Book: My Own Country

Ever since Cutting for Stone, I’ve been meaning to read more Verghese. This summer I finally got to The Tennis Partner and My Own Country.  The latter is the biographical story of the beginning of Verghese’s medical career in America. It reads as a palpably honest tale of the early years of a young doctor dealing with the emotions of being as an outsider in a newish country (Verghese is Ethiopian by birth, Indian by genetics) and struggling with the responsibilities/fit of marriage against the backdrop of the AIDS outbreak of the 80’s. I especially admired the raw honesty of his doubts, hopes, fears, and failures.

Less the focus of the book, and more reflective of where my head is at, I was particularly struck by his dedication and focus. He loved ministering to his patients and throws himself into his work — often, as he dwells on, at the expense of his marriage/family. He seemed to find deep meaning and purpose in his work. A feeling I am once again looking for and searching for. It’s been a summer filled with great books, and Country was one of them. It’s biographical non-fiction, but it read as effortlessly as great  fiction. 

Quote

Byron Wien

The Life Report: Byron R. Wien

Wien’s an incredible market commentator, is featured in Barron’s this week. Loved the writing and his insights. Selections/reactions:

“Eventually I developed the necessary skills and became a partner of the firm. The lesson here is that you shouldn’t try to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life when you are a teenager. Pursue your passion in college and the rest of your life will take care of itself.”

This is both common advice and also somewhat controversial. I’ve heard it argued that this only works if your passion is in something w/obvious commercial value. I don’t agree. In today’s world — with so much rapidly being automated and everything rote eventually to be absorbed by the borg — original thought, creative expression, and innovative thinking will be what earns value. I find it hard to see how one stumbles into these things without deeply caring, and dedicating oneself to an area. Working in an area well, without passion, without deep interest, seems like a fool’s errand. His advice is more valuable today than ever.

When giving career advice to young people, I tell them there is a perfect job out there for everyone, but most people never find it. Keep looking.

Yes. I so agree with this. Now that I can afford to be selective with what I do, I spend the most time thinking about fit. Of late, it has certainly served me well. I only wish I grokked this earlier. I don’t see how this isn’t universally applicable.

In my job I’m expected to understand what is happening in the world and to identify secular change. It seems clear that the United States and Europe are mature, overleveraged economies with dysfunctional governments. Since growth will be slow, unemployment will be high and the standard of living for many people will decline. Opportunities for young people will be fewer than the ones I could take advantage of. There will be more social unrest. I was born in the Depression and lived through the glorious years for America after World War II. The future for these born now is not so bright.

I agree w/his general thrust on the nature of Western economies. But I disagree w/his final conclusion. I would amend as: The future for those being born, in a future projected forward as it looks today, is not bright. If one were to just project forward, I agree with him. But major advances in health, travel, energy, etc — could, of course, radically restructure our mode of living and economic system. In such a world, who’s to say creative freedom and the ability to find meaningful work won’t be greater?

Not having children is one regret, as I said. Another is that I am estranged from my older brother to whom I loaned a large amount of money when my financial circumstances were marginal. He never paid it back and lied to me throughout the process. We talk only on our birthdays.

This struck a nerve. A question I’ve asked myself a lot of late: Can you see a regret coming and still do nothing to change it?

Fantastic read. Super interesting man.