I believe that we each have a chance to redefine ourselves every day. This is a strange belief since my field is academic medicine, where we judge each other primarily by our resumes. We give prestigious jobs and awards based on great resumes, and we sometimes stamp out careers based on inadequate resumes. If someone hasn’t done anything like it before, we say, they are unlikely to do it now. People never change, we say.
I teach young people about pursuing accomplishments with passion, and I emphasize how critical their resumes will be to the rest of the world. However, I stopped worshipping my resume a long time ago, when I realized that my resume did not define who I am. I came to this understanding not from practicing medicine, nor from any of my own teachers. I developed my belief from studying my wife, who is a better person than I am, and asking what made her a better person. It became clear to me when I watched my wife answer a call one evening from a telemarketer. She politely declined the sales pitch, and wished the person good luck before saying goodbye. I asked her why she was so polite, when these intrusive people were interrupting us every evening. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “They’re just trying to earn a living.” I realized then that my wife was a better person because she approached every interaction, every day, as yet another chance to do the right thing.
Now, every time I see a patient, I realize that those minutes are a chance for me to become the best doctor I can be. When I see someone struggling to enter a building with a package, I have a chance to help them through a door. When the cleaning lady comes to clean my office each evening, I have a chance to be polite to her and thank her for taking away my trash.
So I believe that we are defined by each of hundreds of decisions we make every day, and not by titles or past accomplishments. Today I woke up with aspirations to be the world’s greatest doctor, the world’s greatest scientist, the world’s greatest husband, and the world’s greatest father. It is unlikely that I will reach any of those goals today. But if telemarketers call tonight, I’ll be kind to them, even if I don’t want to buy their widgets, because at that moment, that is who I will want to be. And tomorrow, I believe, will bring new chances to define myself again.