It is a great privilege to serve as the president of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. As I work toward constructing my Presidential Address in October, I have had to take a step back and reflect on my life and my role in the universe. In doing so, I find I always come back to a few certain truths: people, people, and people.
I, like you, get to perform amazing surgery, in the most and least invasive manners, for the betterment of the brain and spinal cord. As neurosurgeons, we have the unique ability to make people better. Each of us has spent more than 20,000 hours training between the ages of 25–35 to acquire this skill set, and we have developed significant emotional intelligence along the way. We possess real drive and resilience. But in this “yatra” (the word for “journey” in Hindi), how have we managed our own inner light and wellness? I will share my own small quirks with you.
During the course of our career, we have patients with many fixed neurological deficits, problems that have real impact on their quality of life. When I see patients and families who maintain positivity in the light of such adversity, I am personally enriched. If the patient is in the same age range as my wife, my parents, my kids, or myself, I often think, would I have that same inner strength? This simple reflection has made me realize how critically important it is to be connected to others, to find happiness in sharing, to cultivate gratitude for what you have, and to find every opportunity to give back.
As I grow older, I have changed in many ways, including the way I think and how I prioritize my life. I am not talking about my practice, but about how I interact with the people around me—my family, my relatives, my friends, my colleagues in the office and OR, my patients, and even my board.
The common themes I aim to impart to my “peeps” are energy, inspiration, and knowledge. I feel that these themes have a great universality to them. I truly enjoy hearing what my friends and colleagues do in their free time (as I feel that I rarely have that), and I love how people are such people! I enjoy sharing “old father” jokes every day, like “Why is Peter Pan always flying around? Because he can never, never land….” And I like to share thoughts on happiness, like “If people had wagging tails, perhaps we would know who’s happy or not.” I also enjoy engaging with people on topics of hope and creativity, or future thoughts and innovations. If you look up any of these words on YouTube, you will find lectures by experts who study these concepts. The world is absolutely full of knowledgeable people, and the internet has democratized access to it.
I ask my children to read the economists. It’s very difficult reading, but it builds their vocabulary and awareness about the socio-politics of the world. I try to put inspirational quotes from Google Images on their bathroom mirror. I like to wake them up in the morning with their favorite songs from YouTube, or take them out with their friends for sushi and attempt to stimulate conversations regarding their peers (hoping to be a “fly on the wall”). Finally, I treasure the time when I have the opportunity to drive them back and forth to their after-school activities as it places us in the car together and fosters conversations.
With my wife, I share movies. I suspect we watch 50–70 movies per year together. We both share a passion for cinematic detail and appreciate that producers spend millions of dollars on our entertainment. Additionally, we both enjoy traveling to interesting and beautiful places, and good food and drink. These are obviously universal, but there aren’t many places or restaurants we have visited that we have absolutely hated. Every year, we make at least one private couple’s trip together without the children.
I try to make a weekly call to my mom, dad, and brother just to hear their voices and stay a part of their lives. In fact, my parents live geographically between my brother and I. I suspect the proximity makes us feel closer. I do wish, as our parents age, that I could spend more free time with them without distractions (i.e., the cell phone).
The Sharan family
Ashwini Sharan, MD, with neuroscientist and author David Eagleman
The OR team at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital having fun
The OR team at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital gets down to business
This year in particular, I have had the opportunity to work and develop special relationships with my CNS Board. I am surrounded by philanthropic individuals who volunteer their time above any RVU gain. It is a privilege learning about their goals, ambitions, ideas, and inventions, and trying to place them within the boundaries of organized neurosurgery. There is tremendous satisfaction and strength from being around like-minded individuals.
The most recent “business of me” has developed in the last few years. After I turned 40, I (like so many others), have watched with dismay as our bodies change. There comes a time where you must think critically about what you eat and drink. Understanding the body and taking care of it becomes a job—one more thing that must be done every day, week after week. Now, I cycle on my Peloton, working out to build muscle mass. I avoid sugar and carbohydrates, and watch my nutrition. This all makes good sense, but in some ways, it is a painful transition acquired with aging.
I often think the better question to ask myself is, what is the “mission” of me? Thinking about improving the mission of healthcare—teaching, treating, researching, innovating—can sometimes lead to an overintense focus on neurosurgery, and that, in turn, can contribute to a feeling of disconnection from the world. I have come to the understanding that a mission is always evolving. Right now, I choose to stay connected to people, to enjoy, care for, and share experiences with my “circle.” We all have the immeasurable opportunity to enrich the company of those around us. And, of course, I continue to grow intellectually and emotionally. I look forward to meeting you and continuing this dialogue about “The Business of You!” Please share your own thoughts via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, (I will receive it), or on Twitter @AshSharan.