Because, Let’s Face It, The Rest Doesn’t Really Matter So Much
A friend of mine plays chess. Very well. In fact, back in the day when they were both members of the same chess club, he would defeat now-reigning world champion Vishy Anand.
We were playing a ‘friendly’ game last weekend. I lasted nearly fifteen minutes, before being check-mated.
Then, I told him two things.
1. In heart surgery, we prepare the patient for surgery by cleaning and draping the chest, then making an incision to access the heart. Next, we support the circulation by hooking up the patient to a heart-and-lung machine. Finally comes the actual repair.
Anyone can handle the first stage, even a trainee medical student. The next phase isn’t too complicated, and most residents can manage it comfortably with three months of training. The repair is what takes a few decades to master.
2. Amazon.com launched in 1995. That was the year I first started an online business. By 2000, the retail giant was reporting a LOSS of millions of dollars a year, when my activities were pulling in $20,000 or more.
Fast forward a decade, and one company is doing BILLIONS of dollars in sales while the other is still close to where it used to be (no prizes for guessing which is which!)
The beginning and middle games are easier. Faster. Almost anyone can learn them, even master them.
A full-time heart surgeon can play chess well enough to hold someone with an ELO rating of 2000+ for 20 moves, or temporarily out-perform an online business behemoth in profitability. And even a trainee can put a heart patient on bypass.
A month ago, I read an interesting post on one of them and wrote a comment. It was held for ‘moderation’.
The next day, I saw another interesting post on that blog, and was about to comment when I remembered the earlier one. Had it been published?
I clicked through to the post – but no, I couldn’t see it.
I hopped over to Twitter to let the blogger know.
“I’ll look into it” was the reply.
A week later, my comment was still not showing up.
I removed that blog from my feed reader. I don’t like wasting my time, and posting comments that aren’t promptly moderated falls under that category.
If that were all, it’s no big deal.
But here’s the thing.
The blogger was about to launch a new paid program. Based on the fact I found the blog interesting enough to comment on, I might have spread word about the product – which has to do with blogging better, btw.
There’s no way to know whether or not that would have made sales, or brought them new affiliates, or helped the brand… but it was a ‘missed opportunity’ nonetheless.
I’m sure there was no intention to offend at play – but the loss is still real.
Fans are fickle. They want acknowledgment, even approval. Or they leave.
“Why do you do it? I mean, leave alone ‘feeling good’. Why else? What do you get from it?”
I picked up my coffee, and sat for a while in silence. I drank slowly, thoughtfully… and wondered how to answer the question. Then I replied the way I always do:
“Because I can.”
My modest needs are met from passive income sources that I worked hard to put in place. This frees me now to focus on things I want to do. And in the line of my professional work, I come across families without any alternatives to save their little kids with potentially fatal heart birth defects. I try to help them.
“Because I want to. And enjoy it.”
From the look on his face, I could see he wasn’t entirely convinced. And paradoxically, his doubt and uncertainty conveyed itself to me. On the drive back home, I kept returning to the question.
For a week later, I kept thinking about it.
Why do I do it?
There’s possibly a selfish drive behind my apparent altruism, a sublimated craving for recognition and acclaim. Or perhaps another motive is at play. But at most, it’s only an additional driver.
By itself, it may keep me going awhile.
But not for so long.
I’ve done this for 10 years. I’ll be doing it for another twenty. Or longer.
And not against these overwhelming odds.
I’ve overcome some major challenges. For each, there are dozens of smaller crises, just as frustrating and depressing.
Eventually, I kept coming back to the wise and inspirational words of my friend, mentor and role model, Frank McKinney, founder of ‘The Caring House’ project, who is fond of reminding us that:
“Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.”
I’ve always believed that much has been given to me. Proximity to suffering humanity in my role as a doctor, and good fortune to retain perspective on the frailty and uncertainty of our earthly existence have both combined to make me insanely grateful for thousands of little things that many take for granted, or even bemoan.
And then, I read an amazing blog by Derek Sivers. Founder of “CD Baby”. Author. Speaker. Musician. Philanthropist. Incredible human being.
He sold his company for $22 million – which he donated to charity!
In a remarkably short blog post, he explained why… and gave me the insight I’d been searching for all week long. (Many others probably felt that way, judging by the 1250+ comments on it!)
“It’s not that I’m altruistic. I’m sacrificing nothing. I’ve just learned what makes me happy. And doing it this way made me the happiest.”
I too am sacrificing nothing. In fact, I’m pursuing my twin dreams – of practicing a technically challenging specialty (pediatric heart surgery) while helping desperately needy families beat a killer health condition (congenital heart disease).
It makes me happy. Wildly, insanely happy. It makes my heart sing. It lends deep purpose and meaning to all that I do. It gets me out of bed, eager and excited about my day.
THAT’S why I do it.
Because I WANT to.
The best part of Derek’s post comes in his last line:
“But most of all, I get the constant priceless reminder that I have enough.”
Wow! How powerful is that?!
Unless you personally feel you have “enough”, it’s never easy to give to someone else.
Anxiety and stress kick in. Defences build up. Logic masks emotion.
And we put our noses back to the grindstone, trying to get “enough” for ourselves.
My work is a constant reminder TO MYSELF that I’m blessed with enough.
Every week, it seems, a new scandal of corruption erupts in the media – and rocks our belief system, our faith in everything.
The numbers grow bigger, more shocking, and frankly unbelievable. The 2G telecom scam cost the nation over Rs.100,000 crore. Hassan Ali is said to owe Rs.70,000 crore in income tax dues. And the Antrix-Devas S-band satellite scam will purportedly make the other two seem like peanuts!
To a nation whose populace struggles to wrap their heads around much smaller numbers, this creates mixed emotions.
Anger. Jealousy. Greed. And worse.
Many years ago, I strongly condemned the media’s tendency to focus on negative events at the cost of ignoring noble acts that inspire and energize.
INDIA TODAY’s editor-in-chief boldly published my letter to him as an editorial, along with a 1999 cover story that featured budding Indian heroes including Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji, and Ramadorai (caveat: the now infamous Ramalinga Raju was in it too!)
More media needs to do that. But let’s stop dreaming that it’ll happen. Bad news sells. The badder the news, the bigger the sales.
That’s Economics 101 in the media world!
The danger is that our youth – yes, YOU – may grow fatalistic (“everything’s doomed to fail”), disillusioned (“everyone’s a crook”), and frustrated (“nothing’s worth doing”) by all that’s going on around us.
But it would be a sad mistake to believe that.
Would it matter how many billions you have stashed away if the next quake hit near your home instead of along coastal northern Japan?
Will it make the slightest difference how many pieces of property you own if a nuclear reactor core melts down within 30 kilometers of where you’re standing?
Does how many fancy toys, cars, houses, jewelry and expensive playthings you have bought have any influence on what you can take along with you when you die?
So why do we obsess most of our lives about earning more, having more, collecting more?
It doesn’t take a huge fortune to touch and change someone’s life. It won’t cost you crores, or even lakhs, to enjoy the simple yet deep pleasures of life
A beautiful sunset, a relaxing walk on the sea shore, a smile on an innocent child’s face, a wrinkled grin across the face of an old man you helped across the street, a grateful look of the desperately poor and hungry orphan you fed a meal… those are pleasures to live for.
To look forward to.
You don’t need much to enjoy them. You only have to look for opportunities to serve.
Youth is ambitious and daring. It craves the grand gesture, the bold venture, the paradigm shifting initiative. And certainly such change can happen only when passionate people join hands and say “Enough… Let’s change this!”
Yet by far the biggest change comes from within. From inside each one of us. And it has little to do with wealth, possessions or any material thing.
It comes from an awakening of our souls.
Carl Sagan’s short movie, “A Pale Blue Dot” shifted my perspective significantly. I urge you to watch it. It’s barely 3 minutes long.
It will leave you a better, wiser, calmer person – one who lives and hopes and dreams in a different way than before.
And that’s important today.
There are times where words just don’t matter, where minds grow numb, where emotion itself lies suspended and reality seems unreal. Watching helplessly as Nature’s fury wrecked thriving towns in coastal Japan was one such experience.
Events like this force the realization upon us that everything, even life, is transient and fleeting. That we must stay grounded in gratitude for everything we have. That we must reach out to try and make a difference, no matter how small. That we are all part of a collective humanity, sharing a tenuous existence on a shared planet.
That we all matter.
That we all must love and care for each other.
We should act. Because we are one. No act of help is too small to have an impact, no contribution too worthless to be dismissed.
And that realization will give you all the meaning and purpose you crave for your future.
I'm Dr.Mani, a pediatric heart surgeon and author. I raise funds to sponsor heart surgery for under-privileged children in India. On this blog, I'll share my thoughts, travel photos, fitness tips and book reviews.