Someone recently commented to me that I am very successful for my age. I have learned to accept compliments and just say “thank you” but it got me thinking. Am I successful? It certainly doesn’t feel like it some days. I struggle, I fail, I feel frustrated. But when I take a step back and look at where I’ve come from to where I am now, I have achieved my goals. Most people would indeed say I am a success. I am a work in progress, always evolving, and continuing to move forward. Sometimes forward comes from two steps forward, one step back, but the net direction is onward.

As a kid I wanted to be a surgeon. Even as a child I’d operate on my stuffed animals, while my cousin (who is now a nurse) would take care of them post op. In college I took a detour to study abroad in Kenya, take music and art classes and major in cultural anthropology. I applied my skills to managing a group home for autistic adults for a few years after college, but I always knew medicine was my calling. I eventually went back to school to finish my pre med requirements. After that 2 years of post baccalaureate work, 4 years of med school, 2 years of general surgery, 4 years of ear, nose and throat surgery residency, 1 year of facial plastic and craniofacial surgery, and now I have been in practice for 2 years.

The road was long and hard, but I made it through. Was it rough? Very. Did I struggle? Yes mentally and physically. Did I have failures along the way? Too many to count. Did I think about quitting? Almost every day. But I didn’t! I successfully navigated the ups and downs of medical school, residency and fellowship training and made it to practice. Of course I never feel like I’ve “made it” because there is always another goal. I want to be busier, I want to publish more, speak at conferences…as I check off one goal I add two more to the list.

But the common theme throughout all of my life is that I believed I was meant to be a surgeon. I always knew on some level it was my destiny. I was energized learning anatomy, I felt electricity run through me the first time I got to scrub in to a surgery, and the first time I saw a facial reconstructive case I knew there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.

There are so many barriers and factors that weighed me down along the way. Lack of sleep, frustrated patients, inherent sexism, difficult faculty, a pager that never stops beeping…the list could extend the whole page. If wasn’t for the steadfast belief that I was meant to do this with my life, I would have taken an earlier exit.

My favorite illustration of the path I took to get where I am today.

Scientific Research on Success

The National Science Foundation did a meta analysis on 61 different papers studying success in college students. The goal was to find the common themes of what makes students get good grades, stay in school and graduate. The theme that they found over and over was:


If you believe you can do something, you can. If you find something that lights you up inside and you love doing it, find a way to do that all the time. Your belief in yourself is more important than any roadblocks that come your way. See yourself reaching your goal. That may not come natural to everyone, so here are some tips to learn to believe in yourself.

3 Tips to help boost your belief in yourself

1. Develop a sense of belonging

You deserve to be there. You have earned your spot, this is your place. Whether it’s the executive boardroom, the first heat of a race, admission to college, know that it wasn’t a mistake that put you in that place. You are there because you deserve it. Even if it’s something new, a new environment, new situation, feel like you should be there.

2. Enable a growth mindset

Intelligence is not a fixed attribute. You can grow your intelligence and it can be strengthened with use. The same applies to other skills. Stop thinking that there are things you cannot do because you are not good at them. With practice and persistence you can grow any skill. Thomas Edison said “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Put the work into your weakness and they will grow into strengths.

3. Articulate your personal goals and values

If your values are linked to your desired end, you are more likely to achieve your goal. When you set a goal, reflect on WHY you want to achieve this goal. It may be to inspire others, to be useful to others or another personal value. Keeping focused on the why of your goal can help you stick with the process. I personally believe that our purpose in life is to use our talents and gifts to help other people. For me personally, I believed that I was given talents to be a surgeon so I could help my patients. Belief in something larger than myself helped me push through many hard times.