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  • Writer's pictureEric Knabel

Thoughts From Six Feet Away: Finish Strong!

I’ve never considered myself a particularly powerful person, and I certainly don’t pretend to excel at a lot of things, but there is one area in which I have little competition:


I don’t quit.


A long time ago, I figured out that the persistent will always outpace the talented. When I was an undergrad, I was intimidated by all of these strong personalities around me, vying for an opportunity to go to medical school. They studied while I partied, they worried about things of which I had no knowledge. I navigated the course of a pre-med by following in their anxiety-ridden footsteps. But I kept showing up, and when they didn’t get in, they abandoned their dreams and sought careers in other scientific fields.


But I kept showing up, and eventually someone gave me a shot.


In medical school, my priority remained on preserving my marriage, my sanity, and my humanity. Some of my classmates didn’t share in that belief, and they criticized my efforts in studying, like it was any of their business. My grades were pedestrian, and I was solid middle of the pack in my class.


But I kept showing up.


My work ethic improved as my training progressed. Turned out I wasn’t lazy – I just hated classroom work. Experience always trumped theory, and it still does. Most of my colleagues speak highly of my abilities and my practice, I’m still on my first marriage, I always seem to find my mind shortly after losing it, and the profession has become part of me, instead of the other way around. It led to the development of one of my favorite life “cheat codes,” something my kids are, no doubt, tired of hearing, especially my son:


Finish strong.


I remember the first time I ran a 5k. I crossed in a little over 30 minutes, which is by no means impressive. The hospital CEO, an avid runner, was at the finish line, and he said to me, “It looked like you still had a lot left in the tank.” And my response was, “I always do.” I’ve been blessed with an enormous reserve, able to always draw energy from it.


I saw a statistic the other day that hit home for me – Nolan Ryan’s ERA was 3.09 the year “The White Album” by the Beatles was released, and 2.91 the year Nirvana’s “Nevermind” came out. That’s my ambition for life, to finish stronger than I began. It takes knowing when to pace yourself and knowing when to push. Maybe I wasn’t a slacker when I was younger; maybe I subconsciously knew how long the race was going to be, and that I needed to jog at that moment.


But I keep showing up.


“Showing up” seems like an awfully low bar, but it’s amazing how few people can sustain that, especially now. I remember the story of a carpenter who worked for the same builder his whole career, and while he made enough to meet his needs, he always felt like he should’ve been paid more. Feeling unappreciated, but never voicing his feelings, the man became bitter. When he announced his retirement, the builder asked him to construct one more home. Filled with resentment, the man carelessly erected that final residence, far below his usual level of craftsmanship. Corners were cut, and the carpenter didn’t care: he simply wanted to be done with the job. When the builder inspected the finished product, he smiled warmly at his longtime employee and handed the disgruntled man the keys to the house, a house that the builder had planned on gifting to his most prized employee all along.


How often do we do this in our lives? Feeling slighted or unappreciated, we give less than our best effort, thinking that this is sticking it to someone, when we’re really only hurting ourselves. This has now earned the name “quiet quitting,” doing the minimum expected. It has become an epidemic in our society, an “I’m just here for the paycheck” mentality. I really hate it when it happens in my profession. In the past, I’ve seen colleagues give their notice after being miserable in their position for years. They are so angry with their soon-to-be former employer that they do the minimal, a kind of dysfunctional victory lap that no one really cheers. When their last day finally comes, they ride off into the distance, never to be heard from again. And the people that really suffer are their patients, and the new providers for these patients. The charts are a mess, and maybe the departed don’t care about this, but their reputation is ruined. They did not finish strong, and they stopped showing up mentally.


I was in a psychologically abusive position once, and I was regularly reminded by administration that I was a disappointment to them. I was gaslighted when I called attention to problems with the position, and when my frustrations boiled over at times, I was branded as having a “temper” and being “difficult to work with.” When I gave my notice, I told them when my last day would be. I was told that it would help them if I worked an additional week because they were short-staffed, and I agreed, only to find out that wasn’t the case. But I worked that week because I finish strong. I'd had enough rocks thrown at me without giving them a fresh supply to hurl.


Make no mistake: if you aren’t working hard, in order to stick it to a boss you don’t respect, you don’t hurt them. You give your best because it’s the right thing to do. If your employer doesn’t see your worth, confront it or find another job. If the signs I’m seeing around town are correct, nearly everyone is hiring. Make it hard for your boss to come up with reasons why you’re substandard. Make them fabricate crap.


This one has been on my heart for a while. Work hard for the sake of your own pride, and then you will see your own value. I remember complaining about a bad grade once, blaming it on the teacher. My adviser asked me if I’ll use the same flimsy excuse when I work for a bad boss. “Excellence ain’t everywhere,” she told me. “How you perform in these circumstances is entirely under your control – you will often have no one to blame but yourself,” and I internalized that. Give that extra effort, push a little harder. Show up and finish strong. And most of all, be excellent to each other, and…



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