‘How is it that surgeons and stage actors seem to experience a certain flow while doing their work which makes them feel deeply engaged in what they do and also enjoy it thoroughly', wonders Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Unpronounceable?), Professor of Psychology at the Chicago University, in his bestselling book Flow — the psychology of optimal work experience.
According to Mihaly, ‘Flow' is a condition where the mind is immersed in the job and the emotions are not just contained and channelled, but become positive, energised, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task
Surgeons and stage actors, who report the most satisfying and happy work experiences in response to a survey conducted by Mihaly, both work in theatres! They are both theatre artists! And Mihalay observes this unusual commonality and asks the reader to explore further similarities between these theatre-centric artists!
Why is it that the place where surgeons ‘perform' is called an operation theatre? And what else is common between surgeons and stage actors?
You might have heard of the nurse wheeling a patient into the operation theatre saying, “Don't worry, stay calm, everything will be all right.” The patient says, “But I'm not nervous,” and the nurse replies, “I was talking to the surgeon”!
Both have to rely on their presence of mind in sudden unexpected scenarios — surgical complications or a co-actor forgetting his lines!
Both are tensed up while in the theatre before the start of the ‘show', due to the high risk involved in achieving the level of performance expected of them. Unlike acting in a movie where ‘takes and retakes' are possible, on the stage one wrong word spoken or say a piece of dialogue forgotten could lead to irretrievable situations. So also an incorrect incision or inaccurate cut with the surgeon's knife!
Do both have massive egos? And love to be told how great they are?
Both surgeons and actors can create magic — one with his hands (a cut here, a snip there and voila — the heart pumps again, or the patient walks again, or the disfigured face is transformed) and the other with his acting skills, transporting audiences to wherever he wants them to be, making them believe the unbelievable.
Both need to aim for excellence in order to be super successful.
Reputed surgeons and stage actors are both usually the centre point of activity, either in an operation theatre or on the stage. There are people with different skills who assist them in maximizing their performances.
On a lighter note, many surgeons are also prima donnas, they also have as many superstitions and rituals as stage actors. Surprisingly, surgeons of different specialties behave differently as a group: Cardiac surgeons are supremely confident, flamboyant and loud (!) maybe because their successes and failures are usually spectacular; neurosurgeons consider themselves a cut above the human race and are usually aloof and superior (the god complex – their successes are not spectacular though their failures are), orthopaedicians are usually a slightly irreverent bunch. Ophthalmologists and dermatologists seem ‘normal'!
Here's a limerick for the not-so-confident surgeon:
I am a surgeon who can act a bit/ Working my skills as I deem fit/I can goof up my task/But I always wear a mask/ So that no one quite knows who did it!
(The writer's email id is firstname.lastname@example.org)