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How to Be a Neurosurgeon

How to Be a Neurosurgeon

A friend of mine is in his mid to late 30’s and he just accepted his first professional job.  He didn’t get a late start. He didn’t take time off. He has spent the last 30+ years of his life preparing for his profession. Let me say that again, over 30 years in school learning and practicing his trade.

That seems incredulous to many people.  That’s 18 years AFTER High School.  18 years. For what? To be a neurosurgeon. He has his MD and PhD.

This has included:

  • Four years of undergraduate school with a triple major
  • Eight years in med school getting his PhD and MD
  • Six years of residency for neurosurgery
  • One year of fellowship

He has a family with three kids and he is just now getting started officially practicing his trade.

Think about the value he’ll be able to add to people’s lives. Performing life saving surgeries on the most critical and delicate components of our body.

If anyone was going to touch my brain with a knife, I’d sure want them to have that much training and experience. I’d want the smartest, most well trained, disciplined experts in the world. I’d feel pretty comfortable knowing that they had 19 years of training and experience before touching my brain.  I have no problem with them making loads of money either.

So let’s think about this for a minute. For those of us who are not doctors, that career path appears daunting.

I’ve watched some friends go through the medical doctor training process. The process is not easy, but it’s not terribly complicated.

So how do you think this was actually accomplished?  Many small things done consistently over a long period of time.

In primary education you build a foundation of math, science, reading, and writing.
In undergraduate, you learn you start to focus on biological sciences.
In medical school, you learn about medical care and deeper into human biological sciences
In residency, you learn the specific craft as an apprentice.

But when you break it down and look at what they’re doing each day, we can learn from their path. We can learn about vision and discipline. We can learn about taking the long path to achieve distant goals by taking one step at a time. We can learn about the value of sacrificing something in the present for something more in the future.

Let me repeat, becoming a doctor is not easy. It takes a long time, and requires smart disciplined people to make it through the process. I don’t believe that everyone should become a doctor. If you think this is about how to become a doctor you’re missing the point. It’s a story we can learn from on how we can achieve something that seems distant and hard. It is about taking it one decision after another. It’s about cultivating discipline so we can improve as human beings.

You want to be more flexible and have better mobility.  Our connective tissue takes 210 days to turn over. That’s at least 7 months of stretching everyday.

You want to lose 30 pounds.  That’s 4-12 months of making small consistent sacrifices at every meal.

Say we want to learn a foreign language, become a project manager, or just be a better father. You have to do something everyday to move those forward.

Set a goal, learn what it takes, develop a plan, and then start taking one small step at a time and don’t stop.

Fatherhood is a similar marathon. We all have ideas of what we want for our children when they grow up. We want them to have a strong moral foundation. We want them to positively contribute to this world through discipline and selfishness. We want them to find happiness. Not the fleeting happiness from an ice cream cone, the fulfillment of making the world a better place and by connecting deeply with other human beings.

To get there, it’s a long road that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But it also needs to be viewed through one step at a time. Start by reading with your child, telling them that you love them, disciplining them regularly to learn our social constructs. Be present, not on our phones or watching TV, but there, right next to them. Listen to them. Watch them. Teach them and show them how to set and achieve goals. Teach them and show them how to help others. Show them how to love and be loved.

Raising children to become independent adults requires a lot of discipline and patience over a few decades, not unlike becoming a neurosurgeon. You just need to take it one step at a time.

The Power of Saying No

The Power of Saying No

We face many obstacles in life. Some of them are because of over-abundance. We have too much to eat, too many activities, too many distractions, too much work. These become obstacles and we end up stressed, un-healthy, and unproductive. To overcome this obstacle in our lives we must learn to limit what we let into our lives. One of the best ways we can limit what comes into lives is to just say no.

We heard the mantra in the 80’s, just say no, but often we subtly have been encouraged to say yes to a lot of good things in our lives. We are expected to say yes to the extra project at work, even if we’re already busy and stressed out. We were told to clear our dinner plates, even if we weren’t hungry. We were told to do all of the extra-curricular activities we could so that we were well-rounded.

While sometimes this advice isn’t necessarily wrong, a ubiquitous habit of saying yes to all of those things can lead to being overwhelmed. Too much of a good thing can be bad.

Let’s be honest with ourselves. We have limits, strengths, and weaknesses.  We literally can’t do and be it all.  As I’ve stated previously, we have so many options in this world now that we need to barriers to self-limit those choices. We need to regulate our lives and choices first and foremost by learning the power of saying no.

These endless options in life are truly amazing and many folks before would have dreamed to have them in their life. I love my freedom of choice, please don’t get me wrong. But these endless choices can be harmful if they are not managed properly.

Therefore, we need to learn the power of saying no to ourselves, others, and our children to help establish some healthy boundaries and really allow ourselves to flourish.

Saying No to Yourself

Learning to say not to yourself is a form of self-discipline. It’s a habit that needs to be exercised to form. Charles Duhigg has an excellent book, The Power of Habit, that discusses how habits can be formed and shaped.

Ourselves are often bigger obstacles than any external factors. Our ego, lack of discipline, and our emotions all contribute to our in-ability to say no.

We need to have healthy boundaries with many things in our lives that can easily be overabundant. This could include food, exercise, work, and sharing with others. All of those things are necessary but too much can be poisonous. This is where we need to learn to say no to ourselves develop some limits. Most of those are internal struggles we face everyday.

Saying No to Others

We have a strong tendency to want to make people happy. We desire to be accepted, welcomed, and part of the in-crowd. This can lead us to say yes more often than we should.

When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I used to play a decent amount of live music in the evenings and weekends while in college and as a young working professional. I used to get asked to fill in on gigs at bars or churches at the last minute when some other musician couldn’t perform. At first I used to love saying yes because it meant that I was wanted and desired. I was a go-to player with certain artists and it felt wonderful to be sought after. I also really enjoyed a lot of the music and performances.

But, it often wrecked me personally. It takes a lot of time and energy to learn an entire show’s worth of material on short notice. Therefore, when I said yes to these gigs, the rest of my personal life would feel the negative impact. I wouldn’t have as much focus and energy at my job. My diet and sleep would suffer, and my exercise would cease to exist until the show was over and I recovered. It would also take away precious time with my wife as night after night I would disappear in the basement to rehearse.

When I learned to see the actual sacrifice a new gig would require is when I learned the power of saying no to others. I have carried this powerful lesson over to many different areas of my life for the better.

Saying No to Your Children

We must learn to say no to our children. If we don’t, we won’t be preparing them for the real world when they’re teachers, friends, bosses, and clients start telling them no and they don’t know how to handle it.

We know without a doubt that an over-abundance of many things is not good for our children. Whether, it’s TV, sweets, junk food, staying up late, we need to set firm boundaries for them because they are not yet equipped to do it on their own. This is for their own good, though they don’t see it that way yet.

Young children learn very quickly how to be persuasive to get what they want. This includes temper tantrums, acting out, and calling you names. We are often tempted to give in and say yes just to get them to stop crying or screaming in the moment. This often is when they want to watch more TV, have another dessert, or buy a toy at the store. Consistently saying no and sticking to it is one of the more challenging tasks as a parent, but I have found that it is also the building blocks of establishing our authority and shaping their character. Let’s face it, life as an adult is often hard and full of not getting what we want. We have a duty to prepare our children to understand this reality.

So, in our life of abundance, where we have seemingly endless options, we need to set boundaries for ourselves, others, and our children.  And the best way to set boundaries and limits in our lives is to learn the power of saying no.