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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: An Unconventional Greatness

Before I get started today…is there anything more disconcerting than having to deal with the momentary loss of our technological crutches? We become reduced to bumbling idiots when our WiFi goes out, suddenly being unable to recall who Prince’s guitar player was in the Revolution before Wendy (for those whose Internet is down, it was Dez Dickerson). We panic when our phone is dead; after all, what would happen if we missed a call from our best friend? We forget that prior to the turn of the century, we wouldn’t worry about missed calls because our phone (that was at home) was hooked up to an answering machine. For those who don’t know what that is, ask your parents.

Such is the case with me today, working from a Starbucks because I’ve lost our most basic of technological needs – electricity.  Rather than being rendered temporarily Amish, I’ve resorted to writing this blog post in a public place. This Starbucks is like a second home, since my wife comes here so much the staff says, “Hi, Robin!” when she walks in. Overdue on a post following the death of my friend, I write these words while pondering how long my power can be out before I have to throw away everything in my refrigerator.

All right, thanks for the momentary rant. I’m writing this today because I witnessed true greatness last night. As most of you know, I’m a music junkie. I sold my soul to rock and roll early in my teenage years, and it has helped form friendships and accounted for numerous life experiences. In fact, I’m even working on a memoir documenting my love of music and medicine, and I’m discovering that there are surprisingly numerous parallels between the two. I went to an Ace Frehley concert, with Ace being the original guitarist of Hall of Fame band KISS. Ace is one of my rock heroes; there is a poster in my office of a 1977 Ace Frehley during a solo where his guitar is literally engulfed in smoke and flame. I don’t get star-struck by many, but he is one of those who inspires that in me. The Spaceman has lost a step or two over the years due to a life of excess that included drugs and massive quantities of alcohol, but I have a rule: if you can be in the same room with a legend, you do it.

But that wasn’t the greatness I witnessed.

I pride myself on observing the small moments, things that escape the awareness of most people. These undertones are the backbone of greatness. In my office, it can be the small detail in the patient’s history, or the way they say or do certain things, that yields the correct diagnosis. As I said before, Ace Frehley is not the lightning quick virtuoso that helped make KISS a band that transcended music anymore, but he is still great, thanks to his supporting cast. His backing band was what made the night special. I watched his drummer give him signals when it was time to finish the number, pointing to his mouth and saying, “Watch me.” Ace was seldom the front man in KISS, so he doesn’t have the microphone presence of his former bandmates. Focused on making sure he played the parts, he would occasionally fail to step up to the mic and sing. His rhythm guitarist and bass player would catch this and fill in vocals wherever they were needed. And while performing “Shout It Out Loud,” it was clear that Ace had forgotten the words, the fear of anyone who has ever stepped up to a microphone to sing. Not missing a beat, his bandmates finished the song. The greatness that I saw was the teamwork displayed. His supporting band consists of studio session players, guys who never get the recognition but are deeply committed to making sure that the star, and thus the team, succeeds.

How many of us have been in work situations where it was “everyone for themselves?” It can be a tremendous source of pressure, knowing there isn’t anyone to back you up. Instead, we panic and operate under the illusion of near-perfection, knowing that our coworkers couldn’t care less whether our desk was occupied the next day or not. The buzzword in the present day is “burnout,” and everyone seems to be experiencing it, regardless of the industry. I’m of the belief that burnout occurs when you are not supported, whether it be from your superiors, your teammates, or those you serve. A sense of nihilism creeps into your life, and depression is the inevitable result. We become so focused on process that we forget about the principles on which we live our lives.

I’m extremely fortunate in my current position. Everyone cares about each other in my office, and my support staff is committed to my success. My nurse was having difficulty with her voice on Friday, and another nurse volunteered to help call my patients to deliver messages, to save my nurse’s voice for rooming the patients. Teamwork isn’t a cliché in my clinic, we are deeply committed to caring for our patients, and we don’t need some sort of policy or protocol to be that way – we operate according to principle. It would be easy for me to take that for granted, but I never allow myself to become complacent. I don’t ask anyone to do anything in my practice that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.  As a result, outcomes are good, and patient satisfaction is high.

If you’re in a leadership position, are you willing to do the uncomfortable things to lift up your team, or are you dumping things on them that you don’t want to handle? There is a difference between managing and leading. A manager is in the back, and a leader is in the front, showing the way. If your team doesn’t support you, maybe you don’t support them. I can’t do anything about bad leadership, but I can stress the importance of being a team player; you will either succeed in spite of your poor leadership, or you may inspire them to being a better leader. If nothing else, it makes you appear valuable to your next employer, which isn’t a bad thing, either. I have worked in environments where I was labeled as a problem or a “poor fit,” and I did the worst thing you can do – I believed it.  When you are in a place that recognizes your value, you fulfill your true potential. Someone could sell a Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card for $5 at a yard sale, but a collector would give you over $400,000 for it. Go where you are valued.

As I approach the anniversary of my birth, I hope that you all are doing well. While you’re here, feel free to explore my website. I’m on X at @ericthemed, and you can follow me on Facebook at Eric Knabel, Author. I’m also on Instagram at @ericknabelwrites. Be excellent to each other, and…

Party on, dudes!

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