The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.
There is no magic involved in becoming a success in your chosen field, but there is a formula—you simply have to dream it, live it, love it, and do it each day. I hear it all the time from students, residents, and visitors from around the globe: “I want to be just like you someday—what is the formula for success?” It’s not the sort of thing where you suddenly wake up one morning and receive an official notice declaring, “Congratulations, you are a success!” You work for it—always remaining focused and goal-oriented.
It is certainly not a revelation to any physician—especially a plastic surgeon—that to achieve success, you must have high aspirations with achievable objectives. Possessing a strong desire to achieve some specific gain is instrumental. To reach any peak, one must always aim high or one will not get there. However, aspiration is one thing, but sustaining it through life’s many stumbling blocks along the way is the real challenge. It’s vital to work hard, get along with others, be eager to learn from your mistakes, and be a quick study if mentored—all while never straying far from your overall goals. I know that, often, situations beyond our control can get in the way of not only success, but just getting by in life.
John Lennon sang “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.” I think we can all relate: “life happens” while you’re planning your future, and that is where you have to become inspired. That means you must find the creativity to achieve what you aspire to do. This often requires a team effort helped along by a collision of great friends or partners that share your vision. Allow me to offer a real-life example. When I was a resident at the University of Michigan, I met Jack Gunter, who was the chief resident in plastic surgery after coming back from being a fully trained ear, nose, and throat surgeon and academic otolaryngologist. His unifocal vision was to expand and update the teaching of rhinoplasty in plastic surgery training programs in the United States. That became Jack’s lifelong mission and culminated in the birth of the Dallas Rhinoplasty Symposium. This singular meeting has trained more than 10,000 surgeons to perform rhinoplasty using live surgery, intense didactics, and hands-on fresh cadaver sessions for more than 30 years! I was fortunate to join Jack in his vision beginning in my early years in Dallas. Now, it is world-renowned as the meeting for learning both basic and advanced methods in rhinoplasty. Building his mission into this meeting did require a lot of personal sacrifice and long hours of planning and preparation for Jack, and for me as well. But he was inspired, and inspiration is contagious. I am so glad that Jack engrained his spirit in me, and I hope that by teaching the teachers of rhinoplasty today as they educate the rhinoplasty leaders of tomorrow, we can all continue to propagate Jack’s passion. This brings us to the third aspect that success requires—perspiration—and a lot of it. Anything worth doing is worth doing well if you want to become good or great at it. If not, why bother to even do it? Leave it to someone who loves it and wants to make it his or her life’s focus. But if you want it, savor the sweat. Perspiration is usually triggered by too much work or failure or frustration—but each of these challenges will make you better if you don’t quit. Most people can easily recall what Thomas Edison said of his journey to create the light bulb: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” An Edison saying that I find even more illuminating is, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Edison was very eloquent and became famous for such aphorisms; those who know me will attest that I have a few “catch-phrases” as well. One of my former attendings even made T-shirts and coffee mugs with my face and one of my more infamous (or famous) charges to the teams I work with: “Ramp it up!” I love it that people will recall me saying this, because I mean it: sweat can lead to success.
Success is truly a state of mind and a vision that catches fire for all those around it, and then it becomes a movement to succeed. This can be a lifelong desire to be an expert—especially in the field of plastic surgery, where the development of true expertise in one specific area such as rhinoplasty or microsurgery requires intense focus on an awakening aspiration, a consistent inspiration, and ongoing perspiration! Great plastic surgeons are not born with a silver scalpel in their hands; they are the result of intense self-focus, self-analysis, selflessness, and tireless learning and teaching to achieve success. Success in medicine and plastic surgery results in streamlined and optimized patient care, patient safety, and patient outcomes. I am often asked what drives me intellectually. It is one thing: To be the best I can be with all the skills I have, both acquired or innate. What makes me tick is an intense focus to concentrate on areas for a long time in great depth to achieve goals. This approach to surgery and life might not be comfortable for many, and it should be apparent that there is no one magic formula for everyone—what works for me may not work for others. But the single most important thing is to never quit. There will be failures and setbacks. People will tell you that you cannot do it. Don’t quit. Believe in yourself and great things will happen!
There is no magic formula for success in life or work, other than believing that you aspire to greatness: if you aspire to a level of excellence in whatever your field of expertise, you can and will get there with perseverance—along with aspiration, inspiration, and perspiration.
So, why do this at all? One can simply “just get by” without all of the hard, sustained, and challenging effort. But is the status quo really “enough” after all you did to become a plastic surgeon?
Go out and do great work, learn and teach others, and become great—not good—at what you do each day. Take great care of your patients, and peers, and pupils. In order to achieve lasting success in this field—what some might call a legacy, just like what my dear friend Jack Gunter achieved in his lifetime—one must give back to plastic surgery and give back to one's own community. By becoming a leader, a teacher, and a success, you will make life better not only for you and your family, but also for your patients and the specialty as a whole. The world will be a little better because of you! So go aspire, inspire, and perspire your way to success. You can do it!
Success is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.