Being Indispensable

Started a new book this week. Seth Godin’s Linchpin. It’s all about what it means to be indispensable; what do I contribute that know one else does. While I am still just breaking the surface of the book, it has got me thinking, especially as I am working on my applications for medical school.

One idea that Seth talks about a lot is how the old economy was all about making everything replaceable, from replaceable parts to replaceable humans. Now, in an age where nearly everything is easily replaceable, there is more value than ever on the things that can’t be replaced (cheaper costs which drove the movement towards replaceable parts can go to zero, whereas fresh ideas and innovation has no limit as far as we know).

Ok so what do I have to offer to the world of medicine. On one hand I am concerned because in the world of medicine, that’s one place where you don’t want a lot experimenting going on, at least with patients. On the other hand I see it as challenge. In a career where one distinguishes themselves simply by maintaining the status quo and “following the rules”, how can I be different, where can I add myself into the mix. It’s easy* to be a good doctor, but what separates a good doctor from an indispensible one. From a medical standpoint there shouldn’t be much variation between then. I think what differentiates the two is the “emotional labor” which Seth also talks about. The work of showing patients that you care. I also think the medical geniuses are the ones who rethink the way we do medicine entirely (and who knows maybe there’s a revolution out there waiting for someone to strike the match).

Seth says we all have the capacity to be geniuses (some of us very stable ones), and that even those that we regard as some of the most the revolutionary minds of our time only spend about 5 minutes of their day as a genius, the rest is just work that anyone could do. Genius doesn’t mean everyone will like it, it means only you can do it (or at least you are one of the few can).


*Of course it’s not easy, but it is something that you can develop with practice.

Here’s another article that I think is worth checking out:

Being my own biggest advocate


“Hell is Other People”

This is a quote from French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte that I came across while reading Algorithms to Live By (Yes I am still reading that, just about to finish get off my back).

What Sarte means by this is not that people are evil, but that the influence of other people’s perceived perceptions on our own perception can be exhausting and frustrating. In other words, we base our ideas of ourselves in part on how we think others perceive us.

The authors of Algorithms to Live By offer a solution that I thought was encouraging. In the chapter on game theory they bring up the idea of dominant strategies (that which makes the most sense individually) vs optimal strategies (that which leads to the best outcome overall). They talk about changing the “game” to restrict the players to choose optimal strategies. They talk about the Vickrey auction in which the optimal strategy is to be honest about what you believe that value of a particular item is.

The chapter ends on this: “Seek out games where honesty is the dominant strategy. Then just be yourself.”

We are often in control of the games we play, I want choose the ones that allow me to live authentically.


You’re not bad, you’re just ignorant!

A lot of times I write off my shortcomings by saying that I’m bad at “it”. I’m bad therefore I can never be good, at least never as good as those who are good at “it” already.

Of course I’m bad at it, it’s either among my first tries or I’ve never tried at all. That doesn’t mean I am ultimately bad, it just means I’m ignorant. I haven’t explored it yet. I haven’t tried and failed over and over yet. Doing that takes time though, and I only have so much (though admittedly more than I use responsibly), and so is it worth exploring my shortcomings.

Then we can get into a whole discussion about explore vs exploit, so I’ll stop there for now.

Bottom line, you won’t know unless you try…over and over, so if it means that much to you, respect it.

The Invisible Gorillas of Life

There’s a popular video that asks you to observe basketball players and count the number of passes by a certain team while ignoring those of the other. If you haven’t seen it check it out here.


Most people so focused on the task that they don’t notice the gorilla. There are many variations on this experiment and some are better than others, but that’s beside the point. Lucas Miller, in his book Beyond Brilliance, points out that this is not only a fascinating experiment on human attention, but also it says something about our individual perceptions and attitudes. We are often so focused on our own various tasks and goals we ignore that which doesn’t pertain to completing or achieve them. This makes our perceptions often times very limited. There’s not much we can do to fix that except just acknowledging that reality. We never have the full picture, but we should strive to see as much of it as we can. Keep an eye out for all those invisible gorillas in your life.


“Self-help” books or “educational” books are interesting. Most of them are written with the underlying assumption that there is a better version of you yet to be realized. But what defines a better version of yourself? Money? Intelligence? Friends? Status? Health? Ultimately I would say this “better” version is supposed to simply be a happier version, and those things that I mentioned are what these books often offer as the solution. Is it wrong to want any of those things? No (but also what is “wrong”). Will those things necessarily make us happy? Also no. Does that mean we should just be content with ourselves and not seek change? I would like to say heck no, but at the same time I’m not at all sure and my current perspective may even tend toward yes. More on this cognitive dissonance later. In a bit of a crisis right now, but a good one… I think.

Thoughts on Learning

  • What does it mean to you? Learning is way to obtain information and become more knowledgeable about a topic. I enjoy learning for the most part; it’s a way to satiate curiosity (briefly).
  • When is it easy for you? Difficult? It’s easiest when I am genuinely interested in whatever it is I’m learning about, and difficult when I’m not.
  • Outside of school, what do you enjoy learning most? Why?  I like learning new skills because those often have practical uses.
  • Why do you think some people are better learners than others? I think for some people circumstance has forced some people to develop good learning techniques and some to develop poor ones. I do believe also there is at least some genetic component that can offer some advantages/ disadvantages.
  • How do you think you can stack the deck in your favor when it comes to learning? Studying early. Good scheduling. Make good habits. Be healthy.
  • Who has taught you the most in life? Do you have any mentors? Of course my parents are probably the ones who have taught me the most (is my privilege showing?) as well as family. I have also learned plenty from friends and also just from my own personal experiences. No one person comes to mind when it comes to mentors, or at least for the picture I have in my mind for mentors.

Worse Than Rejection

I used to think I hated rejection, but I think there is something that I think is worse. I’m at a point in my life where I am pretty comfortable with rejection. Being told no doesn’t bother me all that much more. What is absolutely worse is not getting an answer at all.  You aren’t going to hurt my feelings by saying no. Just be honest. The last thing I want is for you to do something you don’t want to do, sure I will be disappointed, but I will get over it as long as you give me an answer. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of withholding a response because I didn’t want to face the other person’s reaction to my turning them down. But I’ve seen how shitty that makes them feel and have experienced it myself. It can be hard, I get it, especially when feelings and egos are involved, but from what I’ve seen, when you come across something difficult, it usually means you’re on the right track.

Thoughts on Understanding

“Their situations and their bodies produce a qualitatively different timbre to their voices. One must listen to them carefully to understand that while pain is universal, it is also utterly private. We cannot know whether our pain is like anybody else’s pain until we talk about it. Once we do that, we speak and think in ways cultural and individual.”

This is a quote from The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. Here the narrator is literally talking about screams of pain, but I think Nguyen knows exactly what he is doing here. The whole deal with the main character is that he has a knack for understanding other people’s feelings, and if not for the context of the book, I think a more accurate title, albeit less catchy and less contextually relevant, for our protagonist would be The Empathizer.

Book review aside, these few lines really resonated with me. It’s not the first time I’ve been introduced to this idea, but in this passage it really hits home. It’s interesting how sometimes when we try to make someone feel better we say, “I know how you feel” and while the sentiment and intention is nice, seldom does it to the person any good, unless purely by thought alone. But if you think about it, it’s actually quite baffling. Another person is in pain, and for some reason we think that that’s an appropriate moment to make things about ourselves, equating our experience to theirs for what purpose. We can never know what the other person is feeling. And if somehow we do know exactly what the other person is feeling, letting them know that doesn’t really help and in someways can diminishes their own experience. It is important to try to understand, and recalling our own experiences is an important part of that, but it’s probably not necessary it to tell them all about it, because it’s never the same, especially in the moment. The best we can do is offer our support and let them know that we are there for them.

This idea extends beyond tragedy. Simply understanding that each individual experiences the world differently can help bring us close to a more empathetic, compassionate world. Trying to understand another person is one of the most important things we can do.

Making an Effort

It’s often not as hard to do as we make it out to be. The hardest thing about making an effort is not the effort itself; it’s the fact that doing so makes us vulnerable. Making an effort puts us up for the possibility of failure and or rejection. So it’s no wonder that effort is also associated with caring, which is another vulnerability that you open yourself up to because when someone knows you care they get a little insight into your values and who you are as a person.

Being a person who is comfortable making an effort can be difficult. You are always the one to put yourself out there and thus you face the most rejection. And if at some point you decide to stop making an effort or forget to, people will start to think you don’t care anymore (regardless of their own effort).

But making an effort doesn’t have to be and maybe shouldn’t be about what other people think about us. By taking risks, yea you may face some rejection and failure, that’s inevitable, but you also open yourself up to more opportunity for reward. And I think you’ll find it’s often the case that the rewards will far outweigh the costs, and if not you may be doing it wrong.

AToAC: Chapter 1

They all stood in silence, no one among them wanting to acknowledge the elephant in the room, though perhaps a skunk would be more appropriate. What was particularly quieting was the fact that no one among them could be quite sure that they themselves weren’t the culprit. Nonetheless, that distinct and pungent odor permeated through the air, accosting any and all unfortunate souls within its range.

The thing is none of the children ever publicly discussed matters of liquid excrement with their peers, and so each child believed themselves to be the only one with such awfully fragrant urine.

It was 2 minutes and 53 seconds before they all had realized how quiet it had been however, each one contemplating if it could have been possible to micturate without being aware of it and if so what to do about it.

Philippe was the first to speak up. Who wants to play Four Square, he asked, his mind obviously fixated on something else. And after a brief, distracted beat: Me! Me too! Me, me! The others responded with a promptness intended to compensate for their prior hesitation.

And while situations such as this were not all that common among this small tribe of asparagus children, when they did occur, the outcome would be similar to what we just witnessed. That is until the day, when it simply could not be ignored…