How Ordinary People Inspire and Teach Us

Inspire and Teach Us

The author and Buddhist nun Pema Chodron said, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.”

When we find ourselves in tough situations, there’s usually something to learn. This also goes for people in our lives, even the ones that feel ordinary.

I have a practice of having my O.R. team name 3 things they’re grateful for every day, as those of you who’ve seen my TEDx talk know.

This has served me well and gets me, the patients and the staff in the right mindset.

But last week I decided to change it up. I asked them to each describe someone who had helped them in their career. I was blown away.

And it made me realize this…  Click to Tweet:

Each of us has an impact on others beyond our imagination.

Here’s what I learned:

  • My scrub technician had started his training in the military. He was assigned to a war zone and was right in the thick of it. One day, it got to him. He was in the supply closet, crying and scared. Who could blame him?

His commanding officer came in and talked to him. After a long talk and some tears, the commander said, “Remember that you are an AmeriCAN, not an AmeriCAN’T.” That stuck with him and gave him the strength to hang on.

  • My circulating nurse worked as a floor nurse in the hospital years ago, and she had several bad weeks in a row. She questioned if nursing was really her calling.

A good friend of hers who was also a nurse said, “You do all you can do with the situation you have, and that’s all you can do. Then you go home and sleep, knowing you did the best you could.”

  • My anesthetist trained with an anesthesiologist who not only taught her everything he knew about medicine, but about the importance of taking time for oneself, having a family life, and enjoying the journey.

In fact, he offered her a job when she graduated but recommended that she not take it, as she was a young single woman and he didn’t think she’d find a life partner in their little town. (He tracked her down several years later after she married and had a baby and said, “Now you can come to our town!”)

  • For me, my story starts with one of my professors in residency who encouraged me well beyond the “usual and customary” at a time when I was doubting my ability to stay in ophthalmology.

The weird twist of fate is this: When my professor was five years old, his neighbor (who was six) saved him from drowning. Now, had this neighbor not been there, would I still be where I am today? Only God knows.


Each of us has an impact on others beyond our imagination. And how we approach others matters.

Who has shaped who you are today? I’d love for you to share in the comments below.




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