Primal Inclinations: Following Mastery to Bliss

An observation…

A physician’s journey as a trainee is somewhat long and often arduous. A journey where gaining some semblance of mastery takes atleast ten to eleven disciplined years (and for some disciplines even longer) and which is followed by a lifelong journey of learning and practice! No wonder, physicians as a tribe are masters at delayed gratification!

After undergoing this journey, I am always struck by a paradox when many want to give up this profession they undertook in pursuit of something else?

I reason within my mind, this disconnect, this paradox!

Why do they want to give up clinical time and its foundational bedrock of research for some “desk” job to manage people. Especially after having spent countless years to hone their skills in the art and science of medicine?

Is it burnout? Is it their interest have waned? Do they no longer love what they do? Is it that medicine was truly not their primal inclination? Primal inclination is something you’re inherently interested in or something you naturally gravitate towards. A passion!

The starting point of our journey to become healers, were akin to the seed which was being watered by our effort and passion so as to reach our true final potential (The Chinese Bamboo). Were we watering the wrong seed all along?

Did we lose out in translation somewhere along the path to follow ones bliss via mastery!

Here Robert Greene, an author I greatly admire for his writings (Timing is Everything) shares his story- his own life journey and lessons he learnt along the way… he somewhat echoes when Leo Tolstoy once said- “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

I am also reminded of a story…

A story about Dr. Alan Ezekowitz, a physician leader, my Department Chair, when I was training at MassGeneral, Boston. He once gave a small group of fellow trainee’s a talk which I somehow still remember.

Dr. Ezekowitz was somewhat larger than life. A South African, who played first class cricket, got his medical degree from Cape Town and his D.Phil from Oxford. He emigrated to the United States in 1984. A much decorated and accomplished physician and researcher (Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Chief of Pediatrics at the Massachusetts General Hospital (1995); Head of Pediatrics for the Partners Healthcare System (1999); Senior Vice President and Head of the Franchise at Merck and Co (2006); Founder CEO of Abide Therapeutics (2011); and now a Venture Partner in Third Rock Ventures (2019). In 2008 he was honored by the establishment of the R Alan Ezekowitz Professorship of Pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School. (

The story he told is somewhat hazy after these many years and may have some factual shortcomings and veracity, more so clouded by my own recollections. In this talk to us trainees, he described his career path up to this time in 2000-01. In doing so, he was egging us to follow our passion and also telling us how unpredictable our lives and career can be despite our best intentions and plans.

He said (though not in these exact words):

“I had just completed my D.Phil and was deciding on a career path fueled by my curiosity and interests in biomedical research. I interviewed and decided to take up an offer for a research position at Rockefeller- the oldest biomedical research institute in the United States. 

However, fate had something else in store for me…as it put me on a bumpy backseat bus ride.

We were on our way from the airport to Hilton Head, SC for a research meeting. It just so happened that I was sharing the backseat with a experienced clinician and researcher. We got talking, as I told him about my future career plans to devote my life to bench research, in a way moving away from the clinical realm for which I had trained as a physician. In his own wise way, this gentleman on this short ride, gave me something- a seed of an idea, which changed my career path.”

The gentleman patiently heard my plans and gently said- “think about your decision wisely- many of your research ideas will come from your background training as a clinician while practicing the art of healing. Even if you are interested in research, don’t give up on the clinical side but make it a part of who you are.”

“Those words spoken on that fateful bumpy ride grew in my mind. I decided to change my career path as I joined Harvard to follow a different career path than I had earlier envisioned- a path where the clinical and research realm were more closely intertwined.”

“Life does not ask what we want. It presents us with options.”- Thomas Sowell


Image by Simon Carter / Onsight Photography

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