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Persistence Paradox

"Persistence Paradox"

Hello, my friends.

Above my desk is one of those motivational plaques you can buy in specialty shops in the mall. It was a gift from my daughter several Christmases ago, after she observed me admiring it in the store window. I don't usually go for those things too much, but this one features Abraham Lincoln, and my family all knows what a huge Lincoln fan I am.

The title of the plaque is "Perseverance," and it lists all of the times Lincoln failed or was defeated before ultimately becoming what many consider to have been the greatest president in our history. I guess it's supposed to inspire us to "hang in there," and never give up.

I happen to own a 10 volume set of books containing every word Lincoln is known to have written or said in his lifetime, and I love the man so much, I even enjoyed reading about his measurings as a young surveyor, back when they used rocks and trees to mark property boundaries, and stepped the distances off on foot.

Reading a man's life in his own words gives unique insight into the workings of his mind, and brings him, in a sense, down to the level of the rest of us mere mortals. And as I've found the time to work my way slowly through those pages, I've been struck by two things about Lincoln:

1. He was often indecisive, and when unsure about an important course of action, would sometimes delay and consult and agonize over it longer than some around him might have thought appropriate.

2. Ultimately, he always seemed to have the ability to boil situations down to the fundamental principles of right and wrong, true and false, good and bad. Though a master politician, he never forgot what he stood for, and he always stood tall.

I had already been playing with the title and subject of this little essay for several days before I happened to look up and see Lincoln gazing down at me, but when I did, I knew I must be on the right track. I know Old Abe would never steer me wrong.

My own professional life has been marked consistently by chaos, confusion, and a cloudiness of perception that could hardly be more maddening or frustrating. I find that I am unable to choose between philosophy, science, and art, between pediatrics and geriatrics, between wellness and chronic pain. I try to be every thing to every one. Like Joan Collins from the old "Dynasty" TV series, "I want it all… and I want it now!"

One might think that if a man is persistent, if he perseveres, he will make steady progress, like climbing a mountain, where you can stop periodically, look back down, and see that you are farther along. Ideally, our lives should be measurable at any moment, and we should be able to at least take some comfort in the knowledge that we are, at the very least, growing.

Unfortunately, I sometimes feel like one of those squirrels in a round cage, running as hard as I can and getting nowhere. I like to think that I'm getting older and wiser, but I often suspect that I keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and that instead of getting older and wiser… I'm just getting older.

Happily, a couple of the concepts I've read in recent years have given me a glimmer of hope. One is the idea of "chaos and reorganization," that our lives tend to cycle back and forth from periods of apparent disorganization that in fact do have some underlying order, to new levels of organization that actually represent improvement. Sadly, when we're in the "chaos" part of the cycle, it's hard to see the light in the distance.

My other hope comes from the historical observation that societies, cultures, and even individuals tend to evolve in "spurts." In other words, instead of making steady progress, like plodding up a mountain, we seem to flail around for relatively long periods of time, then make a "quantum leap" to a new level. All I can say about that is… I'm ready to jump!

Over the years, I've always been a continuing education "junkie." I've averaged at least one conference or seminar a month, all over the country, for my entire 32+ years in practice. I've followed a long list of mentors, advisors and consultants, always looking for someone to help me get to "the next level," whatever that might be. More often than not, I've been disappointed, but on two or three occasions, I've actually experienced the "thrill of victory," when one knows that his or her efforts have not been in vain. And those moments, however fleeting in the great expanse of a lifetime, make it all worthwhile.

Then it's back to chaos. Back to fighting the good fight, running the good race, failing a lot, succeeding a little, ever vigilant for that next "burst of enlightenment," and trying always, as best I know how, to "do the right thing." I know Old Abe is watching.

Wishing you health, happiness and peace,

Dr. Frank Bowling

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