Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Become a Mountain

When I was 16 years old I wrote a short collection of poems.   The cover page listed a few youthful notions that would become my life long guiding principles:

"Be wary of artificial limits and self-compromise
If the world praises mediocrity, don't seek praise
Be true to yourself
You make your own destiny"

Some of these ideas were written in response to high school teachers who told me that my goals were unachievable - I should not ask "will I" but "can I".

Over my career, I've worked with and for many people.   Along the way I've encountered many styles - those who lead by intimidation, those who lead by collaboration, and those who lead by inspiration.   Some have asked me to stretch my limits and others have asked me to constrain them.

When I recently reviewed the words I wrote at 16, I reaffirmed that at my core is the notion that I should live each day to the fullest, performing at what I consider the very edge of my capabilities, then add one more thing.    It's the motivational equivalent of "no pain, no gain".

My wife recently sent me a quote that summarizes this passion even more eloquently:

"I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.  Og Mandino"

When I was resident in emergency medicine in Los Angeles, I was on the front line during some of the most violent years in gang-related shootings.    It was the era before residency duty hour limits and I recall one particularly rough weekend on the trauma service that required 36 hours in the operating room.    I became so dehydrated that my urine crystalized and formed kidney stones.    I'm not suggesting this was a good thing or should ever occur during residency, but it does illustrate the potential of the human will during a crisis.

A few years ago, my daughter read a short story by Kurt Vonnegut called Harrison Bergeron  (it was also made into a short film called 2081) in which absolute equality was achieved by putting weights on athletes, loud earphones on academics, and masks on beautiful people, artificially limiting their performance.

Sometimes we encounter this in our work lives with less dramatic but real suggestions that we perform at a level below our capabilities.

My advice - you'll encounter many people in life who feel more comfortable when surrounded by grains of sand.   However, in a humble, quiet, and selfless manner, become a mountain.   Stretch yourself beyond any internally or externally induced self-compromise and limits.

We only live once and no one has ever put this on their tombstone:


Kevin Groff said...

You, Dr. Halamka, are the inspiring one. Your health system is so lucky to have you. You are one in a million and I feel I have been watching The Truman Show as I have followed your blog over the years sharing your pain, cheering you on, learning, etc etc. I am thankful to Robin Raiford for introducing me [virtually]. I'm convinced you live in a parallel universe where 60 hours exist in a day. Thank you for making a difference and giving your all. Have a happy holiday season although healthcare never sleeps.

Robert Reed said...

I agree with Kevin! If there were such a thing as a professional hero (or role model I have never met) you would be that person Dr. Halamka!

Barry Newman said...

We admire you from afar, Dr. Halamanka. History will remember you as a force of transformation and the summit of HIT-Everest.