Dr. Ali Rezai: Why I Don’t Believe in Life Hacks or Shortcuts
“Being able to impact others in a positive way gives me strength and energy to meet the challenges of each new day.”
When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.
Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Dr. Ali Rezai: Every day, when I get out of bed, I take a few minutes to clear my mind. I take a few minutes and think about those things that are constant and unchanging in my life: my family, my passions, and the larger reasons I chose to spend my life as a scientist and a neurosurgeon. Only then do I start thinking about schedules, to-dos, and the many other specific details that need to be handled that day and that week.
TG: What gives you energy?
AR: I gain energy by doing things that are interesting and which I enjoy—for example, spending time with my family, my dog, and my close friends. I also enjoy exercising and being active. I feel a great sense of responsibility and purpose to help others through my work as a surgeon, researcher, and innovator. Every day I work to solve tough problems and improve the lives of my patients. I am passionate about innovation and am always chasing “the next big thing” to impact the lives of those I treat. Being able to impact others in a positive way gives me the strength and energy to meet the challenges of each new day.
TG: What’s your secret life hack?
AR: My life hack is almost an anti-hack. To borrow a term from the world of video games, it’s this: Play the game on hard. Don’t look for hacks or short cuts. Ask the big questions. Demand more of others, but especially of yourself. If you heal one patient, ask how you can eradicate the disease. People may say that you’re too intense — I hear that often, especially after getting in my zone in the OR and demanding absolute focus — but you’ll know, every night when you go to bed and every morning when you wake up, that you’re doing the best that you can. There’s no better formula for life than that.
TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?AR: Like all innovative technologies, my smartphone, I’m fully aware, has its pros and its cons. I keep it near me. My phone allows me to know about my patients and urgent and emergent issues, and allows me to access the information I need to be effective at my job. But I’m also fully aware that the technology, like any technology, should be used in moderation: I’ll keep my phone in my pocket should someone need to contact me right away, say, but won’t look at it when I’m out to dinner with my wife or walking my dog or doing anything else that calls for quiet concentration, contemplation, or communication with another human being.
TG: How do you deal with email?
AR: I receive more than 500 emails each day, and managing them is a growing challenge for me. I’ve come up with the following method, which is imperfect but, I find, a good beginning. First, I quickly scan the emails and prioritize the most important ones — notes about patients, say, or messages that must be addressed in a timely fashion. When possible, I reply briefly myself. If the conversation is more complicated than anything a few lines could address, I forward the message to whichever colleagues or team members could best address it. Finally, I organize the rest of the notes into folders, each with a specific category, which I check and address later.
TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
AR: I try to find a quiet environment, relax my mind, take a step back, and refocus myself toward the tasks at hand, always taking care to remind myself of what matters most and the bigger picture. I am regularly pulled in many different directions and receive input from the many different teams I work with. It is necessary to take time to independently process all of what is on my mind so I discern my thoughts and ideas on any given problem or objective in order to make plans for the next step.
TG: When was the last time you felt burned out?
AR: I think becoming tired or exhausted is a natural part of a busy life. In my life, like everyone, I must address and balance personal and family matters as well as my work (patient care, surgeries, conducting research, innovating, writing, and managing administrative duties). I always try to remember that I’m here to serve my patients, and I am deeply grateful for the opportunity and the responsibility of healing people and touching so many lives. This sense of purpose keeps me going. In order to approach all areas of my life with enthusiasm and focus, it is important to take time to physically and emotionally rest and recharge, to do things that I enjoy, and to continually reflect in order to maintain a sense of purpose. I am also a strong believer in the power of good humor to help us weather life’s challenges; a sense of humor gives a sense of proportion to life and can often pull us through times of stress and turmoil.
TG: Share a quote that gives you strength when times are tough.
AR: When I feel times are tough and I am on overload, these are some examples of quotes that come to mind:
Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
St. Francis of Assisi prayer: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me so love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true,” which, for me, is to live my life with integrity — a soundness, a wholeness.
Robert Frost: “To travel the road not taken.”