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  • I Need More Coffee. Now!

    Every few months I eat breakfast alone at a diner. I bring my journal and write about business, money, goals, heath, and family. I look for a quiet spot. If there are noisy customers or a blaring television, I plug in my earbuds. I also need a lot of coffee. Today was a problem because my server was inattentive. At 6:15 am I was the only customer. I sat in a booth near the window but the waitress didn't come over to my table. She was seated across the restaurant at the counter, working on a crossword puzzle. I started reading early journal entries and ten minutes later, she came to my table with coffee and took my order. Twenty minutes later she brought my eggs, but didn't have the coffee pitcher for a refill. I asked for more, but she never come back. I couldn't get her attention. She just sat across the diner at the counter, head down, focused on her crossword. I have no tolerance for poor service and I started to feel agitated. My introspective journal writing mojo was fading away. I was going to shout for her, but that's not my style. I decided to leave. She looked up as I walked to the front of the restaurant to pay. She put down her pencil, stood up very slowly, and shuffled to the register. She grimaced in pain with each step. Her left knee had a brace on it. As she was writing up the check, she talked about her grandkids, the nice weather, and the benefits of waking up early. She was sweet and I liked her. I felt like a jerk for being judgmental. I must learn to be more patient.

  • Stepping Off the Merry-Go-Round

    I’ve been searching for answers my entire life. When I was a teenager and a college student, I was interested in Hinduism, Buddhism, psychology, hypnosis, meditation, and politics. I pondered questions that were typical of youth and the 70s. What is reality? How do our minds work? What’s truth? Why are we so caught up in materialism and our egos? Why is society and politics so broken? Why is the world filled with so much suffering? Can I escape this darkness and live a life of true happiness? And then I grew up. My energy shifted to being an adult. Building my career(s). Building a life with Jody and starting a family. The big life questions of my youth were still there, just muffled. They are back. My interest in how technology is giving us a peek into how our brains work is rekindling my intrigue in Buddhism and meditation. I just read Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism Is True and it has sparked my desire to pursue living a more peaceful life. His thesis resonates with me… As humans, we are animals created by natural selection. Our instincts drive our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. When something around us stimulates a thought or feeling, we react. Meditation is a tool that allows a person to observe this process and change their behavior. It teaches them to insert a pause between stimuli and response. Having more control of my behavior and emotions sounds good to me.

  • I Performed Open Heart Surgery... Literally

    The word "literally" has been cemented into today's lexicon just as "excellent" and "awesome" was a part of normal conversation when I was young. Literally has expanded from meaning "exactly" to "similar." I get a kick out of how it's used. Here's an example. My daughter's best friend Annie was at our house for dinner. There were large red grapes on the table and Annie held one up and told everyone, "My brother learned how to suture skin at medical school by practicing on grapes. Sewing grape skin together is literally the same thing as surgery." I pounced. "Really? It's literally the same thing?" Everyone laughed. The skill to perform surgery is a gazillion times more complicated than sewing a grape. I know this from personal experience. Let me explain. When I was 16 years old, I participated in a summer pre-med program at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia. The program should have been called, "A painfully boring summer in the hot, dirty, city for suburban Jewish kids whose Moms want them to be doctors." The program involved reading unintelligible medical journals, suffering through lectures, following around exhausted and often arrogant residents on rounds, and dissecting a rabbit. Ugh! What had I signed up for? But then, I had an audacious thought. What if I spent the summer hanging out in the OR? That would be cool. I called the office of every surgeon in the hospital. I also called them at home. Here was my script. "Hello. My name is Richie Hopen and I'm in the hospital's summer program for high school students. I really want to be a surgeon. Can I shadow you for the summer?" I spoke to a lot of receptionists and they politely took my message. No one returned my call. However, one of the numbers I called was a wrong number. I accidentally called the home of Dr. Bain's mother. I gave her the pitch and she said, "I'm sure my son would be happy to have you work with him. His office will call you tomorrow. Richie, good luck and have a great summer." Dr. Bain's assistant called me and set up a time for me to meet the doctor. We met and he agreed to let me follow him. Pretty soon I became the OR mascot. Everyone knew my name and thought it was hilarious that a high school kid had free rein of the OR. The nurses taught me the essentials like hand washing and how to put on a gown. They also flirted with me and laughed when I blushed. The surgeons got to know me and often allowed me to observe them while operating. I saw general surgery, brain surgery, and orthopedic surgery. I often held retractors and did anything else they asked. One day, open heart surgery was scheduled and the room was overflowing with medical students and residents. I scrubbed in and walked into the crowded room. I stood on a small stool at the back so I could see over the heads of others. One of the surgeons saw me and shouted, "Hey Richie, the high school student, want to assist?" The med students turned and glared at me as I approached the table. The doctor instructed me to touch the aorta. He then asked me to release the clamps that were occluding dozens of veins and arteries. I didn't know how to release a clamp so he stopped the procedure and gave me a quick tutorial. I then released the clamps one at a time as directed. So, when I was sixteen I performed heart surgery. Literally.

  • Don't Ignore the Good Emails

    Spending an hour or more writing an email is rare. If it’s well-written with valuable information, it should be acknowledged immediately. Something simple is all that’s needed. “Hey, received your email. Looks super comprehensive. Will get back to you with my thoughts. Thx!” Many people star emails in their inbox so they can read it later and prepare a thorough reply. However, the sender doesn’t know this and they could feel ignored or discouraged. Top business leaders know the importance of a quick short reply. Be like them.

  • A Perfect Day

    Imagine getting into bed at night knowing your day was perfect. Everything important was crossed off your checklist. You ate well. Exercised. You treated everyone around you with respect and love. You listened intently and focused on their needs. At work, you exceeded your client’s expectations of you and your company. You also worked on something beyond your responsibilities to advance your profession. When someone lashed out because of a misunderstanding, you controlled your reaction. You did not curse the driver who cut you off, but wondered what personal emergency might have forced him to be so aggressive. Empathy washed over you. Things you saw and heard that always trigger your heart to race towards negative thoughts and behavior, lost their power. Imagine a day like this. I do.

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