West Point Wakeup Call

I want to tell you about a lecture that has changed my life.  Not one I heard, but one I gave. Give me a  moment to explain before you stop reading; I promise there’s something in it for anyone who’s seeking a path toward their Personal Legend.

I recently spoke at West Point to a sports psychology class. The topic was “Psychological Aspects of Elite Performance”.  In the process of pulling together the talk, I learned a lot about myself and grew closer to my son. During the writing process and after presenting the talk, I felt inspired, energized and incredibly satisfied with results that extended far beyond the positive reaction of those cadets to the lecture.

West Point 2013 Psychology

Let me give you some background. What framed this experience for me was completing the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, recommended by Beth DuPree, my colleague and friend. I recommend parents read it to their younger children and that they give copies to their older ones.  The Alchemist highlighted a very important life lesson to me: when you commit to something fully and without reservation “all the world will conspire to helping you achieve your goal,” as Coelho says in his book.

It all started with the commitment to create the best speech I have ever written.  Once I obligated myself to this goal, the world indeed conspired to help me.   Despite having a busy and demanding neurosurgical practice and other extracurricular irons in the fire including coaching a wrestling team, the moment I decided to tackle this task, I felt ready for the challenge. I started waking up at 4 am just to write and revise the lecture.   There was new-found energy in every step I took.  My routine, daily mundane activities revealed themselves  differently to me and reinforced my purpose to give my greatest talk ever.

If I was operating, I thought of how some aspect of the operation would fit into my talk.  If I was eating, I noticed the taste of my food more clearly and distinctly and appreciated the activity in a new way.  If I was in the shower, ideas would come to my mind that would add to my talk.  It was amazing!  I started seeing all of the life events around me and how they fit into a complete puzzle.  Many events occurred during this six-week learning process that fit or gave perspective to my talk. I was bubbling with ideas.

I got a lot of help along the way. I thank the many people who assisted me in achieving my rhetorical personal greatness.  These include Mr. Ken Davidson, Mrs. Sasha Zebrick, Mrs. Karen Horton, my father who sent me the poem that became the central theme, my wife, Julie who listened to many versions and experienced firsthand what I was going through, and my children who listened to the final version and provided great input.  I felt gratitude for all that I gained from working with all of these advisors.  And I experienced immense gratitude for what I am privileged to do on a day to day basis.

During this project I learned and shared much about myself to my loved ones and to the people who are important in my life.  I really opened up, to so many people. I disclosed thoughts and feelings to my oldest son, Alex, that I’d left previously uncommunicated. I helped one of my wrestlers see his young world a little differently.   I revealed more to my office staff about perceptions gained as a neurosurgeon.  The writing process gave me a more focused insight into who I am and what I care about in this world.   Everything came together for me and life appeared clearer. AND that was even before I delivered the speech!

Having the opportunity to visit West Point and speak to a class is in itself inspiring. The feedback I got after the talk was even more so. I found it revealing that the talk so resonated with the cadets that they shared their own strong feelings and emotions about particular life events and relationships they had with their parents and, for some of the senior officers, with their children.

Writing this talk made me realize that I had more in me that I ever thought.  I realized that I had more work to do.  And I am thankful for what I now call the West Point Wake Up Call. I don’t think we ever know what life event will mark a turning point. It might be an illness we fight, or the unexpected moment when we take an enormous risk to help someone in danger, or something as seemingly unremarkable as writing a talk that somehow leads us to new self-awareness. Just welcome the opportunity, whatever form it takes, even if it is a difficult and painful one. Then commit fully to following the path it takes you on. As Coelho’s character Melchizedek says to the boy Santiago in The Alchemist: “In order to find your treasure, you have to follow the omens.  God has prepared a path for everyone to follow.  You just have to read the omens that he left you.” If you can pay attention to life opportunities and the omens, you, your family, and your colleagues will benefit in ways unimaginable.

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