ones. Yet what does the word success mean? How you define it, and what parameters do you set for it, when and if you truly achieve it? Here are five ways to enjoy success:
1. Define your success for yourself. When a student applied to undergraduate programs while still in high school, he set his sights on MIT and Harvard. However, he also learned about the Boston University Six-year Medical Program, which guaranteed acceptance into medical school from high school. So he applied to, and was accepted at, all three institutions. In the end, he chose the Boston University program. He subsequently did my residency at Harvard. Boston University was a perfect fit for him and positioned him for an outstanding residency training program. Yet, so many people saw him as making a poor choice by turning down Harvard or MIT. He faced the same criticism when he left full-time academics to relocate his practice to the community. He was viewed by many as “wasting his talents,” “giving in to the pressures of academic life” and, in short, “being a failure.”
Fortunately, he was able to learn a valuable lesson. You have to define success for ourselves. For some people in medicine, being successful means becoming a chairman of an academic department, publishing a plethora of medical articles, and lecturing internationally. For others, it is making a sizeable income performing the medical procedures they love to do. Still for others, it is setting up a free clinic in an inner city, providing care to those underserved by the medical community, even though the position is neither lucrative nor prestigious.
In defining success for yourself, you must determine your priorities. You can’t let others define success for you. If success for you is being a teacher, but others in your family want you to be a lawyer (perhaps to follow in someone else’s footsteps) or to run the family business, you should strive to be a teacher. Of course, there are tradeoffs – foregone income, prestige, lifestyle all may be factors. And people will be all too willing to point out what you may be leaving behind. But pursue your goal – be the best teacher you can be. At the end of the day, it is you that you face in the mirror, and you have to be happy with your choice.
1. Continue to set new goals. Complacency is a breeding ground for failure. The most successful people are continually setting, and striving for, new goals. They may learn a new skill, get a new degree, or pursue a new career. A fifty-something year old woman completed her Master’s in Education a couple of years ago and continues to move up the educational hierarchy in her school system to further the education of her students. Maybe she is obsessive or restless, or maybe she is just aware that life is short, but she is never afraid to try something new and reach some new achievement.
2. Expect failure. You may not always fail, but you are not always going to succeed. Keep striving, anyway. There are times when you will fail, feel alone, or feel left behind. The key is to keep trying. You have the ability, through persistence and perseverance, to turn failures into successes. In the words of the Dalai Lama, “If you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”
3. Have meaningful successes. Make your successes meaningful. In the grandest terms, you might envision inventing the next great interactive technology, discovering the cure for cancer, or creating a strategy to improve education in a third world nation. True, those are probably big stretches, but you can still make a difference. There are teachers who succeed by attaining a Master’s in Education and then using that knowledge to improve the standardized test scores of an urban high school. There are plastic surgeons who have achieved success in their field (success in terms of results, finances, and prestige) and use that success to repair cleft lips and palates in a third world country. Moving beyond those examples, consider the professional athletes and musicians who donate time and money to hospitals, youth organizations and, in particular, the communities from which they came. They take their success one step further by making it meaningful, and by having a positive impact on others.
4. Have fun. Being successful usually takes a lot of work and a lot of time. Rarely is it easy. But achieving success is satisfying, particularly when that success is the success you have chosen for yourself. Never lose sight of the fact, however, that achieving success should be fun. Staying up all night studying anatomy for a medical school practical, doing “two-a-days” in football camp, or carrying lumber up three flights of stairs hardly seems like fun. Yet, acing the anatomy practical, playing football on Sunday, or turning the keys over to the owners of the new house you just built – there is great satisfaction in these achievements. Don’t forget to have fun on the journey to those successes.
Also, remember that part of the fun should be celebrating your successes. Even the smallest successes can deserve a brief celebration. Little successes can put a huge smile on your face. This doesn’t mean you have to brag, or have balloons and confetti fall from the ceiling. The celebration may all be internal. Just don’t underestimate the achievement. And if your success involves a team effort, by all means, celebrate with your team. You will engender a culture of success that will cultivate future achievements. And that will be a success in and of itself.
By Arthur M. Lauretano, MD, MS, FACS, author of Do the Right Thing: A Surgeon’s Approach to Life (ENTShred Media, LLC). Visit him online at www.drarthurlauretano.com/.