Meet Your Heroes

“Everybody’s searching for a hero,
People need someone look up to…”

– from Whitney Houston‘s ‘The Greatest Love of All


Have you met your heroes?

Back when I was training in heart surgery, I went to a conference in New Delhi.

Because one of my heroes was going to be there.

Dr.Richard Jonas was a neonatal heart surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital – the Mecca of paediatric heart surgery.

He did cutting-edge work in pioneering areas of my specialty. Regularly published in leading specialty journals. It was my dream to participate in that kind of groundbreaking research too.

So when I heard he was coming to India, it was a no-brainer to take the 36-hour train ride to meet my hero.

Early one morning at breakfast, I noticed the dashing and charismatic surgeon. He was smartly dressed in a navy blue suit and brilliant red tie. Briefly, he was alone in the dining hall, sipping a cup of coffee.

For a moment, I almost lost my nerve.

I was just a young, unknown trainee surgeon. Clad in a rather tatty gray sweater and looking singularly unimpressive… in contrast to this rockstar heart surgeon.

With an effort, I silenced that inner critic.

And stepped up to Dr.Jonas.

Introduced myself. And asked him the question I’d planned to… about what he thought of the exciting new field of fetal heart surgery.

He paused to think for a moment.

And replied briefly.

I thanked him, and left.


I still get goose bumps when I think about that meeting!

That’s the power of heroes.

That’s the impact of meeting them.


Over the years since, I’ve met some of my other heroes, too.

Jay Abraham is among the world’s top legends in marketing. His advice has helped businesses boost profits, collectively, by several billion dollars.

That’s why I paid a small fortune – to be remotely mentored for 6 months.

And the culminating event of that program was a conference.

In Detroit.

But as it turned out, right when the worst ‘blizzard of the decade‘ struck!

I was booked on British Airways.

They cancelled all flights a day before.

Lufthansa was the only airline still operating from India. I got a ticket on it – at nearly double the price!

Landed safely in Detroit airport.

And checked in to my room at the airport hotel, where our conference was held.

On the second day, after hanging around the door waiting for him to come off stage, I cornered Jay Abraham… for a very brief chat.

It lasted barely a minute.

Nothing significant was said – on either side.

And yet, I felt it was completely worth all the trouble, effort and expense of flying halfway around the world.

Because this was a mentor and teacher I deeply admire and respect.

A man from whom I have learned so much.

Now, I got to meet him in person!


Another role model, mentor, and now good friend is Dr.Devi Shetty.

He dreamed up a remarkable concept.

And then went ahead to implement it.

In style.

The result?

Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore.

One of the world’s biggest – and best – heart hospitals.

When my dear friend and top mentor, the recently late Dr.P.V.Rao, extended the offer to speak with Devi if I wanted to spend some time working with him, I leaped at the opportunity.

Two weeks later, I was in Bangalore.

Living in the vacant apartment of my dad’s friend.

And spending all morning in the OR at Manipal Heart Foundation hospital, as an observer in Dr.Devi Shetty’s unit.

Every afternoon, we’d drive over to the large vacant lot… where a new hospital was under construction.

It was his brain-child – the now gigantic healthcare hub of South India… flagship of the Narayana group of hospitals!

“See that place?” he’d point to me in the distance. “That’s where another block will come up.”

He painted a picture… in thin air.

Three years later, after I trained in England and Australia in infant heart surgery and returned to India, I joined his team.

And saw that vivid dream… now turned into reality.

It was the most thrilling moment of my young life.

I realized, then, the power of an idea.

The impact of a vision.

The energy of a dream.

Heroes can do that for you.

Make you believe… in YOUR own dreams.


Some years later, I read a news story.

About a young 40-something Indian banker… who was tipped to become the CEO of Citicorp – the parent organization of Citi Bank.

Ramesh Ramanathan turned it down.

To return to Bangalore – and devote himself to non-profit work.

His dream-child Janaagraha has since revolutionized local civic society in the city.

At the time I first heard of him, his work was just getting started.

I emailed Ramesh.

Explained what I had in mind with my own non-profit idea.

And asked if I could meet him, to pick his brain.

He replied immediately.

“Whenever you’re next in the city, I’d love to meet.”


What do you think I did?

Booked my train ticket to Bangalore right away!

Three days later, I was sitting down with him in a ramshackle little office, outlining my dream vision to raise awareness of congenital heart disease in India.

And raise funds to sponsor heart operations for families unable to afford the steep cost.

Looking back, I re-imagine the scene.

An almost-CEO of the world’s biggest banking institution… facing a raw, fresh, naive, inexperienced, idealistic, wet-behind-the-ears young just-qualified heart surgeon…

Who’s babbling on about ways to fund expensive surgeries.

That he would perform – for free!

How easy it would have been for him to dismiss my crackpot scheme, with a scornful:

“Oh, that would never work!”

But… he didn’t!

Instead, he spoke with me for an hour.

Suggested ideas – and tweaks to my plan – that I’d never have imagined myself.

Offered insights and encouragement from his own journey.

And invited me to contact him anytime I needed help or guidance.

I floated back home later that evening, on a rosy cloud of hope!

A hero can inspire, energize and motivate you

Like nothing else can.


There are other heroes I’ve never met.

But would have loved to.

To my dying day, I will regret not seizing the opportunity to travel to the United States and meet folks who others in my network had access to – and were willing to introduce me.

– Like Louis ‘Zach, the Champ’ Zamperini, war hero of the NY Times bestselling book ‘Unbroken‘ by the incomparable Laura Hillenbrand… that was recently made into an award-winning movie by Angelina Jolie.

– Or Dr.Paul Farmer, the Harvard physician who devoted himself to transforming healthcare for the poorest people on the face of this planet in Haiti, and founded ‘Partners In Health‘.

His biography authored by Tracy Kidder – titled ‘Mountains Beyond Mountains‘ – remains one of my all-time favorite books ever!

– My childhood hero, role model and long-distance mentor Dr.Denton Cooley has fuelled my growth as a heart surgeon through his letters in reply to my requests for guidance.

In his last communication – this time by email, when he was 94 years old! – he graciously invited me to visit him and the Texas Heart Institute whenever I could.

Not grabbing that chance when I could will remain among my deepest regrets. A few months later, he died.

There are many more heroes… whom I’ve still never met.

Hopefully, I’ll meet some of them.

If I get a chance, I won’t make a mistake again.

And didn’t when Derek Sivers emailed to say he’ll be in town!

After meeting Derek for an hour-long chat, I wake up feeling more energized and enthusiastic than before…

Even about doing what amounts to essentially the same thing!

That is the power of a mentor.

And a hero.

Heroes inspire us.

Fire us up.

Light a flame under our deepest passions.

And deliver the proverbial kick in our butt… to get us going.

This effect lingers.

For far beyond the meeting itself.

Sometimes, it can drive you to new heights of achievement and success.

So make the effort to meet your heroes – whenever you can.

Don’t count the cost.

Don’t mind the trouble.

Don’t make up excuses.

Just do it.

You’ll never regret it.