Hero & Zero

Despite being identical twins there was really no disputing that something measurable, and important, was different between the brothers Hakeem and Zeke.  Hakeem was a winner; Zeke was a loser. When the boys entered school their names, unusual in the Midwest at the time, were informally changed to reflect their academic performance. Hakeem was simply known as “Hero”; Zeke, the less able twin, was labelled “Zero”.

Fast-forward two decades and few would be surprised to learn that Hero fulfilled an almost preordained life of achievement. Academic success and accomplishments resulted in admission to a top-tier medical school with surgical training in a competitive subspecialty. Leadership opportunities, mentoring requests, and publications in his field of expertise were synonymous with Hero’s professional successes.

Zero’s life could not have been more different. An early “mentor” advised Zero to “save himself the trouble” and give up on his dreams of a medical career. Almost every standardized (multiple choice) exam that Zero took he failed, often several times despite an inordinate amount of preparation. It was clear that Zero did not have what it took to be successful. Failure after failure ensued with Zero too dejected, too depressed, and too stubborn to quit. 

The twins reconvened after twenty years of achievement (for Hero) and toil (for Zero). As they shared their life’s journeys the twins came to a shocking realization: they were not, in fact, twins or even brothers. Hero and Zero were the same person; and that person is me. I invite you to learn about how standardized testing almost destroyed me. I invite you to learn how this experience ended up making me a better person, a better surgeon, and a better leader. In sharing my journey, I hope you might learn something new about surgical training, effective leadership, the shortcomings of standardized testing, and how all of us can benefit from examining lessons learned from life’s Heroes and Zeros.