On Black Friday Eve (aka Thanksgiving night), I came to a realization. I am not hot. Not even a little bit. I probably never was, but even if at some point I was, it is definitely gone now.
Maybe it was because of the harsh fluorescent lighting of the mall, the fact that I had just overindulged during our excellent Thanksgiving meal or the fact that it was 11:30 at night. Either way, this revelation came to me while I was looking at myself in a mirror at a popular women’s clothing store while Susie was busy in the dressing room. And I was not impressed with the image looking back at me.
To be honest, I never really considered myself to be “hot” or anywhere in the vicinity of “hot”. However, there were many occasions when I would assess myself in the mirror and think to myself that I at least looked pretty good and wasn’t going to be inciting the local villagers to pick up their torches and pitchforks to chase me out of town.
As I continued to stare into the mirror, I started to think about the one redeemable scene from Men in Black 2. Tommy Lee Jones character “K” has just come back to the MiB team and he is a little bit confused because the ‘uniform’ has changed and the standard issue MiB vehicle has been updated to a sleek, new Mercedes-Benz (insert blatant product plug here!) In response to this, Will Smith’s character “J” sums up the changes with the pithy “Old and Busted [referring to K] … New Hotness [referring to himself]”.
As continued to stand there as dumbfounded as K, I expanded my thoughts to the idea of potential as a whole. At what point does one go from “New Hotness” to “Old and Busted”. It would seem logical that this is a gradual process, a subtle erosion of potential so insidious that it is only noticeable in retrospect. But is it possible to identify one moment in which our potential jumps the shark?
I feel like most of our lives are focused on our potential. I know that mine has. I can remember back to grade school and high school being a part of various gifted programs, leadership workshops and so forth. The idea being that in the future I (and others in the program) had the potential to do great things. But as the future came in the form of college and medical school, the goal posts kept being pushed back. The focus then become in the future you could be a great medical student, a great resident, a great chief resident and then a great pediatrician. Even now, at the age of 34, I feel like the focus is still on the future. Now it is the potential of possibly being a great medical educator and program director in the future.
And it is not just me. I feel like this is how we look at medical students and residents, even junior faculty. The focus is always on the future. Someday you are going to be great. Are other professions the same way? Do CPA’s, engineers, teachers and construction workers keep focusing on their potential in the future or is it just physicians? In sports, it is much more defined. Whether it is an individual’s career or a team’s season, it appears to be much more straightforward. You know who the future phenoms are, you can identify who is in their prime, and you can tell when someone’s tank is empty. Each sport has a point when you know a team still has time to be figuring itself out and when it is not just a slow start or some lucky breaks. At some point a team is what it is.
Maybe this is because I spend my time at an academic center where the infrastructure lends itself to moving up to the next step and then the step after that until you finally step up into retirement. You keep looking to the future, to when you will finally become the “New Hotness” that everyone thinks you can be. But in the meanwhile, you realize that you have fast-forwarded to “Old and Busted” and in all of that time that you were focused on meeting your potential eventually, you never realized that you actually were the “New Hotness”. You were so worried about the powers you would have in the future that you probably didn’t realize the powers that you had in the moment and use them their full capabilities.
In the end, I am not particularly concerned about whether or not I used my to their fullest capabilities. In fact, writing that sentence makes me feel a little dirty inside. But that time gazing into the mirror made me have a new appreciation for living in the moment and focusing on being the best pediatrician, educator, husband, brother, father, son I can be right now and not worry about when I am going to finally come into my “New Hotness” or when I am going to be relegated to the “Old and Busted” pile. Because if Hollywood (and Men in Black in particular) has taught me anything, its that even a supposedly “Old and Busted” agent like K can still step up and save the day. And an entire galaxy. Probably because he didn’t spend much time focusing on a mirror at Ann Taylor Loft.