By most measures, I’ve had a life that has been blessed with an abundance of adventure and experiences. My LinkedIn profile summarizes the professional adventures, but doesn’t mention the many personal adventures and experiences that have come my way, which, to me, are equally full of blessings and personal growth, if not greater. For the most part, I think my contributions to life and the lives of others has been generally positive. There’s no doubt that I’ve stepped on toes and made my share of offenses, but most of the time, the wake has been constructive. You'd have to ask others to get the real truth. Many of these opportunities, and whatever success I had with them, had nothing to do with me or my skills. They were simply the luck of life and opportunity placed within grasp; so I grabbed them, just like anyone else would.
You would think that I could just accept all these blessings and be thankful for them… try to share them with others... and hope that they keep coming and that I can keep giving back.
But, I can’t… or at least I can’t without struggle.
Quite often, as was the case yesterday, I’m asked to give lectures and speeches that, for the most part, always end up being a summary of my life’s lessons learned, up to that point. They are a mixture of my professional and personal observations about life, usually centered around a particular topic. Yesterday, the topic was “Machine Learning, Big Data, and Population Health Analytics.” A mouthful of buzzwords, for sure. My goal with that lecture was to inform the audience of mostly healthcare executives and physicians so that they could make better decisions about the technology that is having such a big impact on their lives and careers.
All of these lectures are about advice and guidance. I’ve given over three hundred of these in the last 30+ years. While I’m always honored to give a lecture or presentation, and share my life’s lessons, it pains me to do so. I’m a nervous wreck-- before, during and after. While lecturing, it’s not uncommon for me to nearly faint from nervousness-- I manage to avoid it and hide it from the audience. If anyone approaches me after the lecture to offer a compliment, I break into a nervous sweat. On the one hand, I am enormously thankful for their compliments, but on the other hand, I feel enormously undeserving. Of course, I’d much rather have the compliments than the alternative, but no matter how many compliments I might receive afterwards for a lecture, I always feel undeserving and false, and the more compliments I receive, the worse I feel, emotionally.
These emotions are all rooted in a duality of confidence and insecurity. On the one hand, I can acknowledge the accomplishments and experiences in life that are, on some level, unique and some would say impressive. For example, not many people have had the responsibility of turning keys to launch all 1,000 nuclear ICBMs in the US arsenal. That's a pretty big deal and it's fairly common for people to be interested in learning more about my experiences in that realm. But on the other hand, the older I get, the more I realize that there are countlessly more impressive achievements and responsibilities that people who are never recognized... never complimented... accomplish every day. And if they were trained and placed in the same positions as mine, they would do exactly what I've done, and probably do it better.
Though I have confidence in the knowledge that life has bestowed upon me, there is nothing about me that is particularly wise or capable. I’m one of the most average, bell curve people you’ll ever meet. The only thing that might not be average is the enormously good luck and diverse opportunities that have come my way. I feel disingenuous to receive compliments from people who have worked much harder, and have much greater lessons, knowledge and advice to share than me. Who am I to stand in front of an audience and portray my life or knowledge as anything noteworthy?
I keep going back to the well, again and again, trying to find the water of comfort with this awkward situation…trying to find a way to be comfortable with simply sharing the blessings of life’s experiences that have been placed upon me, in hopes that the sharing will inform and inspire others. I keep trying to be comfortable with all of it, but the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know, and the less deserving I feel. The older I get, the worse the emotions and feelings trouble me.
I wish I knew how to make sense of it all, and how to turn these emotions into something positive. Until I can figure it out, I’ll keep facing it down.