Years ago, I was a pretty good baseball player. My dad had been a collegiate pitcher at a major university, and he taught me to play and love "America's game" before I even turned 4. I eventually was fairly successful, becoming captain and MVP of my high school squad. I even gained the attention of a few small colleges where I could continue my "career". However I ended up picking a bigger state school as I realized my skill-set was never going to advance me past small-school college baseball. Now, I know baseball isn't nearly as popular as it used to be, but to this day I can't get enough of it. Every spring I get the urge to bring out my glove and throw the ball around. This year's spring has been particularly nostalgic, and it really got me thinking...
I loved to pitch, just like my dad. If you don't know much about baseball; most successful pitchers are rather tall. Taller players generally can throw harder, are more durable, and are able to put a more extreme angle on their pitches to batters. Take a look at the best Major League pitchers right now, over 90% of them will be over 6' 2". Anyways, my point is I am (somewhat unfortunately) 5 foot 9 inches...on a good day. As expected, I never threw very hard (mid to low 80's), but I still refused to give up on pitching.
I made the most of my small stature. I worked my butt off in the weight room, dedicated hours in the backyard pitching to my dad, and ran miles to improve my stamina. I was no slouch, but I probably could've been more successful as a second baseman or outfielder. Why then, did I keep pitching knowing I had reached my upper limit?
Part of it obviously was that it was fun, and a love of mine. However, now that I have some perspective and am years removed from the game I think it is mostly something else. Simply put, every time I pitched I had a chance to be perfect. A perfect game in baseball is when a player pitches an entire game and does not allow a single hitter to reach base safely. 27 hitters come up, and 27 hitters immediately sit back down. There can be no walks, errors, hits, runs scored, or any other outcome but a win for the pitcher's team. In my opinion it is the pinnacle of achievement in sports. In the history of professional baseball (over 120 years) a perfect game has only happened 23 times. 23!
Now as this is a blog centered around medicine, perhaps you are a bit confused right now. Fear not! Here is a clip from "Scrubs" to give this post some perspective:
I have always tried to be perfect, whether in baseball, school, relationships, etc. Unfortunately, in everyday life that is simply impossible, and nowhere is that more evident than in medicine. Every single patient that I will ever meet is going to die. That is an unavoidable truth. It is a really humbling fact that all the best treatments and medical knowledge out there are merely stop-gap measures in the long run.
That is why the pursuit of perfection is so important. I never pitched a perfect game. What I did do is take my natural talent, and using hard work and dedication stretched it to be the very best pitcher I could be. Now, 5 years later, I know I am not the smartest person in the medical field (or anywhere close). But I will study/learn/practice/read everyday in order to pursue perfection in my field. Hard work will carry you much farther than natural talent, everyday of the week.
I am motivated by the ideal of perfection, no matter how unattainable. It has fueled my pursuits, and created the man I am today. This post tied together being a pitcher and a doctor, which I think is a natural comparison (thank you "Scrubs"). However all of this extends much farther into my personal life. For me, I know I can never be the best doctor, brother, son, significant other, future father, etc. This is because there is always something to work and improve upon, everyday. What motivates you?