Soon after my residency training in heart surgery, I worked at a corporate hospital for a few months. It was an efficient, streamlined unit. Surgeons spent most of their time inside the operating room. Different specialists managed specific parts of the patient care process.
But no one was involved in every part. And team members took pride in statistics like the total number of patients operated, low complication rates, and effective resource utilization.
It was impersonal.
When I returned after a fellowship in U.K. and Australia, I spent a year at another corporate hospital. The interaction with patients was slightly more for doctors, though not much.
Primarily, we performed operations, and responsibility for other areas was very limited. While some satisfaction for specific patient outcomes was felt, team members by and large rejoiced in numbers and data rather than people.
It was abstract.
Now, I head and manage my own program. It isn’t very large. I am directly engaged in every step of the process – whether it involves patients or not. There are days I feel more like purchase manager or HR executive than surgeon!
I am also responsible for anything that goes wrong or doesn’t work or is missing when it’s needed. Engagement with patients and their families is personal, direct and frequent. It can happen at inconvenient times during the day (or night, too).
It is intensely personal.
Today, as I waved goodbye to my little 6-year old patient who has recovered from a complex congenital heart defect repair and is going back home, I felt a thrill of sheer delight as he smilingly waved back, and a grin lit up his tiny shining face.
It felt special… because I’m involved in every part of his treatment.
The year was 1994. The world was bewitched by two Indian beauties. Ms.Sushmita Sen was crowned Miss Universe. Ms.Aishwarya Rai, her runner-up in the Indian contest, won the Miss World title.
In the years since, both have had careers that followed different paths. And many people feel one was more successful than the other.
But reading Ms.Sen’s quote again 15 years later made me pause and think. About success. And about how individual it is, as a concept.
What is “Success”?
I asked my audience on Twitter, and the answers were interesting. Before sharing them, let me express mine.
“Success is the freedom to do what you want to.”
That’s what I believe. It implies you are in control – to do things. And it presumes those are things you want to do.
My Book Was a Success
For many years, I have wanted to write a book – an Amazon.com best-seller. For one reason or another, it kept getting put off… until I finally did it.
On August 25th, 2009, I launched my first print book, “Think, Write & Retire!” It raced up the charts, to enter the HOT 100 list on Amazon.com, hitting #83 in the ‘Business & Investing’ category.
My book was a success.
At around the same time, Chris Brogan launched his book, “TRUST AGENTS“. It hit #1 in two or three categories on Amazon.com (even reaching the 30’s overall among all books) – and has since gone on to become a New York Times and WSJ best-seller.
If I had wanted what Chris has achieved, then even with everything else being the same, my book would NOT have been a success!
Is Bill Gates a Success?
He has worn many crowns – as richest man in the world, multi-billionaire entrepreneur and co-founder of Microsoft, and now super-philanthropist who gives away his money to improve health and alleviate poverty in the world.
So, is he a success?
Most people would say “Yes, of course”. Some would disagree, and give their own reasons. But only one person can say if Mr.Gates is a success – HIMSELF!
Because only he knows what he wants – and if he’s free to get it.
Success Equals Happiness?
Not unless you WANT to be happy – in which case, you are a success WHEN you are happy!
But while many people assume ‘success’ is the same as ‘happiness’, I would argue that the two are distinct – though not mutually exclusive. You may pursue success at the cost of happiness – and will still be ‘successful’, even if not happy.
The Ultimate Secret of Success!
So, is there a ‘secret’ to success?
Yes. And it’s a simple, even obvious one. A secret that, once you know it, you can start using today, immediately, right this very minute – to become a ‘success’.
Best of all, it is completely within your control!
What is the secret? Just this. Change what you want.
WHAT! That’s a cop out, you say?
No. Think back to when you were younger. Much younger. Did you want the same things you want today?
Very likely not. We grow. We evolve. We change. And as we do, what we want changes too. With it, your chance of success changes too – it gets better.
Think about the words spoken many years ago by a young lady who was at the top of the world – nay, the Universe!
“Know what you want, and get it!”
In it, hidden, lies the secret of your success.
Here are some of the responses to my question on Twitter, “To YOU, what is the definition of ‘Success’?” Please add yours by leaving a comment below.
@ebizindia – Success to me is achieving a well-defined target. You are not successful if you made major progress but fell short of target.
@ShaunOReilly – Success = Living your own life, in your own way, getting better every day and making a real difference in the lives of others
@Ed – One angle: enough $ to never have to harm health chasing a buck…
@TerryDean – Success is when you get up everyday in love with your life. It’s not a destination as much as a journey.
A few hours before watching the memorial service to my favorite singer and entertainer, Michael Jackson, I was on YouTube seeing “The Making of Live Aid for Africa” – a musical extravaganza spearheaded by Michael and Lionel Ritchie that went on to raise over $60 million dollars in 1985 for fighting hunger in a famine-ravaged Ethiopia.
In addition to reminding me what made MJ special in my heart, the lyrics of the song also set off dormant, deeply buried memories – and set off a bright flash of insight.
“There’s a choice we’re making, We’re saving our own lives, It’s true we make a better day, Just you and me!”
The verse has echoed in my mind for years. For decades.
And with a little shock of surprise, I realized that it, at least in part, had been responsible for my choice of career and direction – one that has touched and healed 47 little hearts until now, and hopefully will help many more.
Yes, it’s a choice I made many years ago. And the reason I was bold enough to make it was, probably, from knowing that by making it, I was “saving my own life”!
Sound corny? Not to an idealistic eighteen year old, no. It held promise – of a brighter future, a happier one.
And guess what? That ‘possible future’ is my daily reality today!
While peers and contemporaries are getting increasingly stressed out running on an ever-speeding up treadmill and getting nowhere, comforted by little more than the regular deposits in their bank accounts, I’m finding deep joy and spiritual nourishment from “making a better day” for people in need. Children with congenital heart defects.
Words have power – to inspire dreams.
Music has power – to infuse them with energy.
I’ve always envied kindergarden teachers for their incredible potential to plant seeds in fertile young minds that, over years, will sprout, grow and bear fruit in rich multiples of what first went into them.
But now I also envy singers, musicians, artists, writers and just about anyone else who has skills, talents and desire to use words and music to create impact.
Impact that goes far beyond anything you can consciously imagine. Impact that touches every little corner of the connected humanity that is our collective consciousness. Impact that manifests in so many strange, unexpected and delightful ways.
A song, co-ordinated, planned and performed by 30 artists on a summer day in 1985, can save thousands of lives in starving Africa – and at the same time inspire a young, aspiring doctor in India to set out on a dreamy path.
“Heal the world, Make it a better place For you, and for me, And the entire human race”
That is impact. That is influence. That is what makes Michael Jackson a legend!
That is what the world celebrated in a fitting tribute to the ‘King of Pop’ on Tuesday, 7th July 2009.
It’s a celebration of the impact that words, music and memories made on millions of hopeful minds – over many decades.
There are special moments in our lives when we feel deeply grateful for what is and has been. Today I enjoyed one such moment.
I got a parcel in the post. Opening it, I found a copy of one of my all-time favorite books, “The Aladdin Factor” – but this one was VERY special.
Inside the front cover was a hand-written note from the author, Jack Canfield – to ME!
To Dr.Mani –
I am so moved by your commitment to saving infant lives. I am thrilled this book has played some small part in your life’s mission.
With great love, admiration and respect…
I was deeply moved when I read that brief note from an author I have admired, respected and read for decades!
And also extremely thankful for the person who made this possible – Lee Ann Price.
How it happened is an interesting story.
I am active on Twitter. Once I tweeted about the power of asking, and mentioned “The Aladdin Factor”. Lee Ann Price saw my tweet – as it turns out, at a stoplight while she was driving to an event where Jack Canfield would be speaking! She had picked a book to have autographed by Jack earlier that morning – and surprise, surprise… it was “The Aladdin Factor”!
On Thursday, at dinner, my teenage niece was aghast at what I had just done. My cellphone beeped, indicating a message had arrived. And I IGNORED IT!
She was visibly agitated. “Aren’t you going to see what it is? It’s on YOUR cellphone!”
And became even more so when I replied: “I don’t check my SMS often.”
Shock written large on her face, she turned back to her meal.
= = =
On Friday, my cousin walked into my office asking if I would help him by sending an email to the University he was registered at.
I explained how I had once emailed them for a related matter, and they never did get back to me… about how unreliable email had become.
Surprised, he exclaimed “I can understand them not replying to a letter or phone call, but email… !”
He was still shaking his head in amazement as he left the room.
= = =
On Saturday, I got a Twitter DM (direct message) from my friend Kevin Riley. He wanted some information to use in a manifesto he’s working on. I replied to it within a half hour.
At the same time, in my email inbox, I have over 800 messages lying unread. Barely 1 in 30 get a reply. And 50% won’t ever reach me, as my virtual assistant filters and deals with them.
When this realization struck me, I was just as surprised as my niece and cousin. Once upon a time, email had consumed half my working life!
= = =
So… what technology is “best”?
None of them.
And all of them.
Because at our core, we are not ‘technology-driven’ – but ‘human nature driven’.
We have different preferences and choices, likes and dislikes, favorites and hates.
That’s why I’ll blithely ignore SMS or email and respond promptly to a Twitter DM, while a teenager will stay glued to her cellphone that acts as her lifeline to a network of her friends, and a teacher will believe email takes priority over all else and must always get a response.
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.