Most of the memorable lessons I learned at college occurred outside of its academic environment.
On the same day I was accepted as freshman at UC San Diego in 1975, I was turned down by Stanford University, which was my first choice and the only other university to which I had applied. In retrospect, I learned that usually things turn out well even if my life experiences do not unfold as planned. The key is to make the best of whatever experiences you have been granted.
On the way to campus during my first road trip to San Diego, my father and I became lost among the hills of La Jolla, CA. At random, we stopped at a home with a “Cat-in-the-Hat” house number and asked the elderly owner for directions. He instructed us and suggested we tell the professor we were scheduled to meet that, “Ted Geisel sent us.” It was only upon my arrival to UCSD that I learned we had met Dr. Seuss. This was the first of many meaningful coincidental events in my life that the psychiatrist Carl Jung termed synchronicity.
During my first week on campus, I joined the staff of the college newspaper, the major campus media source at that time. At the end of the first quarter, my City Editor asked how I was doing. I was very moved that someone cared about me, especially as I was feeling quite lonely. This experience taught me about the importance of practicing kindness. I used a similar approach thereafter throughout my life.
My first major was psychology, which I enjoyed a great deal. However, I did not think of this field as a “hard science” and therefore decided I would also major in biology. Despite these majors, I did not consider a career in medicine because I was repelled by the associated “blood and gore.” One conversation at the end of my junior year helped change my plans. My friend suggested that I could become used to this aspect of medicine and that I would make a good physician, as I cared for people. I thought about it, and then agreed. I signed up for the medica college admission test the next week, and never looked back. This was the first of several major good turns in my life that occurred quickly. I believe that a key to success is remaining flexible during a decision-making process.
A friend asked me during my senior year to join him in visiting Congregation Beth El, a synagogue that was just off campus. This opportunity provided me with on-going spiritual growth that started when I, as a Jewish sophomore, lived in a suite with seven Christian friends. Some of them had even asked why I was uninterested in being saved through joining their faith. I learned that standing up to a challenge is a great opportunity for growth.
Thus, at college my major interests were psychology, biology, journalism, and religion. Even though I thought that these fields were disparate, 20 years later I was able to combine all of them into one vocation: medical hypnosis.
I had worked as a pediatric pulmonologist on the East Coast for more than a decade when I ran into a patient with asthma, who was so allergic to milk products that twice in his life he nearly died after milk exposure. He told me that when he smelled cheeseburgers, he developed asthma attacks. I thought that this was a strange complaint and asked him to imagine eating a cheeseburger, which is something he was unable to do in real life. Within seconds he developed such difficulty breathing that I thought he might develop a life-threatening problem.
I told him, “Stop it!” And fortunately, he did.
I thought he might have been joking, but he insisted that he really could not breathe. Immediately I started wondering, “If you can think your way into disease, can you think your way out?” It turns out that most people with chronic medical illness develop psychological reactions that can affect the severity of their symptoms. By learning how to control their emotions through the use of self-hypnosis, which can be taught in two to three sessions, patients can improve dramatically. Among other applications, patients can benefit from hypnosis to help with their stress, anxiety, habits, and in dealing with pain.
As a college student I had no idea that a career in hypnosis would be possible, and that it would allow me to combine my interests in the body, mind, and spirit. I did not know that learning about writing in college would help me spread the word about this extremely effective and efficient therapy. This is why I encourage my patients and students to strive for a broad education. You never know how things will fall into place.
A series of synchronous fortunate events led to my return to La Jolla six years ago. I set up Center Point Medicine, my medical hypnosis practice across the street from UCSD. My hope was that my office would be accessible to UCSD students as patients and for those interested in learning about medical careers. I have since had the privilege of mentoring some UCSD students, who have shadowed me in my practice. I have told them that I hope they will “Pay it Forward” with future students, just like I was taught by my mentors at UCSD.
In retrospect, I am better able to appreciate how the non-academic lessons I learned at college helped shape my attitude and resultant success in my life. I hope that being mindful of this kind of educational process can help current students derive even more benefit from their college experiences.
A version of this article was first published by The Triton.
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