Home Control Center Brush Your Shoulders Off
The Control Center

Shawn Carbonell’s Note to Self: Brush Your Shoulders Off

Early on in your college career, you will discover that you are driven to positively impact the world, specifically, through the advancement of medicine. Not just through incremental improvements, but medical moonshots. This is also what convinces you to leave neurosurgery residency training in pursuit of a cure for brain cancer.

As you embark on this mission, remember this: The struggle is part of the journey.

Man standing in lab supply room

One day, you will receive a request to meet with a new venture capitalist in San Diego at a major conference. You’ll accept the invite, despite having traveled up and down the Bay Area and flown all over the United States the previous six years, pitching over 200 other venture capitalists, companies and major investors who dismissed and even ridiculed you. For that reason, you’ll be a bit cynical about this San Diego trip. But ultimately your co-founder will convince you to tackle the meeting as a team, which will lead to a term sheet for funding.

Even still, you will wonder whether you’ve wasted those prime years of your life. Who knows what you could have accomplished with all that time? Channel that energy, funnel it toward your vision – success isn’t a terminal destination. It takes that positive mindset, and everything else you have, to push through those years as you come into your own as a scientist, physician and entrepreneur. You’ve fought through worse; keep going.

Another day, you will travel to Paris to pitch European investors, and realize you’ve spent most your time there in meetings in a windowless cement box. Each morning, you’ll see the Eiffel Tower, but the view is obstructed by buildings as you look through your car window. In that moment, you’ll think the effort fruitless, and wish you could have spent the time there with your wife who just a year before was hospitalized with a serious illness. Be grateful for her, because she’ll make a full recovery and eventually will step up as your co-founding partner. Tackling brain cancer will become the family business.

Along the journey, many will ask why you are putting yourself through this. With your medical degree, your neuroscience PhD, and your Oxford and UCSF fellowships that make you qualified to do virtually anything you want, why would you subject yourself to this stress and uncertainty? Why turn down safer, more lucrative offers while sleeping under an office desk for several weeks, deferring your own pay, isolating yourself from friends, listening to endless criticism and enduring those self-imposed 100-hour work weeks all in pursuit of some crazy idea?

Two reasons: You find happiness in the pursuit of serving others and This is your calling.