The answer to a casual question at lunch, 35 years ago, taught me everything I needed to know about choosing a career.
I knew my father’s cardiologist for a dozen years before my father needed him.
In the early 1980s the medical community was just starting to build applications for patient record keeping using the new personal computers coming on the market at the time. Through circumstances I am totally unable to recall I was introduced to an eminent cardiologist—I’ll call him Dr. Don—whose research work required him to collect data on his groundbreaking coronary angioplasty cases. I wrote a little code for him and it remained an entirely professional relationship except for the occasional lunch at the local tennis club. They were awkward discussions. Apart from the microscopic overlap in his coding requirements and my coding capabilities we really didn’t have that much to talk about.
Desperate to find a way to make the conversation last at least until the main course was served, I grabbed for the only thing that came to mind that made the least bit of sense.
“So when was it that you knew you wanted to be a cardiologist?”
Perhaps unwittingly—or more likely he knew precisely the gravity of what he was about to impart—he provided the single best answer ever to similar questions I had asked many others, perhaps searching for some sort of magic for my own career:
“I don’t remember not wanting to be one” he said.
How a six year old boy knew he wanted to be something that wasn’t a fireman, policeman, hockey player or astronaut seemed rather incredible to me at the time. However, he did go on to describe that, yes, for as long as he could remember being a cardiologist was the only thing he ever wanted to be when he grew up. What the six year old Dr. Don could not have known, of course, was only a small, small number of those who might aspire to such a profession actually have the wherewithal to see it through. Astronaut or hockey player might actually have made more sense. Setting aside the base IQ that only nature and good luck can provide, the staggering amount of education required—literally decades—is insurmountable for all but a tiny fraction of those who try.
Defying those impossibly long odds, Dr. Don obviously did achieve his childhood dream and became a cardiologist. Not just any cardiologist, though, but one of global reputation sought after by institutions around the world to further perfect his craft and to impart some fraction of his knowledge on those around him. He went on to develop and patent many advances in the state-of-the-art that are still widely used today. He is, without doubt, one of the best in his field.
Most importantly, for the Gannon family and countless other families like ours, Dr. Don became our fathers’ cardiologist. He provided the supremely nuanced, careful, thoughtful, transcendent care that extended my father’s life from maybe his late fifties well into his eighties where he happily lives to this day.
Those two or three decades—at least—of extra life have provided an opportunity for my father to see his grandchildren grow up, thrive and to see the birth of his first great-grandchild. An opportunity for him and my mother to look after each other as they grew old together. An opportunity for him and I to go to the Reno Air Races (twice!) and an opportunity for me to get to know my father as an adult. An opportunity for my father to impart his wisdom and spirit on me and my siblings.
All of that would never have happened without Dr. Don. In other words, our family owes this man a debt we can never hope to repay because the gift he gave us was priceless. So instead, on behalf of my family, I simply offer him my humblest, heartfelt thanks. We will never forget what you did for us.
I’m sure that Dr. Don is well into his retirement now and he deserves and long and happy one. But think, for a moment, how blessed his life has been: to know exactly what he wanted to do for as long as he could remember, to be able to grow up and do exactly that, achieve enormous success within that field and to leave a legacy of families like ours. Families whose lives have been profoundly and indelibly affected by his work. He was truly able to turn his life’s passion into his profession and we are all infinitely richer for it.
Actually, I don’t think Dr. Don chose cardiology at all. Cardiology chose him. Happily, it became his life’s work, his grand professional passion. But I really believe that in Dr. Don’s case, his life’s work was never really work at all.
Now that’s the life we should all hope to lead.
The WorkNotWork Show is a podcast dedicated to the stories of those who, like Dr. Don, have turned their passion into their profession. If you like what you hear on the podcast, please rate us on iTunes, it really helps. Also, thank you for reading and we welcome your comments (header photo: ©Jim DeLillo via iStock)
©2017 The WorkNotWork Show