In one of my keynote speeches, I tell the story of a time I stood in front of a set of stairs that led up to a Philadelphia row home. I had to climb those stairs, step into the home of a dying man and take his deposition. This is part of my job. I defend doctors when they’re sued for negligence. That means sometimes I have to depose patients who are catastrophically injured. Sometimes they’re dying. And part of my job is to take their depositions, which really just means I get to ask them questions.
I focus my questions on the issues in the case, but I also believe curiosity and compassion are key to being a good advocate. So if a patient starts talking about her life, I ask her questions. If another wants to discuss his family, more questions. And most often what these patients want to discuss is missed opportunities. Obviously, we are there because these patients and their attorneys believe that the doctor I represent missed an opportunity to make them better. But often, these patients want to express regret at the opportunities they’ve missed as well.
“We didn’t go on vacation”.
“I never got my MBA”.
“I didn’t take the tennis lessons I was saving up for”.
“I never told my child how much I love him”.
Again and again, these patients focus on opportunities they had and didn’t take. And again and again, I learn from these patients that I have to take the opportunities that come my way. So do you. When an opportunity comes your way, take it. Embrace what could be, so you don’t have to regret what could have been.
I often say I collect experiences. If I have an opportunity, I tend to go for it even if I miss. When you’ve heard hundreds dying patients say they wish they’d taken those opportunities, you learn to take yours. I’m forever grateful to these patients. I take their depositions, and they give me so much more.