How a Doctor Learned Not to be a Monkey

Apr 18, 2022
A monkey sitting next to a doctor pointing a finger on a yellow background.

When I started my first job, I hired a consultant to help me review and negotiate my employment contracts.  As she witnessed my compulsive note taking and thirst to learn, she asked me if I wanted to write a book on my experience in joining a physician's practice with her.  I agreed.


I shared my vision of what would be most practical for our readers: doctors.  She shared her years of knowledge and experience.  We created an outline, solicited medical publishers and landed a contract. 


After many months of writing, we had completed the book and entered editing mode.  We divided our duties to fit our strengths in order to meet our deadlines.  I would revise the anecdotes of real life physician nightmares.  I would clean them up while she would edit the informational content.

For weeks, I spent night after night and weekend after weekend organizing our true stories of physician blunders and cutting the fat so it was a quick, informative read for busy residents.  I was proud of my work and emailed my changes to her. 


She read my work and disagreed.





She didn't want to change a single thing.  She had not completed her work but wanted to discuss each and every of the 40 anecdotes in depth before she would agree with any changes. 


I was flabbergasted.

I had had enough.  

I couldn't stand it any longer.  

I slammed down the phone and screamed.  

She was driving me crazy!

I didn't have time to deliberate every detail and change in a 400-page book.  I was a 32 year-old physician working all day in my medical practice and this was how I spent my free time. 


Day after day, I couldn't get our arguments out of my mind.  

I heard them on my commute.

In between patients.

During commercials on TV.  


As I sat in my philosophy class, I could not smother the swirling conversations in my mind.  Until I heard this story…

When a hunter wishes to catch a monkey alive, he buries a pot with a narrow mouth in the ground of the jungle and places some bananas inside it. 


When the monkey comes by, he reaches down into the pot and grabs as many bananas as he can hold in his full fist.  


But he can't remove the bananas from the pot unless he lets go of them because the mouth is too narrow to allow his fist to pass. 


So while the monkey dances about and screams for freedom from the pot, never letting go of the bananas, the hunter walks up and takes hold of the monkey. 


If only the monkey had let go of his claim on the bananas, he would be free! 


If he let go, he would be free!


And a gong went off... 



I was the damn monkey! 


I asked myself what would happen if I let her have her way?




At that light bulb moment, I realized I was done.  


The next day, I told her I didn't care.  She could make whatever changes she wanted.  I had done my job.  I was done.  I was free. 


I realized that if I wanted more freedom, I needed to relinquish control.  


As much as I liked to be in control and do things my way, that need for control forced me to become reactive and prevented me from being free.


As soon as I let go of that need for control, I was free.



Does your need for control keep you from being free?


For my entire life, sticking to my convictions and values had helped me make the right choices.  In medicine, holding tight to what I knew and was the right thing was what I did and served me well.  But in life, letting go set me free.


Whether it is an argument that forces you to be reactive, a past that you don’t want to live into the future, or a self-image that limits who you can be, letting go will set you free to make a change.


If you no longer want to remain stuck where you are, try letting go and see what happens.


But most important of all… never forget the monkey!

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