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August Book Review by Dr. Heather Sankey!

The Art of Possibility

Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Heather Z. Sankey, MD, MEd, FACOG, CPE | President AIAMC Board of Directors 

When given the choice, I usually chose to read fiction over non-fiction. I love getting lost in another world, ideally one where the “good guys” win in the end (I read a lot of science fiction/fantasy) or two people who are fated to be together finally figure it out (I also like romance).  I get a sense of hope that even when everything seems to be going wrong, there is a way through, that anything is possible. That is exactly the message in The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander. Ms. Zander is an executive coach and a family systems therapist. Her husband Ben is a world-renowned conductor and teacher whose home base is the Boston Symphony Orchestra. This quick read is full of great stories and wonderful advice.

The advice consists of simple “rules” that have a depth of meaning, told through stories and events. “Give everyone an A” sounds a little strange on first hearing it. One of the meanings is the recommendation to start every interaction by assuming that the other party is doing their best and has good intentions. It often changes the whole conversation. This also literally plays out in a class of elite musicians taught by Ben Zander where he tells the class that they will all receive an A for the course as long as they do one thing: write him a letter dated the following May describing what they did to deserve an A. It allows them to step beyond the often crippling and restrictive fear of failure to imagine what it feels like to be great (this may not make great sense to you without reading the book, so don’t take my word for it – read for yourself!). I have done something similar for several years now with our rising chief residents. I’ve asked them to write a letter to themselves describing what they did to make their chief year successful. At the end of the year, I give it back to them to reflect on as they go out into the world of fellowship or into practice. It puts them in the mindset of possibility for a really great year.

One of my favorite pieces of advice is to respond to mistakes (obviously not life-threatening ones!) by saying “how fascinating!” It allows you to reframe the situation as a learning opportunity for the future, rather than to sink into frustration or self-recrimination that is usually counterproductive.

Read this book and step into a world of opportunity. As they say in the book, “you can lead from any chair.” 

Brief Bio: Dr. Sankey is the Ronald T. Burkman Endowed Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Professor, Department of Obstetrics-Gynecology at UMass Chan Medical School – Baystate.  She is a long-time east coaster/new englander graduating from Vassar with a degree in Math/Computer Science, her MD from Hahnemann University Medical School, completing her internship and residency at Baystate in Ob/Gyn and an MEd in Medical Education and Leadership at the University of New England (in Maine).