Have something to look forward to during the day. Nothing builds happiness more than anticipation of something good. Whether it is seeing the name of a favorite patient on the schedule, planning happy hour with friends after work, or getting your exercise in on a regular basis, there are little things that occur every day that are worth getting just a tiny bit excited for.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Trent Douglas, co-owner of Restore SD Plastic Surgery in San Diego, CA. Dr. Douglas is now in private practice after having served 22 years as a Navy plastic surgeon. He, his wife, and two children live in Carmel Valley and actively contribute to their community through a variety of volunteer and service-based activities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path toward plastic surgery started as a fourth-year medical student doing an elective rotation in plastic surgery. I always knew that I wanted to pursue a career in surgery, I just didn’t know which specific type. During my first week on the month-long plastic surgery rotation, I saw a wide variety of procedures that a week prior I did not even know existed. From complex microsurgical reconstructions to cleft lip repairs to cosmetic procedures — this was a whole new world. The path to plastic surgery is one of delayed gratification and required doing a 5-year general surgery residency as a prerequisite for an additional three years of training in plastic surgery. Was I willing to spend eight years training for a career in plastic surgery? Absolutely!
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
Living on purpose means getting up every day and looking forward to the adventure that the day brings and being flexible enough to overcome the challenges that inevitably pop up. As a surgeon, a Naval officer, and a father, living purposefully means contributing positively to society every day. Whether it is staying late to accommodate a patient’s schedule, taking the time to mentor a junior officer, or teaching my children some of life’s invaluable lessons, I try to make the world just a little bit better place each day. Achieving purposeful living will be accomplished differently for every individual based on skills, personality, and their desire to impact others directly or indirectly. For a banker, purposeful living may be helping a young family get their first mortgage while a teacher may find purpose in the daily achievements of her/his students. I found purpose during my career as a Navy plastic surgeon performing complex reconstructions on our nations wounded Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen. Watching those who sacrificed so much for our country get better and leave the hospital after long stays and multiple reconstructive procedures was extremely gratifying. My humanitarian aid trips to Southeast Asia brought great perspective and purpose by changing the lives of those who live in abject poverty and would not otherwise be able to contribute positively to their community. Fixing a cleft lip, repairing a cleft palate, or releasing burn contractures to improve extremity function all made the world a little better each day. Seeing poor but happy families in the third-world was a great lesson in life purpose and allowed me to focus more on the importance of family and giving back rather than keeping up with the Jones’ with a bigger house or fancier car.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
The old days of general surgery training were brutal. It was routine to be on call every other or every third night and sleep was an elusive entity of which a resident could never quite get enough. Working 120 hours per week for 5 years is enough to exhaust anyone and it became tougher when I was diagnosed with depression. Several life circumstances all coincided to create a maelstrom of emotional upheaval. Surgeons are supposed to be strong and admitting to the depression that runs in my family was never anything that I was keen to acknowledge. My professors and colleagues were truly understanding and allowed me to heal and start medication without the stigma of having “depression”. It was then that I knew the medical community was truly my home and these amazing people who surrounded me with understanding and support were lifelong friends and colleagues. With my depression accepted and well controlled, I became more resolute than ever to see my path to plastic surgery through.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
The United States happiness ranking is so low because people do not know how to be happy anymore. In what I see every day, the art of introspection has been lost and many people in the US society want more without giving more. Money doesn’t make you happy, big homes don’t make you happy, and most things material give but a fleeting glimpse at happiness. As US citizens, I don’t think we take enough time to fully enjoy life and all that is around us. We are glued to our screens or rushing to get from one event or kid’s activity to another. As individuals, we don’t take enough time to be quiet and still and think about the many good things that life has to offer. More vacation days go unused than ever before, and the relentless climb of ambition never seems to slow for many. Those who have want more, and those who don’t have seem perpetually stuck in not being able to find out how to navigate out of that vicious circle. I think everyone in the US would be a little bit happier if they could glimpse into the lives of those living in poverty or war-torn regions of the world. The simple things we take for granted here are treasures in other parts of the world.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have been very fortunate in my life to have worked hard and achieve success in a career that offers the opportunity to help others. Reconstructing the leg of an injured Marine, fixing a cleft lip in a child from Cambodia, or skin grafting Afghan brothers who were injured while picking fruit in their family orchard when hostilities broke out are but a few examples of how years of training and dedication help the world just a bit. Bringing a message of hope and each new day blossoming with new opportunities is how I approach my patients, teaching residents, and parenting teenagers. My daughter has eagerly picked up the service torch and is an ambassador for Travelling Tutus — a non-profit organization that delivers gently used dance costumes and shoes to support the arts in underprivileged areas of the world.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
My six strategies that help me face my day with exuberance, Joie De Vivre and a ravenous thirst for life are:
a. Start the day with a very strong cup of coffee (no kidding, this is important). I am not a morning person by nature and getting my eyes fully opened with my favorite blend of robust coffee (Major Dickinson’s Blend from Peet’s) is something to which I look forward each and every morning. Coffee lets me get awake quickly and allows me look forward to the challenges that the day will bring. As a surgeon running a busy practice, business partner, husband, and parent, there is never a perfect day. It is not a matter of if something will go off course, it is just a matter of when and how badly. My morning coffee is an amazing attitude adjuster and lets me set the tone for the rest of my day.
b. Get a read on the day. Provided that I get my coffee prior to the day going sideways, my next key to a happy day is to get a read on the important people in my life and make sure that they know they are loved and supported. If I leave for work knowing that my wife isn’t stressed out about her day and that the kids are healthy and excited about school or their sporting activities, lets me start my day with a touch more positivity. Work is always interesting because my business partner and I see the world somewhat differently. Despite being longtime friends and colleagues, I am a glass-half-full person whereas she is a glass-half-empty person. It has served our friendship and our practice well because the balance keeps it from going too far one way or the other. I try to get a read on her mood for the day early on because if she is rankled about something, I know I need to give her time to warm up and work out whatever issue has her miffed. She has many characteristics that I admire, and our partnership bears the fruit of having healthy differences intermingled with the large overlap of common thought processes.
c. Have respect for the schedule. People tend to function well with routine, and running a busy practice is no different.
d. Have something to look forward to during the day. Nothing builds happiness more than anticipation of something good. Whether it is seeing the name of a favorite patient on the schedule, planning happy hour with friends after work, or getting your exercise in on a regular basis, there are little things that occur every day that are worth getting just a tiny bit excited for.
e. Appreciate the little things. No day will ever be perfect, so appreciate the little things that happen during the course of an ordinary day. Were you the beneficiary of light traffic during your daily commute, did someone remember to change the toilet paper roll, or did they get the stain out of your favorite shirt at the dry cleaners? All good things that happen in a regular day — appreciate them.
f. Don’t get beaten down. I frequently tell my 14-year old son — Life is rough, get a helmet. For all of us, life comes with its inevitable ups and downs and things don’t always go as we wish. Having thick skin, a purpose driven life, and unwavering optimism allow the downs to appear a little less menacing and the ups to seem a bit brighter.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
There are a handful of books that have proven very inspiring over the years and have helped hone my personality to one of optimism and hope.
a. The Tao of Pooh — silly but insightful. Be the uncarved stone!
b. Illusions by Richard Bach — a bit dreamy but really makes you think. You just have to stop clinging, let go, and trust the current of life knows where it is taking you.
c. The Malcolm Gladwell books — Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers. Read in that order the lessons of looking at things a little differently really come to life. It isn’t always about the University name on the diploma or applying traditional solutions, it is about demonstrated competence, abandoning stereotypes, and finding unique solutions through one’s own life experiences.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from my wife when I was retiring from the Navy and contemplating starting my own private practice. We fought about this on and off for about two years and every time she got fed up with me she’d say — “Why can’t you just go get a job?” I explained over and over that happiness and purpose for me have evolved to opening and running my own practice. After years of bureaucracy, lengthy approval processes, no control over HR, I knew my future existed in private practice. It took five years of meticulous planning, two years of fighting with my wife and a year of being open and hoping to keep the lights on before being recently recognized nationally as the New Practice of the Year and Best New Practice Design. During the planning, building, and opening phases of the practice, it took a monumental amount of positivity to see my life’s dream through. I attacked every day with the sole purpose of building a successful practice that would allow me to care for patients, provide for my family, and bring me a sense of fulfillment. Every phone call, email, or meeting was approached with a goal, websites were scoured for the best prices, and the tiniest of details were tended to. I kept telling my wife — “I do have a job, it’s building this practice.” Happily, the practice turned out to be successful and I did not need to come back with my tail between my legs needing to admit defeat and seek employment in the structured hospital system that I have been eager to escape.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Planning, building, and running a private practice that is still less than a year old is an exciting project in and of itself and is currently all consuming. We still have a bit to go to get stabilized in the competitive San Diego market but look to the future and plan to engage with local volunteer organizations that provide reconstructive services to underprivileged children and women with breast cancer.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire any movement, it would be “Serve the Country”. Regardless of age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or disability, everyone should have the opportunity to experience the value of service to the country. There are great examples from the not too distant past that should be remembered in the midst of ongoing social change, cultural evolution, and the search for purpose. Franklin Roosevelt’s building and overhauling of the American infrastructure allowed service in a dark economic time and John F. Kennedy’s immortal words “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” still stimulate vigorous discussions to this day. I think we could build a generation of giving and goodwill if a movement erupted that valued service to the country that extended beyond the military or peace corps. Thinking not of what we can do overseas, but how we can invest in our future here at home. We don’t need a president to make America great, Americans from all walks of life make America great with small acts every single day.
About The Author:
Dr. Marina Kostina is a life and business fulfillment coach. She uses research and energy work to help professional women find their purpose and turn it into a profitable business. Dr. Kostina incorporates innovative marketing strategies and the creation of engaging, lucrative online courses to scale their businesses. As a result they enjoy what she describes as a “ravenous life” — a life filled with the passion, pleasure, playfulness and abundance that come naturally to those who dare to be authentic. Her book “Find the G-Spot of Your Soul” is available January 2018. Download a free gift from Dr. Kostina- an MP3 Meditation Album “Find The G –Spot Of Your Soul” and get unstuck.