“Am I successful?”
That wasn’t me, that was my son.
He is eight years old and in third grade. To say I was caught off guard by his question would be more than an understatement. He is very bright, intuitive, and empathetic. I expect off-the-wall, abstract, and repetitive questions from him at any time. This one made me pause; my first immediate thought was, “No.”
That was a knee-jerk reaction. My next thought was who am I to define success to my son or anyone else. I don’t feel successful personally. I think part of that is due to me defining success based off how it’s been defined by others. How much money you have made, how much stuff you have, the size of your house, your title, etc.
I have this far off vision of something I will never see, my wake and funeral. I cannot see myself, I cannot see anyone there. My hope is that it is full of people telling stories, stories of impact. How I was a part of their lives, that I helped shape, guide, or join them in different parts of their lives.
Outside of that, I do not know how to define success. I do not see it in terms of money, things, or in other ways. To me success is impact. I am here to create ripples and make an impression on others. I am here to pull from them the best version of themselves.
Before answering Dennis, I took a deep breath and thought about telling him success was a complicated and mostly abstract thing. Then I took another breath and responded “Do you think you are successful?”
He said he wasn’t sure, and before I could think I asked another question, “Do you work hard? Do you do your best?”
He said yes and half smiled, and I simply said “Then you are successful.”
What is success?
I don’t know. I wish I had this life changing, ground shaking idea, something that resonates in your core. I don’t.
What I do know is that I am here to learn as much as I can. I am sponge for knowledge and experience. I want to leave this place better than when I came into it by trying to be a good person and help make better everyone that crosses my path.
I saw a quote the other day that said, “You can do anything but you cannot do everything.” I want my son to know that to be true. I want him to know he can do that. It took me a long time to realize that there was literally nothing that I could not do if I applied myself.
The key was that I needed to apply myself.
I coasted a great deal. I knew how to get by but still get good enough grades. I got a B+ in a neuroscience class that I only went for exams by studying my girlfriend’s notes. I didn’t do anything productive with the time I hung out with my girlfriend. I didn’t begin applying myself until I was excited to learn.
Gross anatomy was like being in a movie for me.
Day one we were brought into our lab. This was the place where we would do all of the dissections. It was this cool and hard room. Very bright, but with this smell. It was chemical; you could taste it. We met the lab directors, standing around this large metal table with large cabinets on top that would open up and fold under the table. Under those tables were the people who donated their bodies to provide the next generation of health care professionals the foundation of their educations.
I fell in love in this room with the human body. I was enamored by all aspects of anatomy, and I was motivated to do my best. An A was a coveted grade in this class and created a high likelihood of being chosen to be a teaching assistant the next summer.
This was the first time I ever worked as hard as I could for something. I gave everything.
We were assigned bone boxes in our class. It was this old leather looking case that had a skull, femur, humerus, ulna, radius, tibia, fibula, an articulated hand and foot, a few different vertebrae, a rib, sternum, clavicle, and a couple of other bones. I would take this box to my job and study whenever I could.
I would go into the lab early and stay late to study structures, dissect different parts, and learn from anyone else I could.
Six days a week, at least eight hours a day, for eight weeks straight in the middle of summer. It was very intense and challenging.
The testing for gross anatomy lab was intense. You would walk in and you would have a 50-question test, you were standing the entire time, and each question was a maximum of 60 seconds. Each station was a carefully laid out part of a dissection and it would ask questions that required multiple levels if synthesis. As an example: There would be a pin in a muscle, and you would need to identify the muscle and recall (origin, insertion, nerve, and action). Then the question might ask you to name another muscle that shares the insertion of this muscle.
We had three written exams and three practicals. Out of 155 students, 17 earned an A, including me. I was thrilled. I realized after that, that I could be/do anything but that I was a dumbass.
It wasn’t the first time or the last time that I would learn a valuable lesson through experience and the difference between doing enough and doing my best.
There is a wonderful quote from Confucius that says there are three methods to learn wisdom. First is by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is bitterest.
I have a tremendous amount of experience.
I know that deep down I cannot protect and prepare him for everything. I know that I cannot shield Dennis from it all. I need to prepare him. I need to give him doses of truth and comfort. I need to let him fail and fall but then be there with a helping hand to pull him up. I need him to know that he is fully supported without question but I will still have no problem telling him that he is being a jerk. To teach him that probably one of the most important things he can do is be the person he is in front of everybody else when he is all alone or in private.
My hope is that all of this will impact one person. That my thoughts, my struggles will guide and steer others in a direction worthwhile. As always it is to create ripples that rock your boat, that steer your course just a little differently.