What a Young Billy Joel Fan Can Teach Us

I was the tender age of 12 when Billy Joel released his groundbreaking album, 52nd Street, in 1978. His songs were all over the radio, and I fell in love with them. When his tour stopover in Wichita, Kansas was announced, I begged my parents to go. After some inter-parental discussion and to my great disappointment, it was determined that I was too young to attend the show. As consolation, Mom took me to Musicland in Towne East Square and picked up the 52nd Street LP for me to take home and enjoy. And boy did I enjoy it. I played both sides over and over, memorizing every word. “Zanzibar” remains one of my favorite songs of all time. Imagine my surprise and delight when, upon finally seeing a live Billy Joel concert several years ago here in Seattle, he performed that obscure but wonderful piece from 52nd Street; it felt like he played it just for me.

(In the unlikely event that you’re interested, I eventually wore my parents down, and my very first rock concert ended up being Kiss in 1979, a year after 52nd Street was released.)

I am but one of many millions who have loved Billy Joel’s songs over the years. Recently, during a Q and A with Joel at Vanderbilt University, a freshman named Michael Pollack stood up and asked if he would be willing to be accompanied by him on piano on “New York State of Mind,” his favorite song. Joel granted him his wish, much to everyone’s delight, and the musical result was . . . well . . . incredible. Inspiring. Please click on the video above to witness the performance.

There’s a lesson or two to be learned from this brief event, one which I’m sure Michael will never forget. This world is getting smaller, but the number of people inhabiting it is getting bigger. How are today’s young people to survive and succeed with so much competition surrounding them? It’s no longer sufficient to be good at what you do. You have to have guts now. Billy Joel, in his typical east coast nonchalance, said of Michael, “guy’s got chops!” No disagreement there; he killed it on the piano, as you can see. But another quality Michael possesses is just as crucial, if not more so: guy’s got cajónes too. Big ones.

The favor Michael asked of Joel was asked for honestly and audaciously. No one outside his friends, family, and teachers would know who Michael is today if it weren’t for that moment of boldness and risk. It paid off.

We are at a societal turning point here in the United States. Health care is in a major crisis. Regulations, ever-declining reimbursements, minimal autonomy, increasing overhead and malpractice premium costs, mounting paperwork and administrative hassles: it’s becoming more and more difficult for doctors to find success and happiness in their work. This isn’t a whine or a call for sympathy; it’s just factual. My concern is, in a time in which doctors are retiring early or just plain quitting, who of our young citizens will choose medicine as a career in the future? Why should they go through the hassle and put in all that money, time and effort for so little in return?

I’ve been asked recently by high school and college students if I would recommend medicine as a career. My answer was that it really depended on who they are, based on honest self-assessment. There’s a definite analogy I see between the qualities of a successful and happy future doctor and those of Michael Pollack, the Vanderbilt freshman pianist:

1. You have to have passion. You have to really want it, and for the right reasons.

2. You have to be good.

3. You have to have the audacity to work aggressively to get what you need or want, because in today’s way of the world it’s no longer given to you or made easy.

Seems to me that a young man or woman possessing these three elements should be able to weather the current health care storm and carve out a satisfying, fulfilling career in medicine. If any of the three are missing, however, the happiness factor will plummet, I can promise you. A missing link or two may be why there is so much unhappiness and dissatisfaction among doctors right now.

I want people to go into medicine in part, admittedly, for selfish reasons. I want a quality physician to be willing to care for me when I am old. Doesn’t everybody?

So to those kids and teens considering becoming a doctor: do it if you really want it. If you really want it, and if you know it, and if you know what you’re getting into, then go for it. And go for it hard. Not obnoxiously or unethically, but boldly. It takes audacity now to make it in this world. If you ever want a reminder of what that quality looks and sounds like, click on the video again.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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3 comments on “What a Young Billy Joel Fan Can Teach Us

  1. Your point is valid that people entering medicine must have a passion for it. Because with the changes, there will be many frustrations and inefficiencies requiring a zealous heart to overcome..

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