4 Principles for Staying Cool Under Pressure - and Succeeding

Athlete & World-Renowned Surgeon Shares Tips
for Becoming a ‘Super Performer’

We all ask ourselves the same desperate question from time to time: How am I going to make this work?!

“No matter how well we’ve done laying the groundwork for everything to run smoothly - becoming educated, choosing the right spouse, treating others well - we all face situations that challenge us,” says Dr. Robert J. Cerfolio, a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon known as “the Michael Jordan of lung surgery."

“If we can keep our cool and adhere to some basic principles, we can not only meet any challenge – we can perform with excellence.”
A high-performance athlete in high school and college, Dr. Cerfolio parlayed his talents and focus into pursuing his medical career and creating a happy family with his cherished wife, Lorraine, and their three sons.

But after battling breast cancer, Lorraine recently passed away. Cerfolio, author of “Super Performing at Work and at Home: The Athleticism of Surgery and Life,” (www.superperforming.com), shares the principles that helped him through that greatest of all challenges and lesser ones along the way.

“Apply these principles in work, sports and life in general, and you can become a super performer,” he says.

  • Pressure equals opportunity. It’s when something matters that the pressure starts to build; this is where the rubber meets the road for sports-to-life analogies.

    “In sports as in life, remember your training; follow through just like you did during practice; visualize success; believe it will happen,” Dr. Cerfolio says. “With friends, for example, high-pressure moments can be those times when they need you. The best way to have great friends is to be a great friend.”

  • Strive to hit .400 every year – keep your eye on the prize; write it down. “My high school gave out an award each year to the best student athlete in each grade,” he says. “I wrote down that I wanted to win the Klein Award in the ninth, 10th and 11th grades, and to win the most prestigious award at the senior graduation, the Deetjen Award.

    He accomplished most of those goals, and a key to those achievements was writing them down and placing the paper where, for four years, he could see it every night.

    “By writing them down, I had made my goals clear and objective.”

  • Lean toward a “we-centered” ego rather than a “me-centered” one. “When I traded in my baseball uniform for surgical scrubs, I noticed the importance of stripping the many layers of the ego I once had,” Dr. Cerfolio says. “This is really important: Your ego doesn’t need to be visible to everyone -- or even anyone but yourself.”

    Being a top performer requires ego – it helps fuel self-confidence and provides some of the motivation necessary to achieve. But it should not hinder the performance of your team: your coworkers, friends and family. Over time, by keeping your ego to yourself, it becomes easier to enact a team-oriented ego, rather than a “me-oriented” one.

  • Time to quit? Rub some dirt on it. In life, work is unavoidable, so embrace it, go big, and appreciate the rewards. No matter how difficult the challenge you face or how much it may hurt to meet that challenge, push through and give it your all.

    “Yes, there’s a chance you won’t succeed, or won’t succeed to the degree you’d like. But you stand zero chance of success if you don’t meet that challenge and give it everything you’ve got,” Dr. Cerfolio says. “You owe it to yourself and your team, whether that’s your ball team, your family team or your work team. When you sign up for any team, by definition you promise your time, effort and 100 percent commitment. You have to be at every game and every practice on time and ready to go.”

About Robert J. Cerfolio, MD, MBA

Robert J. Cerfolio, MD, MBA, is the James H. Estes Family Endowed Chair of Lung Cancer Research and Full Professor Chief of Thoracic Surgery at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. He received his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine, surgical training at the Mayo Clinic and at Cornell-Sloan Kettering hospital, and has been in practice for more than 26 years. The author of “Super Performing at Work and at Home,” (www.superperforming.com), Cerfolio, who was a First Team Academic All-American baseball player in college, is a world-renowned chest surgeon and recognized as one of the busiest and best thoracic surgeons in the world.