Dr. Plastic Picker: I have a lot of GRIT. Thoughts on Building Character through Environmental Activism.
July 25, 2020
I had heard about GRIT here and there. Mr. Plastic Picker and I send our kids to a fancy prep school. Mr. Plastic Picker had been a scholarship recipient from the top prep school in his area that was a feeder into Princeton, and he loved his experience. When we had our two children, it was one of those non-neogtiable things. He wanted our children to go to a similar independent school. As two MDs, we could afford it. As a product of a strong suburban public school program, it has always felt odd to have my kids in private school. They have done well though and more importantly they have strong connections in their school community, so we have committed to having them finish their education there. If you asked me to total the costs, I think I’d have a heart attack. But we can afford it because we still have a savings rate of over 50% our net income and we both work. Private school is our one indulgence and I actually try to dissuade other parents from it.
As a parent I’ve heard of the idea of Grit around the internet and school emails. Honestly, I just ignored those emails and discussions. It seemed to me the only people who talked about Grit were not living very hard-working lives. But then this morning I visited Retireby40’s blog, and he reposted an article about his Grit score and I was intrigued. https://retireby40.org/what-if-you-have-no-grit/ I took the test, I got a 5 out of 5! I am not surprised. I have a lot of Grit, as do most of my siblings.
I’m grateful I happened to read Joe at Retireby40’s blog because the test on grit actually let me to Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab https://characterlab.org/ which is a deeper discussion about character. In pediatrics right now we are concerned about ACES (Adverse Childhood Events) that lead to chronic adult medical problems. And I am exploring through the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Climate Change and Health Committee this idea of HOPE, positive experiences that can counteract these ACES. If you look at the Character Lab’s list of clickable links, it exactly dovetails what I have been trying to express in this blog: Grit, Gratitude, Self Control, Curiosity, Purpose, and Intellectual Humility. I also went to Harvard like Angela Duckworth and also worked at one of the afterschool programs there, and actually was director for 3 years of one that taught ESL to refugee youth. I didn’t win a McArthur Genius grant though.
I love these early morning blogging sessions. I stopped by Financial Samurai’s blog this morning, and he mentioned that blogging for him early in the morning is like Christmas. I feel the same way. I love the quiet and the ability to explore my thoughts and let my curiosity wander. And my mind is wandering over to the area of education and character building. This is much of what I have been thinking in terms of what I hope my environmental advocacy work will entail, physician wellness and purpose, and also how I am raising our children. I am trying to structure the AAP Climate Change and Health work to be an actual good experience for the two premedical interns, the students on the Children’s Art Council and for the younger members on our committee. I essentially want to make it a meaningful and powerful experience, that helps all of them build character and also that helps the environment. Does that make sense?
I’m not surprised that I scored 5/5 on the GRIT test. I’ve known that my whole life. For various reasons my parents didn’t need to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for someone to teach me Grit and no one gave them a MacArthur genius grant. Grit was formed in the rice fields of our ancestral country that has repelled imperialistic forces for over a millenia. I think it you are from the Southeast Asian country where I hail from, you by definition have Grit. But our children attend a fancy prep school and are only half my Southeast Asian ethnicity, and the other half is somewhat gritty but not as gritty. How do I as a parent make sure my kids have grit?
I don’t. I think of raising our children as building their overall character development. Otherwise I don’t overthink it. One of my mentors at work who has been an Eagle Scout leader for decades once told me, “Trust in your family. Trust in your values.” I will refer back to the Character Lab and Angela Duckworth’s work, if I need it to explain to people who like wonky terms. We have high expectations for our children to go out into the world and make it better. They do sports. They are good readers. They are diligent students. We set good examples as do their grandparents on both sides, and all their aunts and uncles. And that is it. And I will go forth and continue to develop our AAP Climate Change and Health Committee programs the way I have been doing. I will involve my own children in this work, just like my father has us work in the family business doing various tasks. It is good to know that our work is supported by neuroscience research out there. And it helps to be able to tap into wonky terms when you need it.
But here is the Bi Bim Bap the kids finished by themselves when I got home. They have been taking Korean language lessons with a retired U Penn language professor since they were little, and they enjoy their lessons. She told them to make this traditional dish. I was exhausted yesterday despite finishing my last patient at a half decent time at 530 or so. I saw almost 30 patients yesterday and I did glance quickly at everyone else’s schedule, and I saw more than anyone else in the department. I never plan that, but they were mostly my own patients. Kids had fevers and needed follow up. Lots of teenage physicals and 3-6 year old well child checks.
COVID-19 has been stressful so the normal ear infections and urine infections take more visits and hand-holding, and we have to put on PPE before the visits and everyone is anxious. And then I was sad yesterday because I found out a mother that I have known for well over a decade died. I’ll be seeing her son, my patient, with his guardian. He is the same age as my son, and his mother died. I can picture her beautiful face. As their pediatrician, I know she loved him so much. And she is gone. But I am so lucky right? I get to make sure that he is going to be okay until he reaches 18 years of age. But as a pediatrician taking care of kids after their parents die, and looking at them and remembering those moments when those parents held those children when they were babies – it is hard. I sat in Dr. Dear Friends office and I cried for a bit. We gave each other virtual hugs. What we do day to day as pediatricians is hard. We are in the trenches, doing the actual work. It’s important to have Grit. And your pediatrician has it, I scored 5/5 on the grit test. But it’s also important to be able to cry and to do art and to talk about your feelings. I had so much grit that about a year ago, I almost broke. So I’m happy that there is this wonderful resource about to refer to and that gives wonky terms to something a lot of pediatricians and parents already know.
Now I remember why I didn’t receive the MacArthur Genius Grant. I was too busy getting into medical school and pediatric residency. I was a finalist for the Soros Fellowship in medical school and got to the final round. We interviewed in New York City at this fancy conference room, and it was filled with graduate students from our university’s medical school, law school, Rhodes and Marshall’s scholars and other top notch universities. And I remember there was an Austrian ballerina now wrinkled and older status post some facial work who was on my interview panel. She asked about my work on HIV/AIDS with sex workers in Vietnam. She asked me to compare my work to the one candidate who was the only member of his preliterate tribe to attend college, and had paddled up the amazon river determined to get a western education. I looked at all the immigrant or second generation immigrant faces around me (this very lucrative fellowship was limited to immigrants and children of immigrants) and looked at the panel deciding. And I thought as the soon-to-be-in-20-years-Dr. Plastic Picker, this is ridiculous. I told them the truth. I going to be a pediatrician. Even then, I had very little time for wonky BS. And that’s my story, I am Dr. Plastic Picker one of the grittiest and non-wonky litter-picking pediatricians out there! Thanks for reading! It felt good to write about my saddness next year and the tears are very cleansing. I’m going to go out and get two bags of ocean plastic on the beach. Sometimes it helps to just do it, and not overthink. I bet you I have more Grit than the people who write about Grit.