Get Tough, Stand Up

My all-time favorite clip from the film ‘Rocky Balboa’ begins with this:

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a mean and nasty place. And I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there – if you let it.”

Sylvester Stallone goes on to outline a brilliant attitude to live by – which is why I watch it at least once every few months.

It’s here:

For you, young intern, things are about to change.


Maybe they already shifted when you joined medical college.

Outside of the safe cocoon of school life, things got a bit harsher. Became a little more dangerous.

And you coped with it.

You learned that not everyone cares as much now about your development, growth and comfort.

So you changed your expectations of them.

Now you’re on the threshold of another dimensional shift.

A sharper, steeper one.

For the first time, very likely, you’re in a workplace.

As an employee or co-worker. And experiencing the cut and thrust of everyday battle.

This section could apply to any profession. Any occupation. Because this is pretty constant across fields or specialties.

The world, indeed, can be a mean, harsh, nasty place.

And people you engage with are not always friendly or well-disposed towards you.

In fact, it’s best to count on everyone being potentially hostile – because that’s more often right than wrong!

They’ll try their best to put you down.

And how long (and hard) this continues – depends upon you.

You could react the very first time it happens.

Or wait until you get put down ten times.

Or forever.

One thing you can count on is this.

For as long as you take it, people will dish it out!

So it’s essential that you get tough.


And stand up – for yourself, for others, and for whatever is right.

Now, I don’t advocate being a ‘delicate darling’.

Don’t get all upset, annoyed or angry at the very first hint of nastiness.

But I also don’t recommend taking abusive insults for long.

From anyone!

If somebody is being a boor – and there will be oh-so-many who fit the bill over the years ahead – you must learn to deal with it.

Firmly. Confidently. And definitively.

No, not by being nasty in return (unless you want to).

But by making it clear you won’t stand it – if this continues.

Shrinking away from confrontation is a losing strategy here.

Some fights have to be fought – and won.


And convincingly.

But before you plunge right in to a war, let me make something very clear.

You must first be sure that you’re in the right.

If you

  • don’t do your work
  • didn’t follow instructions
  • did something you shouldn’t have, or
  • were lazy, careless or wrong

then be courageous and accept your punishment.

Don’t try to rationalize your failures or shortcomings.

Don’t make excuses for not doing your duty.

Even if the retribution feels disproportionately severe for the errors you made, it’s okay.

You’re in a learning phase. Pain aids memory. You’ll never make that mistake again!

But if you tried your best, did all that you had to, and are still pulled up, scolded or held responsible for the outcome…

You shouldn’t take it sitting down.

Push back.

Assert yourself.

Defend your actions and/or decisions.

Stand up for yourself.

If you see this unfairness thrust upon someone else you know and care for, stand up for him or her.

Because not everyone is bold or strong enough to do it themselves.

And if you see a principle you believe in being violated, consider standing up for it – if that might make a difference.

I’ve said this often… practicing medicine is a performing art.

Kind of like acting on a stage.

Your stage is where you interact with patients. Perform for them.

(It’s no accident the operating room is called a ‘theatre’!)

And there’s drama in your performances.

There could be tragedy.

Even, at times, comedy.

You can be the hero.

Or villain.

Or supporting actor, playing a ‘bit role’.

Or a clown!

To be the hero, you must display character traits common to heroes. In all spheres – business or war, movies or novels, or in real life.

Courage and boldness to stand up for what you believe in comes high on this list.

You may personally be a shy, quiet, retiring person. That’s fine. I am, too.

But when it comes to your role as a doctor, remember you’re performing a role.

And if that part requires you to act tough, stand up for yourself – you don’t have any choice.

You must play the role.

Do it well.

Because the alternative is to have people around you, and the world at large, crush you to pulp.

A favorite Zig Ziglar quote of mine is this:

“Life is like a grindstone. Whether it wears you down, or polishes you up, depends upon what you are made of.”

If you’re coal, you’ll become dust.

But if you’re a diamond, you’ll glitter.

Get tough. Stand up.

Have you read Dr.Sivasubramanian’s books on the making of a surgeon yet?

Read the other ‘Desirable Traits for Interns‘ here.

Published by DrSivasubramanian

Paediatric Heart Surgeon and Author -

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