Reflections on Lessons Learned

Just under two months ago I received the news that I, along with 10 of my co-workers, would be laid off. Unlike most I was OK with this as I felt I’d learned an immense amount of knowledge and I had my compensation package to pay rent and bills while I looked for another job. Long story short is I got appendicitis, and later an offer to go back to work for one month. I took it and by the time I had recovered, I was just starting to look for another job. The company offered me a full-time position. No suspense, I took the job. But I’d like to delve into why, and the benefit of working in a challenging environment.Over the 7 months I was at the company pre-layoff I learned an encyclopedias worth of knowledge about sales. I had never held a real sales career, and honestly I found the work dull. Then, relatively early on in my career my manager/mentor was out sick for a few days and I got to delve into the sandbox and close my own accounts. Luckily there was an easy win in there (it certainly wasn’t skill) and I got a taste of what it feels like to sell somebody. It’s an invigorating experience. That taught me the value of sticking through the mundane to get the win, and when I get mad, lazy, bored, or distracted I remember the sale and it refocuses me. I also developed a skill-set, which I refer to as “Bassilisms” in honor of the man who taught me 90% of the skills. I learned that I have a natural aptitude for sales and I refined the first layer of skills.


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Now in June, when deciding whether or not to come back I had to weigh many factors: skills I could learn, new experiences I could get, the money I could make, how much I would enjoy my job, etc. I ended up taking the job because I felt as part of a smaller team I would be well positioned to continue refining my skills and that I would have an opportunity to take on new responsibilities if I wanted them. A larger company would have paid me more, but it would have possessed more bureaucracy and would allow me less opportunity to learn new skills. As a 20 year old starting a career and with my goals not lying in working for a larger company, but rather successively smaller ones until I can start my own; I knew learning would be more valuable in the long run then taking the money now.

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So the cost benefit of salary versus development has been on my mind a lot as of late and I think the mix is different for everyone. As luck would have it, a former classmate of mine has been tracking his internship in Taiwan via Facebook and eloquently records some interesting thoughts. A lot of them are simple and seem to be common sense, but that’s what most people need reiterated. Everyone knows how to dream, do you know how to systematically go about implementing those dreams? That’s what makes an all-star. Since Facebook is a closed system I will copy some of my favorites here with my reactions below. Alex, you should really write a blog – you have been a compelling writer at least since 2004 (and my guess is longer) and you’re only getting better. Share those thoughts!

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Sitting there with the other two new-guys, it really dawned on me how much you get from the first impression. Quite a cliché statement, that, but none the less true. After hearing about the solitariness, the stress, the long hours, the ‘corporate’ side of law, it was very informative to talk to my mentor, Edison about the nature of his work. I ended up asking him straight up if he liked his job. He sorta grinned at me and rambled off a response about what part of the job makes a difference ect … then he advised me that law isn’t a happy profession, but you can still enjoy it.

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This is almost word for word my feeling for my sales job. Any job that requires full attention to detail to win a small percentage of battles is usually boring. In law, most commas are going to be in the right place but miss the one wrong placement in the 100 page document and it’s a million dollar mistake. If you program NASA satellites, a missing comma could blow up a MGS satellite. In sales a 10% increase in method could double your sales, or more. Not the same stakes, but the same lesson — being able to take pride in the big win and value your own consistent effort is an important skill to master.

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It’s not enough for an attorney to be satisfactory, anything less would be malpractice. Rather, a good attorney must spot future problems that could arise, as well.

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Alex goes on to tell a story which I won’t repeat, as he gives an example of a poor choice made by an attorney at a law firm, and I’m not sure about the implied confidentiality of Facebook (it is a closed system). Probably far enough removed, but better safe than sorry. The message is a simple one, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (Ben Franklin), but it’s one worth repeating. In sales you could waste months chasing a customer before realizing you never asked if they could afford it. Low and behold, they can’t. When you “eat what you kill” that inefficiency hurts. If you prepare completely and actively look for problems, they become a lot more manageable. Paraphrasing Alex’s summation of this experience, If you’re lost in a snow storm it’s nice to have your ass covered, but wouldn’t it have been better to have gotten a map and not deal with frostbitten toes?

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Note, posted updated quotes July 10, RP’ed to RSS. Original written July 6th.

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
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The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

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