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Wednesday
Dec082010

Epiphany

Have you had yours yet?

When did you think you might be capable of trying something different from your training as a physician?  Did it happen suddenly, or was it a gradual pull to a new area of interest?  Have you made the transition yet, or just thinking about it? 

Whatever your answer, it's good. One experience for me got me started in directions that I never dreamed possible. If I hadn't followed my instincts, my world would be very different today.

1985. Working way too hard in my medical practice, organizing an IPA, getting burned out. I wanted a complete break from practice for awhile to get my priorities straight. I wanted to see the highest mountain on the planet.  Not climb it—just see it. Imagine asking your partners in practice—and your wife—to take a month off to do that! I was blessed to have the support of both.

I agreed to be an expedition doctor for a well known trekking company. That way their clients could feel more secure, and I could just tag along with a well organized group. Eat "American style" food, and have my own private tent each night. Nothing too difficult or challenging.

To make a long story short, the group was small. Because the clients and their physician weren't honest on their medical forms (heart issues), they got scared at 13,000 feet in the village of Namche Bazaar. They wanted to go home to the US.

The group leader was frustrated. He wanted to visit his friend the rimpoche at the monastery a half days walk up the trail. He asked me what I wanted to do. He could see I was impressed with the Himalayan experience. We bargained with our clients to give us one more day to make a decision. They agreed, and asked us to take lots of pictures for them.

I decided to stay the remaining three weeks—but without a group to take care of me. Just me and a nineteen year old Sherpa who spoke as much English as I spoke Sherpa. It was a turning point in my life. Every day was a new adventure. Stay in the Sherpa lodges and homes. Eat the native cuisine.  Explore at my own pace. Learn to deal with altitude sickness, and maybe a bit of HACE. 

I asked my young Sherpa guide to take me to HIS favorite place—not the usual tourist destinations. His choice? The chorten memorial to Sir Edmund Hillary's wife and daughter, who were killed in a plane crash at Lukla several years earlier. The Sherpas built the chorten out of respect and love. It was in a beautiful spot. Sir Edmund never did visit the site because of his emotions, but I was privileged to see it with my Sherpa friend.

As a result of having everything fall apart, and having to face a new challenge every day, I realized I could handle new career challenges that I never imagined. I returned home with a new appreciation for my wife and kids—and a promise to bring them to Nepal someday. (They've been there twice now, and my boys have spent far more time there than my wife or me.) One of my partners told me I was "different now". How, I asked. "You aren't as serious". My attitude about serious issues had changed. I saw the struggles differently. 

Six years later, when a new career challenge popped up unexpectedly, I was prepared for it. The inner confidence and desire to take on something new and different helped me move in that direction. Follow your instincts, even if you aren't quite sure why. You might find, as several other physicians who have journeyed to China and Tibet, or Rwanda, with my wife and I, that these adventures help develop your leadership, flexibility, and creativity. You don't have to travel half-way across the world to find your inspiration. Just be aware that what's drawing you to a new interest is happening for a reason—even though you may not understand that reason just yet. 

Or, as the rimpoche tells climbers wanting to know the secret to getting to the top of Everest—no secret. He says there are many ways to get to the top—fast, slow, different routes, etc.  Or you can decide the top isn't your goal anymore.  He laughs and says, "it's all OK".

Reader Comments (2)

Good post, Barry. A little change in perspective is all it takes sometimes. Thanks for the anecdote and encouragement.

Excellent insight. This reminds me of one my favorite articles on following gentle callings. http://net.acpe.org/membersonly/pejournal/2004/JulyAugust/Articles/DelbecqAndre.pdf

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