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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.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I started this year rested. I was recharged. I was ready for a big year. This was because I took the time to slow down, rest, and reflect over the holiday break leading into the new year. I learned how important this is.

We are constantly tempted to do more, watch more TV, and the worst offender is out smart phone. Our phones and social media remind us all day that we’re missing out the newest TV show, restaurant, recipe, band, or exercise fad.

At the very beginning of this last break, I intentionally sat down and took some moments to be still. I put my phone down, turned the TV off, and just sat with my thoughts. These moments weren’t terribly long, sometimes 5 or 10 minutes. Sometimes they would last 30 or 45 minutes.

Most of the year, as a father of young children, there aren’t enough of these moments, so we need to take them when we can.

Entering this past holiday break, my wife and I both sensed the need to slow down. My wife has incredible intuition, and so when she starts to sense something, I’ve learned to listen. She sensed the need for making time for rest and simplifying our schedule. I agreed.

Our normal week is often hectic. There’s a lot of rushing. Rushing to and from work. Rushing to drop off and pick up the kids in time. Rushing to get chores done and keep a house in a semi-orderly state.

This year, we purposefully spread out the holiday family gatherings. In previous years, we had family gathering smashed right up against another. We cherish the time we get to spend with our family more than anything else, but in past years it was rushed. Historically we went from an extra rushed week at work straight into back to back to back holiday gatherings.

Fortunately, most of our family is local and we can see them whenever we want. We started the break with this new approach for the holidays and built the rest of our break around that. Spreading out these gatherings allowed us to savor them each a little bit more.

The second thing we intentionally did was to not over schedule with other activities. We made plans once a day and kept one or two days free from any activities at all. We prioritized our activities on friends and family that were in visiting from out of town.

Then we let the rest of the break play out organically. It was amazing.

We rested. We slept 7 or more hours every night. We took moments throughout the day to sit down, drink coffee, and read. We tackled projects we usually were too busy to do.

I cleaned and organized the basement and office. I filed paperwork that piled up over the year. I took some trips to Goodwill and identified many other things to give away in the future.

During this time we noticed something beautiful happen in our boys. They had long stretches of time for unstructured play. This brought out some amazing creativity. They were able to focus and explore. My oldest played with one items for hours on end. Our youngest learned to build his own wooden train tracks. They created new games together and bonded through the process.

I exercised almost everyday. I lifted, ran, did yoga, and was able to work on my mobility and flexibility.

I practiced the piano everyday. This is something I’ve wanted to learn for a long time. The momentum from playing it everyday on break has carried into the new year.

The best part about the break though were not the things I achieved or checked-off the to do list. It was what happened in the space when we slowed down.

  • I said yes to my son when he asked if I wanted to color or play.
  • I sat and talked with my wife.
  • I planned how to handle some upcoming personal challenges our family faced.
  • I noticed the pile of paperwork needing filed and just sat down completed the task.
  • I read two books.
  • I listened to my body and rest, exercise, and rest again.

This pace was beautiful and needed.

What I noticed from this break was that I need to build a habit of creating regular space in our lives. I want and need to work hard, but allow myself to slow down to recharge. After a week and a half of purposefully slowing down and taking these moments throughout the day, I noticed many benefits. These moments of reprieve from the pace of parenthood enable me to have more energy, enthusiasm, and confidence I spend my time and energy in the right places.

Our modern life is full of endless choices for things to do. They fight for your attention, time, and money.

The goals I have in 2018 are my most ambitious goals ever, which is piled on top of looming personal and professional challenges.

I know to achieve those goals and maintain fulfillment throughout, I need moments of reprieve from doing.

These moments provide three primary things: rest, reflection, and space for imagination. Our best ideas come when we let our minds wonder.

So my new goal is to regularly give myself space on a consistent basis. I’m exploring that schedule to look something like this:

  • Daily: An hour or so in the evenings after work with the family. I need space to cook dinner, play with the kids, and sometimes to just sit and read.
  • Weekly: Part of a weekend day to not have anything schedule or any expectations of myself. Maybe this time is spent on a hike, reading, writing, or just resting and daydreaming.
  • Monthly: Both one day of vacation or holiday where I don’t have plans and a weekend where we under-schedule ourselves as a family. At least one full day without plans if not two to play, explore, and rest.
  • Quarterly: Extra long weekend or a full week with travel. Maybe it’s a long weekend in a cabin, a week at the beach or lake with the family, or a backpacking trip.
  • Yearly: Similar to this year, a week plus when the kids are out of school to slow down and unwind. Here is the best time to reflect and review the prior year as we begin to cultivate hope for the new year.

There is a fine line between trying to do too much and becoming apathetic and not challenging yourself. Don’t misread this as a call to do less in life or have more time to watch TV. These moments are often not fun. Self-reflection can be gut wrenching. When we face our own faults in the mirror it will leave you longing for growth and stronger discipline.

Sometimes life dictates that we don’t get the opportunity for these breaks for an extended period of time. Sometimes our spouse or children get sick and require us to take care of them while we continue to run the household. Sometimes our work throws us a monkey wrench or opportunity that needs a temporary surge in time and energy. Get after it in these times and do your work. Then, when life eases a bit, look for moments of reprieve.

Usually under normal circumstances, we can afford a few moments to pause, put our feet up, and let life breathe. We probably will have to turn the TV off, put the phone down, or prune some unnecessary activities to make a little space. Sometimes we may need to say no to an extra project at work or push off a social engagement to create these moments. But the fruit or the investment is worth it.

We often won’t be able to plan them or predict when we’ll need these moments. It is better to take them when you can because we don’t know what curve ball life will throw at us the next day.

Creating space by slowing down allows me to do the following things that I have now deemed critical:

  • Make sure that I’m not just busy for busyness sake but I’m spending my time and energy on the most important things,
  • Rest enough to generate energy and enthusiasm to accomplish these important things, and
  • Have enough free space to allow my most creative thoughts and ideas come to life.
So take a moment and ask yourself the questions:
  • Do you feel like you are moving too fast all the time?
  • Are you giving yourself enough time to recharge and reflect?
  • Do you give yourself enough space to be creative and think?

If you need, create some space in your life to slow down. And then get back after it again.

Small Things to do Consistently as a Parent

Small Things to do Consistently as a Parent

The power of small things done consistently is real and needs to be applied to all areas of our lives, especially as a parent.

Parenting is a long game. It’s very easy to get distracted by the dramatic ups and downs of daily behavior and moods when the longer term trends are what really matter. We aim to instill character traits we hope our children have when they’re adults. Our actions today should reflect what we hope those traits are in the future.

Therefore as parents, we should focus on what we can control now, which are our actions.

These actions are organized into three categories: actions we do that we hope they emulate, activities we do with our children, and feedback we give them to encourage and discourage certain behavior.

As a parent, teaching the power of small things done consistently starts by leading by example.

Leading by example as a parent should include:

  • Reading
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising
  • Minimizing screen time
  • Using manners
  • Saving money
  • Delaying gratification
  • Practicing gratitude
  • Getting enough sleep

For example, if my children see me regularly eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting exercise, and minimizing the amount of junk food then they’ll probably see my body composition improve as a result. The practice of modeling good behavior to our children is arguably the most important long-term commitment to being a parent. The phrase “Do I say, not as I do” has significant limitations as a parent and should be used only as needed.

Also, there are activities that we can do with our children that are good for all who are involved:

  • Showing up and being present
  • Read to them
  • Cook healthy food with and for them
  • Play with them
  • Explore something new with them

For example, learning to read doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a lifelong process. I still find tips and tricks to improve my reading speed and comprehension.

Lastly, giving them regular, consistent feedback is also a huge responsibility we have as parents. This feedback should include:

Consistent feedback to our children will reinforce our other parental actions. The impact of these regular actions will have tremendous positive influence in our children’s lives for years to come.