i freaking love atul gawande. he’s a surgeon, he’s a professor at harvard, he did health care policy work in clinton’s administration, he’s a macarthur fellow, he’s been on the time 100, he writes best-selling books, he writes for the new yorker… and since i started following him on twitter, i’ve found that he knows sports and has fantastic taste in music and books. (he interviewed the national at the most recent new yorker fest.) in other words, he’s a complete badass and i kind of want to be him.
i keep a running list of people who bring up these feelings in me. gawande is on it, of course. others include neil degrasse tyson, michael crichton, ken jeong, and david pogue, as well as my former professors rick beaton and barry taylor. the dominant theme is that all of these people have very interesting, varied careers — they’ve done a little of this and a little of that, often crossing between highly disparate fields. (many of them trained in one area but made their livelihoods in another, which tells you a little something about where i am.) they’re renaissance men, and they’ve been able to make careers out of their widely-ranging interests.
as i consider this list, a few things strike me:
– it’s comprised entirely of men. i have a number of hypotheses about why this is: in general, women who want to have children don’t have the luxury of having such lengthy or storied careers (or their careers are multifaceted in that they’re amazing in one field and they have families as well); many fields are still highly male-dominated, and maybe there are amazing renaissance women in there somewhere, but their stories aren’t as well-known; maybe i feel threatened by such successful women and deliberately overlook them. (though even if that last one is true, i think the first two are difficult to dispute.)
i don’t feel good about the fact that the list is all male, being the feminist that i am, especially because it doesn’t bode well for me; it makes me feel like emulating their careers in any way is going to be difficult if i want to have children.
– they must be busy out of their minds. i can’t fathom what gawande’s daily to-do list looks like. any one of his roles could be a full-time job, so how does he manage all of them? does he not sleep? is he hypomanic? most importantly (and condemningly) for me, how on earth is he cranking out books and articles while he’s being a surgeon at one of the nation’s best hospitals and teaching america’s best young minds? i get the sense that careers like his require tons of energy and very little sleep. and i fell in love with downtime years ago, so… i’m not sure if this is within the realm of possibility for me. or maybe i could do lots of different things, but not nearly so well or so famously. who knows. i wrestle with this a lot — i want to be excellent, as many people do, but excellence requires sacrifices (to rest, to family, to relationships) that i’m not sure i want to make.
– many of them are experts in one field, which facilitated their transitions into others. i don’t know if i’m ever going to reach that level — if i’ll ever be able to sustain interest in anything long enough to become truly expert. i don’t think this is a dealbreaker, but having lots of street cred in one area seems to be helpful.
anyhoo. i know that careers like these are extremely rare and largely based on circumstance, so aiming to be exactly like them is futile. and i know that all i can do is whatever is right for me at this point in time and see what unfolds. but sometimes, man, i just wish i were atul gawande.