Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
We end each interview day with a “Panel Lightening Round,” where applicants pose questions to program leadership. The questions are thoughtful and provocative: How do residents find mentors? How does the program give and take feedback? How do we promote diversity, equity, and inclusion? How do we partner with the city of New Haven? What changes are coming to the residency? The Chiefs feed questions to the panel and we do our best to answer them. We consistently run out of time, partly because we’re not good at “lightening” answers, but more because the applicants have lots of questions.
Inevitably, an applicant wants to know why each of us came to Yale and why we stay. The answers flow, highlighting our commitment to change, our dedication to social justice, our openness to fresh ideas, and the joy of working with people who make our program “as good as any, nicer than most.”
The reason I came to Yale, and the reason I’ve stayed for more than 30 years, is simple: I can be myself here. As a person with strong opinions, I’ve been encouraged to share my views, even if provocative and controversial. As a teacher, I’m surrounded by earnest, motivated learners. As a physician, I work with experts, innovators, and healers in a medical center committed to treating all patients well, regardless of their ability to pay. As a member of this community, I’ve experienced transcendent moments with students, residents, and fellows as we accompany patients through death and survival, illness and recovery, sadness and joy.
We physicians are susceptible to the lure of success, especially awards and public recognition. But as Viktor Frankl teaches, the focus on success is misdirected. Paradoxically, success comes when we look beyond it, when we focus on meaningful pursuits; when we devote ourselves to studying, teaching, and learning; when we ask questions; when we collaborate to solve problems; and when we sit with frightened patients, comforting them by our presence.
In The Wellness Chronicles, we’ve explored the pillars of self-care—eating, sleeping, exercising, and socializing—and we’ve described our core mission to help you stay well so you can grow as physicians. But in the end, to be well, we must uphold the fundamental reason we chose this profession in the first place. It is a privilege to be a physician, to hold lives in our hands, to bear witness, to heal, and to know deep down that we’ve devoted our lives to something good, which is the only measure of success we’ll ever need.
Enjoy your Sunday, everyone. Be well,
PS- Our last interview day is this Tuesday. Thanks for all your help in recruiting next year’s class of Yale interns.