“Sorry son, you’re just not good enough for medical school.” That was the ugly truth I had to endure back in the winter of 1982. Even though it may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, I believe in accepting the ugly truth, because after being knocked down and kicked by it, you then have an opportunity to catch your breath and try something else. Being from a small, economically depressed, coal-mining town perched in the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, I didn’t think there were a whole lot of career choices for a kid like me. Fortunately, I was curious about everything and was good at school, so I thought that maybe I could be a doctor. So I worked really hard, but the ugly truth sucker punched me anyway. Right in the chops. And don’t think I didn’t cry. I Cried. But it’s OK to cry after learning the ugly truth. In fact, it’s a right of passage. However, it’s what you do next that defines you. You can admit defeat, and sometimes that’s the right thing to do when your life’s plan doesn’t jive with reality. But ignoring the ugly truth just isn’t smart. In fact, it’s a waste of precious time. The ugly truth will still be there, glowering over you, even after you finally decide to peek from underneath your blankie. So in 1982, when I was a senior in college and my life’s ambition was supposedly out of reach, I decided to embrace the ugly truth. It was right. I wasn’t good enough for medical school. I wasn’t ready. But five years later after getting my PhD, medical schools wanted ME. And now I realize that if the ugly truth never walloped me way back then, I never would have picked myself up, left my small town and traveled across the United States and later overseas. I never would have done research in the neurosciences and never would have found out how much I love to teach. So when my students think that they can never understand the anatomy of the brain, or my patients fear that their Parkinson’s disease might kill them, I try to get them to take a dance with the ugly truth. And then, after you made it believe that it’s bigger and stronger than you are, swivel around and kick it in the backside. That’s what I believe.
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